Increase Your Chance of Getting Tenure

One of the things you’ll find as a young faculty member is that research will be the one task you’ll find easiest to put off. I’ll repeat: “you’ll find research the easiest thing to put off when you are a young faculty member.” You may be shocked at that statement, mainly because of your love of research and your research production is why you have your current job. However, you’ll also find as a new faculty member that most everything you deal with will have hard deadlines. For instance, when you teach, you’ll have to meet your class certain times every week for a certain length of time, and you’ll have to prepare to meet those deadlines.

Your service obligations will come with deadlines, you will have committee meetings and reports will be due. In fact, the only thing that will not have many hard deadlines will be your research. Sure, you’ll have deadlines for abstract submission, but those are easy to meet. The time you need for doing data collection, writing, and publishing has no deadlines, and if there are any, you must set them yourself.

In one sense, it is utterly crazy that young academics are so willing to put off their research agenda because of other deadlines because the primary factor that will help you keep your job is your research production. Most faculty members are adequate teachers, and most do service well. However, the distinguishing feature of those faculty getting promotion and tenure and those that don’t, is their research production.

Research has shown quite clearly up to 2/3rds of new faculty produce ‘virtually nothing’ in their first 1-2 years that counts as research scholarship[1].

To help you increase your chances of tenure, and to keep the writing moving forward, here are three tips that will make a difference in your research production.

Schedule time to write:

You are in a writing business. If you are not writing, you will not advance. Period. The sooner you come to terms with this, the sooner you will start to move forward with your research. You may already have this attitude; if so, great! If not, you must remind yourself daily that an academic that doesn’t write is someone that won’t be an academic very long!

One of the best practices I’ve seen to increase writing output – and one I’ve used for years is an easy one. Schedule yourself to write 30 minutes each day. That’s it - 30 minutes. Dr. Robert Boice, the author of Advice for New Faculty Members - which is a fantastic book on faculty development, studied this daily approach to writing by following 16 young faculty members for six years. Dr. Boice noted those faculty that waited until they had a large block of time to write, or waited until “their muse struck” uniformly produced little in the way of scholarship. However, those faculty that scheduled to write in brief sessions every day produced significantly more research output yearly than those that didn’t. There is no other writing tip I’ve found that has had such an impact on my scholarly production, as does the scheduling and writing at least 30 minutes per day. You may be thinking, “wow, this is too easy,” and you’re right, it is easy. The question is whether you have the discipline to do it.

As Dr. Boice notes, “Those [faculty] that succeed are ‘mindful’ about their work of writing.” So, you must think about it and have the discipline to take this approach. But if you do, you’ll find there are some advantages to writing daily such as you probably can work 30 minutes into your daily schedule every day if you put it on your calendar. If you write daily, you’ll find you won’t have to review what you wrote the day before because it’ll be fresh in your mind and you may find once you start writing on your 30 minutes, that time may stretch and you’ll find you squeeze in extra time.

In the end, scheduling 30 minutes a day to write is simple, easy, but most importantly, it is effective. You must write because that’s part of your job and a part you’ll be evaluated on. It only makes sense for you to do what has been shown to work, so get out your calendar and schedule your writing!

Get in ‘the cycle’:

There is what I call a research cycle, through which all our research projects go through. This research cycle encompasses all the various phases of a research project, from idea to final publication. Too often, young academics focus on only one project at a time as it goes through the cycle; i.e., they don’t start another project cycle until one is complete. I would encourage you to look at the cycle holistically and work to have a project going at every phase of the cycle.

If you continuously have multiple projects moving through the research cycle, your production will be higher. In my own lab, I’m always mindful of the part of the cycle our various projects are in; if we get projects building up in one part of the cycle, I’ll focus on that part to remove the blockade and get back to moving projects through the cycle. Again, if you’ve got a project at every part of the cycle, this will mean you’ve got at least five projects with the same research topic at some phase of the cycle. You’ll then be easily able to describe what your near term productivity should be. Get in ‘the cycle’ and be productive!

Learn to delegate:

Other than writing, one of the most challenging tasks faced by young faculty is learning how to delegate, especially when it comes to research. A key to delegating is to understand what others in your lab can do and what you must do. Regarding your research, you may be hesitant to delegate. As a young faculty member, doing everything in your research, on top of teaching your classes, participating in assigned committees, writing grants, and working to provide service for your professional organization will quickly exhaust you.

With this approach in mind, ask yourself, what are tasks only you can do, and what are jobs you can train others to do? I would bet in most cases, you can train others to collect data and to recruit subjects.

You might even have colleagues that are working with you that are better at data analysis than you are. Of course, this delegation is all predicated on those you recruit to work with you being competent at these jobs. However, once you start to think about how you can delegate, you’ll find your research production will exponentially increase.

There is a reason top scientists all have labs full of people; the more people involved, the more work that can get done. If you're working toward P&T remember that you’ve got to be willing to write for 30 minutes every day, get in the writing cycle and then be prepared to delegate so you publish your research and move forward in academia.

[1] Boice, R. Combined treatments for writing blocks. Behaviour Research and Therapy 30, pg. 107-116, 1992.



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