Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Embarking on the Tenure Journey at Age 50

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Embarking on the Tenure Journey at Age 50

Article excerpt

From the outside, the work of a college professor looks easy. One teaches three or four classes each semester, and the rest of the time is the individuals. The reality is much different. There are meetings and committees, office hours to keep, advising duties, class preparation and grading-the list goes on. For new faculty, the demands beyond teaching can become overwhelming when the pressure of attaining tenure is added. The challenges of tenure related to teaching, service, and research are increased when internal fears create barriers that block the faculty member from taking the necessary risks to achieve tenure.

Literature Review

The typical journey to become a tenured university professor includes the following, well-known steps: (a) earn a doctoral degree, (b) secure a faculty position, (c) persevere through the tenure process, and (d) attain tenure. As new professors complete the first two steps and move on to Step 3, literature (Buller, 2010; Higgs, Graham, & Mattei, 2006; Mabrouk, 2006; Olson, 2010; Stewart, 2013; White & Meendering, 2008) offers a plethora of advice and guidance. Similar to other novice professionals, tenure-tracked faculty members are encouraged to seek out mentors, network with colleagues and their professional community, judiciously manage time, establish credibility through highprofile projects, create a work-life balance, and avoid workplace politics. In addition to these general career recommendations, those seeking tenure are advised to have a clear understanding of the specific teaching, research, and service requirements of tenure on their campuses and within their departments (Buller, 2010; Higgs, Graham, & Mattei, 2006; Mabrouk, 2006; Olson, 2010; Stewart, 2013; White & Meendering, 2008).

There is, however, no single story of the road to tenure. For some, the nuances of the journey are influenced by their gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation (Cook, 2007; Cooper & Stevens, 2002; Mabrouk, 2006; Samble, 2008; White, 2005; White & Meendering, 2008). For others, the tenure process is influenced by the age at which they entered the tenure path. The median age of doctoral recipients in the United States is 31.8 years (National Science Foundation, 2014), and faculty in the first 5 years of their university careers are typically just under the age of 40 (Berberet, 2008). Just as other demographic variables of faculty members impact the tenure process, so, too, does age (Cooper, Ortiz, Benham, & Woods Scherr, 2002; Jaschik, 2008).

What Would We Do If We Weren't Afraid?

The following stories help to illustrate our experiences as two female assistant professors who began our tenure treks when we were just under the age of 50. The key issues emerging from our stories are framed within the writing and research of Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In (2013). In order to lean into their careers, Sandberg advises women, regardless of their age, to confront the fears and internal barriers that may stalemate their professional lives and to take the risks needed to chart unique career paths that allow them to build fulfilling careers. We begin the story with Sandbergs essential question, "What would we do if we weren't afraid?''

Kelly's story. When I was an undergraduate taking my English-methods course, I loved my methods course and the professor who taught it. For the first time, I found myself wondering about teaching college-about being a teacher-educator. I thought it would be fun, but college teaching required a doctorate, and I was not prepared intellectually to do that, so I focused on being a high school English teacher. Twenty-some years and two master's degrees later, I was working part-time as an adjunct faculty member in a college of education while teaching high school full-time when a colleague stopped me after a meeting.

"We think you should get your doctorate so you can come teach with us full-time," she said. I could not believe it-me? …

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