Friday, July 6, 2012

Already fighting...for tenure

  Last week I had a skype conversation with my Ph.D. advisor. It was the first extended ‘face-to-face’ conversation we’ve had since I deposited my thesis, and I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to be nervous.
My advisor and I always had a cordial, productive relationship, but I always felt there was more I should be doing in terms of research and analyses. We discussed a manuscript I’d prepared based on my third chapter along with my current position and future grant ideas, and I received good ideas and contacts. One comment did give me pause: you are already trying to get tenure. As a post-doc with at least one more year, I should already consider my manuscripts and grant proposals part of my tenure package. I don’t think this is bad advice (though it sure puts the pressure on!), but it does reveal my advisor’s assumption that I am on the tenured professor’s career path. In the past, we’d talked only briefly about my post-graduate plans, during which I made sure to mention my interest in research-heavy, non-teaching positions. Each time, my advisor assumed I was aiming for a professorship.

  I’ve got a lot of geese up in the air right now, as it were – those manuscripts, an invitation to submit a full proposal, adjunct teaching to prepare for – all of which will help if I ultimately decide to teach and pursue tenure. And I’m excited about the prospect of published papers, more grant money (which would extend my postdoc), and additional teaching experience. But I hadn’t thought, “this will help me get tenure”. I guess my thinking was more, “this will help me do science”.

  A sign I’m not fully committed to the tenure idea…I recently withdrew a submitted abstract for a major conference in my field. Last year I was unable to attend the same conference for personal reasons, and this year those same reasons made me wrestle with attending. It was a tough decision. The conference is a great place to network, and when I attended in 2010 I got great feedback and ideas about my research. In addition, it’s a chance to catch up with other ex-graduate students and faculty from my graduate school. Indeed those social interactions were really what I looked forward to. Ultimately, I decided (in consultation with Mr. Scientist, who really should be referred to as Mr. Engineer) that my personal interactions were more important. I realized that I need to have precedence for setting my priorities – important personal interactions and events over career events. Although it may not be good for the career, I think (hope) it will make my personal life happier.

  Anyway, next year the conference is in August, so it should be easier to attend. And I'll have a new research project to present!

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