5 Things I Did Right My First Year on the Tenure-Track
Here I am at the end of my first year as an Assistant professor of French at NCSU. It was a peculiar year, as the second semester marked the global pandemic of COVID-19.
It has been a good academic year and I accomplished everything I wanted. I have established enough of a community both inside and outside of my department.
As I am passionate about documenting this journey with as many people as possible. So, I am writing to capture the 5 ways I have “stayed ahead of the game”, found my community and established long term relationships throughout my first year.
1. Find your community inside and outside of your department
I was automatically assigned a mentor from the first year. Even though my mentor was gone the first semester I was here, she was very present via text and voice messages and I was able to ask her the questions I had. Since she was not there, I remember going to lunch with a few senior colleagues to ask some more questions. It’s the perfect opportunity to reiterate what your research is really about and what your book (or publications) will most likely be about. It was the best possible outcome since, to this day, a lot of opportunities I get to read about, I hear from senior colleagues who happen upon CFPs, articles or resources. Remember, it is often in the interests of the department to get tenure. And I have been lucky to be in a department where people have generally been welcoming and open to sharing.
It is equally important to establish your community in other departments as well! With a highly interdisciplinary project, I decided to search for other junior faculty in fields I loved and/or whose research had some synergies with mine. I was lucky to find an article about new hires from a year to two years prior to my arrival. I emailed every single person I saw I could potentially befriend. Here’s exactly what I said:
Good afternoon [Name],
My name is Johanna and I am a newly hired assistant professor in Foreign Languages and Literature (French). This is my first semester at NCSU and I stumbled upon your bio [say where].
Upon reading your bio, I thought I would love to meet you in person and discuss your research and mine. I focus on [your research area in two to three sentences]. If any of this appeals to you, and if you even have time, I would love to chat and meet you over coffee or tea!
There are a million ways to write this email, of course, but I do believe that this is the simplest way to find your community. Most importantly, be patient, especially because these people are most likely assistant professors too and they may be very busy and overwhelmed, but they’re interested they will get back to you. This opened the door to a black women writing group spanning 6 different departments! This was the best thing I have ever done.
- ACTION STEP: Email your colleagues inside and outside of your department.
2. Establishing a publishing pipeline
I had no idea this is what I was doing, but on my last semester of graduate school, I submitted two articles for publication. These two articles took a long time to revise and resubmit but I am so glad they did. I spent my first year fixing old writing, rather than coming up with new writing, which somehow made my first year easier. I was able to revise in smaller incremental time slots over the course of a couple of semester as opposed to the ideation process around the book I am supposed to write for tenure. This also allowed me to think about a few other pieces of writing I have been wanting to publish and research journals and making an overall big picture calendar of the articles I might want to publish within 3-4 years.
Finally, since I am in a book field, I have also spent my first year working through the Dissertation to Book Boot Camp. Best thing I have ever done to jumpstart my book. You can read about it here!
- ACTION STEP: If you do not come with R&R articles from your last year of graduate school, what kinds of publication and journals you’d like to submit? This by itself can truly take a whole semester to figure out! But it is necessary work fitting for the first year on the tenure track. If you’re in a book field, again, do check out the Boot Camp!
3. Get clear answers about what will get you tenure (and what won’t)
While being a very goal oriented person, I am approaching tenure the same way: a list of boxes to check. I met with my department head twice a semester my first year so I could ask any questions regarding what counts or doesn’t count for tenure. In my department for example, translations do not count.
I also relied on what newly promoted associate professors had to say in their tenure process from the beginning. Establishing these relationships from the coffee date you may have set up in the beginning for instance can help you collect this information. In addition to that, I also attended (prematurely of course) town halls or meetings at the college level on tenure, which were equally helpful and provided the other side of the process.
But I also wanted to be clear that you should also know what won’t get you tenure. Is chairing a sixth committee will get you tenure? Short answer, no. So, if I have to do something differently from now on, I would say that I will say no a bit more and really focus on what will get me tenure and get tunnel vision on this.
- ACTION STEP: Gather both official guidelines and “unofficial“ testimonies around the reappointment and tenure processes.
4. Work out and self-care
So this is again some of the things I have done myself to survive that first year. To me, yes, working out was an absolute essential. I feel better if I move my body at least 30-60 minutes everyday intentionally whether it is a hike, a Zumba class, a Pilates class, a yoga class, a BodyPump class. As a former fitness instructor, I am *still* a fitness class addict! It improves my mood and reminds me that the work of the mind depends on the health of my body. I do better work if I take care of me in this manner.
- ACTION STEP: Whatever it is for you, make sure to incorporate some of these activities in your day to day. Yes, you could spend 1hr reading that article that just came out about your topic, but if it is 5 or 6pm will you retain all of that info? Why not dance it out and come back to it tomorrow? 🙂
This is why I am so intentional about writing this blog. I am determined to share what has worked for me and document it in the process. But the documenting isn’t just for the blog. I adopt this documenting strategy for everything. Since I do many things for the first time (teaching graduate seminars for the first time, chairing MA committees for the first time) I am making it up as I go. But I make sure that I take notes along the way, so I am sure not to make the same mistake a second time whether it is teaching or research.
I have a teaching journal where at the end of a lesson I write what went well (sometimes a simple check mark: lesson was good!) and what did not go as well/could be improved upon in the future. It’s hard to be consistent sometimes we just want to get out of the class and move on to something else, but I find that extra 5 to 10 minutes after each class is done is seriously the best return on investment.
- ACTION STEP: Make sure to document everything that you are doing. I often stay in the classroom 5minutes after class to answer students’ questions, most times they don’t have anything else to say to me, I then take my notes right then in there so when I go out of class, I can exhale and transition to something else.
I think this sums it up pretty clearly what I have done successfully my first year on the tenure track. I hope to tweak things and document some more as I get to my second year! But to recap, here’s what was really beneficial to me on my first year:
Find Your Community [Inside and Outside of Your Department]
Establishing a Publishing Pipeline
Get Clear on What Will Get You Tenure and What Won’t
Work out & Self-Care
I am definitely going to get to writing the five things I wish I had NOT done or said “yes” to as a first year assistant professor. We win some, we lose some and it’s equally important to highlight!