Tag Archive for tenure

What I Really Do in the Summer

Col­lege stu­dents and pro­fes­sors all over the coun­try are begin­ning their sum­mer breaks. Courses are com­plete. Finals are taken. Seniors have grad­u­ated and moved away (hope­fully find­ing jobs). Cur­rent stu­dents are enjoy­ing the break from the daily grind of read­ing, writ­ing, and study­ing for courses, while pro­fes­sors are appre­ci­at­ing not hav­ing to go into the office every day, tak­ing a break from plan­ning for classes and grad­ing, and hav­ing more time allot­ted to non-teaching aspects of our jobs.

Grad­u­a­tion was a lit­tle over a week ago and since then, I have heard the fol­low­ing com­ments from friends, fam­ily, and acquaintances:

“You’re so lucky to have the entire sum­mer off!“
“Aren’t you glad to be out for three whole months?“
“I wish I had as much time off as you.“

“Are you enjoy­ing your break from work?“
“It must be nice to only work 32 weeks out of a year.”

These comments—while well-intentioned and most likely just meant to start a con­ver­sa­tion about my sum­mer plans—point to some faulty assump­tions about aca­d­e­mic life, espe­cially life on the tenure-track.

Such a per­spec­tive isn’t sur­pris­ing. Most of these well-meaning peo­ple have jobs with clear-cut work hours (8–5, Monday-Friday), vaca­tion time (2 weeks), and sick time (a cer­tain num­ber of hours).* Oth­ers are K-12 teach­ers who actu­ally do have a true break dur­ing the sum­mer, so, they assume, I must have a break, too. My mom, for instance, was a 3rd and 1st grade teacher most of my life (she retired last year), and except for a week or two of pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment in which she was required to par­tic­i­pate, she was “off”. She was not required or expected to do any work dur­ing her sum­mer vaca­tion. Of course, it wasn’t a true “vaca­tion” for her; she was home with four kids dur­ing the sum­mer. But she didn’t have to “work”.

*This doesn’t always apply to many peo­ple I know who own their own busi­ness and do not get any time off (per­haps they don’t have any employ­ees or only have one or two peo­ple or just can’t afford to take off). If they take time off, they don’t make any money or their busi­ness might suf­fer from being closed for so long.

When pro­fes­sors are “off” (i.e., not teach­ing), how­ever, they are *not* on vaca­tion. Instead, we are busy doing the stuff we are unable to do dur­ing the aca­d­e­mic school year. For today’s post, I’m going to debunk this assump­tion that pro­fes­sors are “off” all sum­mer by explain­ing what I will be doing over the sum­mer in terms of my work. My sum­mer plans are specif­i­cally sit­u­ated in my own con­text as a a tenure-track aca­d­e­mic prepar­ing to go up for tenure in the fall. Sum­mer plans and activ­i­ties may not be the same for other aca­d­e­mics, pro­fes­sors, or instruc­tors, espe­cially ones whose pri­mary respon­si­bil­ity is teach­ing (although they prob­a­bly feel pres­sure to write and pub­lish as well dur­ing the break).

1. Read. A lot. I have devel­oped a list of about 30 (aca­d­e­mic) books I would like to read over the sum­mer, which equals out to about 2–3 books a week. I’ve already read three books since school ended, but I have a large stack wait­ing for me. Some of the books are for my research; oth­ers are for my teach­ing. Either way, I have a lot to read. It’s impor­tant to note that this read­ing does not include all the fic­tion and non-fiction I want to read.

2. Write. A lot. If I were rank­ing this list, writ­ing would be at num­ber 1. It is expected that aca­d­e­mics write over the sum­mer, even when we are not paid for our sum­mer work through a sab­bat­i­cal or grant. I hope to send out at least one arti­cle over the sum­mer.

3. Revise an arti­cle that has been rejected. Last week, I received (bad) news that an arti­cle I wrote was rejected to the jour­nal to which I sub­mit­ted it. Rejec­tion is no fun. It can be extremely dis­cour­ag­ing and dis­heart­en­ing to receive such news. You can only send an arti­cle to one jour­nal at a time and they hold on to it between 4–6 months (at best) before noti­fy­ing you of the deci­sion. When you receive neg­a­tive news, it can depress me for days. But it’s the real­ity of aca­d­e­mic life. There’s even a jour­nal called The Jour­nal of Uni­ver­sal Rejec­tion that rejects every sin­gle arti­cle they receive. I don’t plan on sub­mit­ting there, but I find the premise delight­fully ironic.

4. Plan the courses I will be teach­ing in the Fall (and even the Spring). This activ­ity involves sev­eral components:

a. Com­pose a syl­labus. Decide on course objec­tives, assign­ments, grad­ing cri­te­ria, rules and guide­lines for the course. This needs to be done at least one week in advance of the semes­ter and takes a lot of planning.

b. Draft a course sched­ule. Cre­at­ing a course sched­ule for the entire semes­ter before you ever teach a course is prob­a­bly the hard­est part of plan­ning for a course. I begin work on this early and make changes all the way up to the start of class.

5. Plan for next year’s research project. I received a Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity Research Com­mit­tee (URC) grant for a project I’m work­ing on that exam­ines how stu­dents write about the writ­ing they will com­plete in their jobs. I will have a Research Assis­tant and I need to make plans for the aca­d­e­mic year.

6. Com­pose a Research Leave appli­ca­tion. I plan on apply­ing for a Research Leave for Fall 2013 or Spring 2014. This appli­ca­tion is detailed and time-consuming, and I plan to do much of it over the summer.

7. Com­pose an appli­ca­tion for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal. I would like to have sum­mer fund­ing next sum­mer, so I will also apply for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal through my university.

8. Update my tech­no­log­i­cal skills. I teach writ­ing and design courses, and my stu­dents and I use tech­nol­ogy every day. I am quite adept at Word, Excel, Pub­lisher, and Word­Press, but I need to enhance my skills in the Adobe suite, par­tic­u­larly InDe­sign and Pho­to­shop. I plan on learn­ing these bet­ter over the sum­mer.

9. Get orga­nized. Shred paper­work. Clean out my office. Orga­nize and delete com­puter files. Go through my email Inbox and delete, delete, delete.

10. Attend pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment sem­i­nars or work­shops. In June, I will be attend­ing a one-week sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity.

11. Begin think­ing about and plan­ning for the grad­u­ate course I will teach next Spring. Book orders will be due in Octo­ber, and I need to know early what I will be doing in the course, ten­ta­tively titled “Teach­ing Dig­i­tal Rhetoric.” I will do a lot of research for the course in terms of texts, assign­ments, and require­ments. And, since there isn’t much time in Decem­ber to plan for Spring course, I need to do most plan­ning over the sum­mer and dur­ing the Fall semester.

12. Put together my tenure note­book. More on this in the future.

As you can see, my sum­mer is filled with things I must get done before school resumes in August. Yes, I appre­ci­ate that I have a break from teach­ing and com­mut­ing to the office every day, but it’s not a true break that the word “vaca­tion” entails. I will take a vacation–two actu­ally. One with my hus­band for my 10th anniver­sary and another with my fam­ily to the beach. But, the pres­sure to read, write, pub­lish, and get caught up is ever present in my sum­mer life, even when I’m play­ing with my chil­dren, watch­ing a movie, or hik­ing in the park. That’s just the way it is.

Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my rou­tine doc­tor appoint­ments last year, preg­nant with Levi. After hear­ing the baby’s heart­beat and fin­ish­ing the exam, my doc­tor, who was now see­ing me through my third (and final) preg­nancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feel­ing about life and moth­er­hood and work and all the other com­mit­ments I have.

She has known me for sev­eral years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doc­tor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doc­tor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emo­tions came gush­ing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my chil­dren: about being a work­ing mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not tak­ing them to or pick­ing them up from school because I have an hour com­mute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my com­puter too much; about work­ing too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or scream­ing or being unforgiving.


Guilt in regards to my job: about hav­ing a fam­ily; about hav­ing chil­dren that pre­vent me from being as pro­duc­tive as some other of my col­leagues; about liv­ing so far away.


Guilt in regards to my hus­band: about him hav­ing to fill so many of the typ­i­cal “moth­er­hood” roles, such as doing the laun­dry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or cart­ing the kids to and from school each day, par­tic­u­larly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is won­der­ful!); about every con­ver­sa­tion we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep dur­ing a movie we’re watch­ing together; about him being the go-to par­ent so much of the time; about not hav­ing time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.


Guilt in regards to my sis­ters, fam­ily, and friends: about not keep­ing in touch bet­ter; about not being there more when I want to be; about tak­ing for­ever to send thank-you cards, or not even send­ing them at all; about not see­ing them as often as I like; about not notic­ing when they are strug­gling or going through a hard time; about not call­ing to say hi.


Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.


Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cook­ing a home­made meal each week for potluck; about not sign­ing up for nurs­ery duty because my hus­band needs me to be in there lis­ten­ing and sup­port­ing him as he preaches; about not fit­ting the typ­i­cal preacher’s wife role (what­ever that is); about being shy.


Guilt in regards to my body: about being over­weight; about using food to sti­fle my emo­tions; about not hav­ing time to exer­cise; about my body chang­ing through 3 preg­nan­cies and 2 c-sections.


Guilt in regards to my rela­tion­ship with God: about not pray­ing or read­ing the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks with­out even talk­ing to God; about won­der­ing who God is; about doubt, doubt­ing cer­tain things I grew up believ­ing but that I now question.


About every­thing.

Think­ing and talk­ing through many of the ways I was feel­ing guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doc­tor after all). When I was done, she said she under­stood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feel­ing so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feel­ing guilty about not liv­ing up to my own or society’s  expec­ta­tions of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Super­woman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words res­onated with me. I went home from the doc­tor feel­ing bet­ter. I resolved not to feel guilty. My chil­dren love me, my hus­band loves me, my par­ents love me, my friends and fam­ily love me.

I can give up my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies. I can­not do it all; I am not Super­woman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In acad­e­mia, talk abounds about grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion, tenure, get­ting a job, low wages and poor work­ing con­di­tions, and bal­anc­ing per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. One recent arti­cle in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Edu­ca­tion by Berke­ley Pro­fes­sor Mary Ann Mason is par­tic­u­larly sober­ing. Mason’s arti­cle, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses sev­eral inter­est­ing points about the over­abun­dance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how dif­fi­cult it is to have a fam­ily and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provoca­tive (if you are inter­ested, you should also read through the com­ments sec­tion of her arti­cle; so many heart­felt, reveal­ing and per­sonal responses that pro­vide their own form of mentoring):

In a sur­vey we con­ducted of all doc­toral stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, more than 70 per­cent of women and over half of all men said they con­sid­ered a career at a research uni­ver­sity to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to fam­ily life.

A male Ph.D. stu­dent in the sur­vey char­ac­ter­ized the com­mon sen­ti­ment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of sup­pos­edly intel­li­gent peo­ple who are largely worka­holic and expect oth­ers to be so as well’.”

A female stu­dent wrote, ‘Since begin­ning my doc­toral work, I have become con­vinced that very few, if any, female pro­fes­sors are able to have sta­ble, ful­fill­ing fam­ily lives of the sort that I wish for (a sta­ble mar­riage and children)’.”

Female grad­u­ate stu­dents who do become moth­ers dur­ing their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few uni­ver­si­ties are pay­ing atten­tion to the needs of graduate-student par­ents, or pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing on how to bal­ance fam­ily and career in a stress­ful pro­fes­sion in which, arguably, the most seri­ous stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs dur­ing the years when women will have children.”

These find­ings do not come as a shock to me as a pro­fes­sor. I have now expe­ri­enced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is dif­fi­cult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stress­ful job.

But as a grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ing on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so dif­fi­cult to “have it all” and find bal­ance between work and home.  I even had won­der­ful men­tors through­out grad­u­ate school, but we never really talked about mar­riage and chil­dren or what it would be like to have a fam­ily and work in academia.

With results and out­comes like these–where women are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (moth­ers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of grad­u­ate stu­dents are women, if we do not deal with the inter­sec­tion of a woman’s per­sonal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in acad­e­mia. We might still have unmar­ried women or women with­out chil­dren, but we may lose a large per­cent­age of women who can teach and men­tor oth­ers about what it means to have a fam­ily and a career in academia.

In short, we need men­tors. We need moth­ers who are will­ing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sac­ri­fices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in acad­e­mia might still be worth it. We need moth­ers who talk frankly about hav­ing chil­dren in grad­u­ate school, about hav­ing chil­dren on the tenure-track, about not hav­ing chil­dren at all. We need moth­ers to share their sto­ries, for it is their stories–our stories–that will edu­cate oth­ers and bet­ter inform female grad­u­ate stu­dents about the real­i­ties of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.

Waiting on the Tenure Decision

I go up for tenure less than 6 months from now.

I am cur­rently on the tenure-track as an “Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor.” If I am granted tenure, I become an “Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor.” What this means for those of you out­side of acad­e­mia is that I am no longer on a “trial basis” as an employee. Instead, I have greater job secu­rity (not com­plete job secu­rity, just more) and greater aca­d­e­mic freedom.

For the past six years, my job has been all about tenure. I have thought about tenure con­stantly through­out the years. In every rejec­tion I get from a jour­nal, I think about the effects this will have on my tenure case. In every neg­a­tive stu­dent eval­u­a­tion, I won­der what my fac­ulty col­leagues and the tenure com­mit­tee will say. When I get a jour­nal arti­cle pub­lished, I smile because I know this will be good for tenure. In every aspect of my work, I think about what impact some­thing will have on me being granted or denied tenure.

I know I’m not unique in this–the col­leagues I talk to at my uni­ver­sity feel the same way. You can­not escape thoughts about tenure. It is con­stantly on my (our) mind–even if you are in your first year on the tenure-track.

This semes­ter my think­ing about tenure has gone to a new extreme. I dream about tenure. I have night­mares about tenure. I worry about tenure. I pon­der the tenure process. I think about the tenure com­mit­tee. I think about the tenured fac­ulty in my own depart­ment. I talk about tenure every time one of my friends or rel­a­tives asks me about work. I talk about it to my col­leagues, my chair, my men­tors at other uni­ver­si­ties. It’s noth­ing but tenure, tenure, tenure.

Recently, I find it dif­fi­cult to breathe. My throat gets in a catch and I feel like I’m going to suf­fo­cate. I don’t feel good physically.

It’s not healthy to dwell on tenure so much. But I can’t help it. All of my years as an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor have brought me to this point. To the point where oth­ers decide:

  • if I am a good fit here.
  • if I will bring enough recog­ni­tion to my university.
  • if I have pub­lished enough.
  • if they like my research.
  • if I am a good scholar.
  • if I am a good teacher.
  • if I am a good colleague.
  • if I am involved in my pro­fes­sion, depart­ment, uni­ver­sity, church, and community.
  • if they want me.

This process is very stress­ful, too stress­ful, in fact. There is so much to do. Note­books to get ready. Let­ters to write. Eval­u­a­tions to com­plete. Doc­u­ments to update.

I am try­ing to not let it con­sume me. But it does. It is dif­fi­cult to know how to expe­ri­ence it otherwise.

So, I wait.
And wait.
And wait.

And I look for­ward to the day when tenure is behind me.

For those of you in acad­e­mia, what are your expe­ri­ences?
For those of you on the tenure-track, how do you stay sane?
For those of you who have been granted tenure, what advice do you have for some­one like me?

Women, Mothers, and Tenure: Why Babies Complicate Academic Work

I men­tioned in my last post that I was going to write about moth­er­hood and acad­e­mia. Many of you sensed the dilemma I was push­ing against in that post. How can one be both a mother and an academic?

Women have tra­di­tion­ally been dis­crim­i­nated against in the acad­emy (see this arti­cle in the Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed for an overview):

  • Women receive tenure at a lesser rate than men.
  • Women are paid sig­nif­i­cantly less than men.
  • Women’s raises are sig­nif­i­cantly less than men’s raises are.
  • Women are more likely to quit their tenure-track jobs than men because of exter­nal factors.
  • Women are far more likely to vol­un­teer their ser­vice to their depart­ment (or uni­ver­sity) by fill­ing labor-intensive but-not-really-related-to-tenure-and-promotion-and-prestige admin­is­tra­tive posi­tions that their male coun­ter­parts will not hold.

When you add a fam­ily to an already dis­crim­i­nated against gen­der, the results are even more stag­ger­ing. A recent arti­cle by Mary Ann Mason titled, “Women, Tenure, and the Law,” finds that women with chil­dren are sig­nif­i­cantly less likely to achieve tenure than men or than women with­out chil­dren. So, whereas all women are dis­crim­i­nated against in terms of pay, women with chil­dren face even more dis­crim­i­na­tion. In short, Mason writes, “For women, a crit­i­cal fac­tor in tenure denial is their gen­der and fam­ily responsibilities.”

Women with chil­dren are also much more likely to become lec­tur­ers or adjuncts, posi­tions that typ­i­cally hold sig­nif­i­cantly less pay than tenure-track posi­tions, are noto­ri­ous for hav­ing poor work­ing con­di­tions, do not offer much job secu­rity, and are much less pres­ti­gious than tenure-track positions.

What’s more is the stress that tenure and pro­mo­tion takes–probably on all women (and men, too), but espe­cially on women with chil­dren. Not only are you hav­ing and rais­ing chil­dren, cook­ing, doing laun­dry, wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night for years, but you are also work­ing to estab­lish your­self in the field, write and pub­lish, plan and design new courses, read as much as you can, and serve your depart­ment, uni­ver­sity, and dis­ci­pline. One his­tory pro­fes­sor argues that women with chil­dren are “pro­fes­sion­ally infe­rior to men” dur­ing the child-bearing and child-rearing days because women are “sim­ply unable to work as hard, as long, or as well as child­less pro­fes­sors or aca­d­e­mic fathers.” While I wouldn’t go so far to say women are “pro­fes­sion­ally infe­rior,” I do rec­og­nize that moth­ers, lit­er­ally, can­not work as much as child­less pro­fes­sors (men or women) or even aca­d­e­mic fathers (who although they are par­ents, too, are not often the des­ig­nated care­taker when it comes to their chil­dren. There was even a recent study about how when par­ents are home at the same time, the woman is still the pri­mary parent–even when both peo­ple work. See this arti­cle for more infor­ma­tion about dif­fer­ences between aca­d­e­mic moth­ers and fathers).

Finally, women who are, or who are to become, moth­ers also face dis­crim­i­na­tion when they become preg­nant. Per­haps it is this way in most jobs for women. I don’t know. But in the acad­emy, moth­er­hood car­ries with it a lot of bag­gage. And preg­nancy is even seen, by some, as a lia­bil­ity. Preg­nancy marks the body. Preg­nancy marks the woman. Peo­ple make assump­tions about preg­nant women. About moth­ers. About being a mother and an academic.

Again the dilemma.

What about me? I had one child as a grad­u­ate stu­dent. I was ABD (All But Dis­ser­ta­tion) when my daugh­ter Eliz­a­beth was born. I wrote my dis­ser­ta­tion dur­ing her first year of life (I still don’t know how I did that–a sup­port­ive fam­ily was a big part of that).

I went on the job mar­ket when she was 4 months old. She had just turned one when I took a tenure-track position.

Since being in acad­e­mia, I’ve had two chil­dren on the tenure-track. Am I bold or what? Three kids. It’s unheard of in acad­e­mia. At least if you’re a woman.

*Update (2 hours after orig­i­nal post): As I was dri­ving home today, I was reflect­ing on this post, and I wanted to add one last com­ment. One of the things I hope for is that women in acad­e­mia (and other jobs) can find men­tors, oth­ers who have paved the way for newer fac­ulty like me to suc­ceed by get­ting tenure. I go up for tenure next year. Not only do I hope to get it, but I also hope that, one day, I can be one of these mentors.