Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Evolving Strategies and Emerging Selves: Two Junior Faculty Reflect on the Road to Tenure

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Evolving Strategies and Emerging Selves: Two Junior Faculty Reflect on the Road to Tenure

Article excerpt

"I have recurring feelings of ... uncertainty, frustration, because I don't ... feel like I can do all the work, much less do the quality kind of work that I would like to do." (1)

"Please do know that I am ... generally a very time-conscious deadline oriented person--I suppose the lack of such qualities happens after the first year, but I am not used to being behind on my work and find it highly unsettling and emotionally draining." (2)

We draw the opening lines of this essay from two years of correspondence we have exchanged while employed in tenure-track roles in different universities. These excerpts speak to recurring themes of uncertainty, loss, change, and struggle that we have experienced along the road to tenure. "I don't feel like I can do all the work," we write one month. "I'm not used to being behind," we express the next. Yet new forms of agency and identity have emerged as well, and in this paper, we reflect on the strategies we have employed--and a few of the Selves that have emerged--during our respective journeys. Our purpose is not only to add to reflexive literature on the tenure process, (3) but, significantly, to engage in a collaborative narration of self as an act of agency within a fraught and temporal institutional position. Drawing from journal entries, a personal blog, and emails we exchanged across a two year period, we describe prominent themes and narrations of self visible in our writing. Indeed, the process of reflecting, strategizing, revising, and acting seem as important to our evolving sense of selves as the specific strategies we deploy in our institutional role.

The individual, contextual, and political nature of the tenure process defies static representations or generalized prescriptions for success. Scholars have published a range of reflections on the tenure process (4) and guides to navigate academia (5) as tangible products to serve their tenure journeys and as career guides for others. The academic tenure-track, while both lauded and critiqued in contemporary discourse, is a standard position in American higher education which involves a trial or probationary period of employment generally lasting from one to seven years leading up to the granting (or not) of tenure. Tenure describes a contractual, protected status in employment in which faculty can, ideally, pursue scholarship--even that which critiques dominant institutional or national interests--without threat of job loss. Additionally, the candidate under tenure review is generally scored on three basic areas of work: research, service, and teaching. The weight and scoring in these areas depend on the institution and field. Many faculty members find the probationary period and tenure review process a period of high pressure because of the limited time to meet mandated expectations in research, teaching, and service and establish a solid research agenda.

Experiences with the tenure process can differ dramatically based on a faculty member's gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, and discipline (6) as well as access to and experiences with mentoring (7) and a range of other more ineffable forces. Yet, some commonalities endure, as the reviewer of an English professor's entertaining account of his first year on the job observes: "There are many largely universal survival struggles and self-doubts which are shared in common by most of us embarking on a new career in the academy." (8) Indeed, our correspondence reveals shared experiences despite employment in different departments, institutions and regions each with differing teaching, service and research responsibilities. As Lucy Townsend demonstrates in sharing her "survival strategies" for "climbing the slopes of academia," (9) personal experiences can provide fruitful points of comparison and connection for others.

Personal narratives are forms of theorizing the Sell in this case, a multiplicity of Selves (10) positioned within specific material contexts and a bounded and imposed seven-year slice of time in which an array of factors--performance, politics, personal issues--can determine whether one maintains a life time role in the profession. …

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