The Tenure Timeline

On Friday, April 9, 2021 Purdue University awarded me tenure. I feel like tenure is one of those processes that is both very specific and also mysterious. There are reasons for this (like most things, I both agree and disagree with these reasons), but it still makes the experience of going through it challenging. So in this post, I describe my timeline for promotion and tenure in the College of Education. Even within colleges, institutions may have different practices. Also, colleges and universities vary on how this process occurs–therefore, my experience may not mirror yours. But I hope this is helpful to folks as they think about long-term planning. No one really sat me down to map out a plan for tenure, which I now this is essential for all new faculty.

I do want to acknowledge that in terms of support, the College of Education was excellent. I received annual reviews of my progress every year (instead of just at the 3 year mark), and had a small group of faculty assigned to be my tenure shepherds. They guided me along the away. The final group of shepherds, the ones who presented and defended my case, were instrumental in my success.

March 2020 — My department chair lets me know that I’ve been nominated to go up for promotion. I was also instructed to create a list of external reviewers. External reviewers are people who can speak the contribution you make to the field. At Purdue, these letters are confidential and I do not get to know who wrote them. External reviewers cannot be people you have extensive experience with. My department chair created a list of names, I gave her a list of names, and then she selected between 5-8 people. If reviewers agreed, they would receive a copy of my P&T file (really, a very wordy CV) and three writing samples.

March 2020 — I also started drafting my P&T file this month. At Purdue, we complete what is called a Form 36. The first two sections are general information and then the overall basis for nomination (2-3 page summary of my work). I went up on research (or discovery, as it’s called here) meaning that I should be promoted based on my scholarship. So I had a section devoted to discovery, which included a narrative summary of my research agenda and then lists everything–publications, grants, research mentorship, etc. The next two sections are devoted to teaching (learning at Purdue) and service (engagement at Purdue). Both sections were considerably shorter than the discovery one.

March 2020-June 2020 — Work on the Form 36. Repeatedly. I worked closely with one tenure shepherd who showed no mercy. Her feedback stung. But it was appropriate. Writing this is hard because you’re writing for multiple audiences, who all have varying levels of understanding about your research. I focused solely on this document. Every sentence matters and every sentence is doing a lot of work. When it was near final draft form, I sent it out to other academics to review it. I also hired an editor to help with editing/formatting. I am so glad I did! She really made the document much stronger.

June 2020 — Turn the document in to my department chair. At Purdue, this is it. Nothing else can be added to my file. Folks can be verbally updated on any other accomplishments (like a grant) but nothing is added to the written record.

June 2020-October 2020 — Wait ๐Ÿ™‚ I was encouraged to scale back my productivity during this time. Since nothing could be added to the record, it didn’t make sense to try to get publications out. I took this advice to heart, and only worked on one manuscript and continued to collect data on ongoing projects.

October 2020 — The first vote was at the department level (called the primary committee). My department chair emailed when the vote was done to tell me it was positive. Apparently back in the day, people learned the number of people who voted in favor/against.

December 2020 — The second vote was at the college level (called the area committee). In my college, there are only two departments so most of the area committee had already voted once. The dean called me to tell me this was favorable too.

February 2021 — The final vote was at the university level. This is somewhat perfunctory–the cases discussed at the university level as usually ones where there are mixed votes or concerns. My dean called to let me know that the university approved my tenure and there were no concerns and to keep it confidential until the Board voted.

April 2021 — Board of Trustees makes it official!!

So now it’s over. The promotion isn’t in effect until August but the hard part is finished! The entire process is long and arduous–and while I wasn’t overly worried, the process has a lot of moving parts, and I wasn’t in control of many of them.

If you’re a new professor and reading this, my biggest tip is to map everything to the tenure process, but to pay attention to timing. I didn’t factor in publication timing until about year 3–now that I know some journals take months, and others can take years, I have a better sense of what my research cycle should look like as I plan for promotion to full.

I also want to stress that the College of Education prepared me well for this process–yearly reviews, feedback on my documents, etc. If you do not have this in your college, please create a small committee of scholars who will help you do this yearly.

And many thanks to those of you who had to hear me complain about this process in-person. I appreciate it ๐Ÿ™‚

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