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.