I want to share with you some personal and exciting news. I am proud to say I have gotten the official word I received tenure with promotion.
I shared the news yesterday on all of my social media accounts because I was so excited. I was also incredibly touched by the messages of congratulations across the board from family, friends, colleagues, and even students. This truly meant so much to me!
So, by July 1st, I will be able to change my title from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. I know, fancy right?!
What is tenure?
You may be asking yourself – what exactly is tenure and what is the process? Tenure is where you have a little bit more job security and you have proven yourself in your field with research, teaching, and service. This is a process most academic institutions go through with their tenure track faculty.
The tenure process actually begins at the end of your fifth year at your academic institution, where you first have to meet with the Dean of Faculty Affairs to discuss key deadlines and requirements you need to meet. Essentially, you have to have all you need ready to go by this time in terms of your research, teaching, and service components.
The first thing I had to do was to list professors who I did not know or never have worked with as possible external reviewers of my tenure package. Each academic institution is different in terms of how many external reviewers you have to have and what level they have to be, but for UofL, I gave a list of 14 professors to reach out to, but I only needed to have four letters.
The next thing was to organize my binders. Yes, we are still using binders to gather all of our materials. This is difficult, especially if you are like me and are WAY more organized digitally than you are with papers, this calls for serious organizational skills. Luckily, after a few weeks getting things together and going through several print cartridges (sorry, trees!), I was able to submit my binders for review.
The process was pretty steady at this point where I was able to get updates on what each committee voted on from personnel, department, college, dean, provost, and then finally the Board of Trustees. Yes, all of these groups had to individually evaluate my work.
Why is this a big deal?
For me, this is one of the proudest moments of my professional and personal career. I do rank this up to some of my best track and field accomplishments because tenure in some cases is not guaranteed. This is especially the case with the growing changes we are seeing in the economy and in higher education.
Plus, when you are specializing in a field that is still considered to be a “fad” by some in academia, it may be hard to validate the work you have spent years building up over time. Let alone being known for teaching research.
Over the years, I had several things flown my way by others when it came to what you will need to get tenure, and what are some things you can’t do if you want to get tenure. I was told over the years you couldn’t get tenure for something that is constantly changing – because how can you develop a level of expertise? I also had someone tell me that if you were known for just teaching research work, you’d be lucky to see past your third year review?
These were all of the questions I was thrown at over the years. This is where you have a decision to make like “The Matrix.” The blue pill is the safe route – you go down the normal path like every other professor has done in your field be on the safe side for your research and teaching agenda. The red pill is where you open up your options and explore the possibilities out there but with no real safety net there to catch you in an academic sense.
I guess you all can guess which option I chose? Definitely the second one and I am so glad I did.
What did I learn?
So, what I do with these points of advice? The complete opposite. Here’s what I did:
- You have got to invest in your future. Knowing that not many people thought social media would stick around, I wanted to make sure to go the extra effort and make partnerships and connections not only in the academic and professional career, but also in my experiences. The first three years at UofL, I traveled to more conferences and countries than ever before. I presented research, conducted keynote talks, and shared my insights with professionals from all walks of life. This investment paid off both immediately and continues to help me with the friends and colleagues I have been able to make.
- Realizing that social media is not a fad – it’s a vibrant community. Social media can be distracting at times, but it is also a place where you can foster and really engage with others to build a community. Through my teaching efforts, I was able to get connected with other professionals in the sports community and teaching – some who have really become great friends and colleagues.
- Don’t be afraid to get outside of the academic box. I was told to stay in PR and only talk PR. Well, that advice didn’t last long for me. I went WAY outside of the PR box and branched out to other disciplines and communities. This was probably the best thing for me to do – because I was able to provide these insights, networks, and fresh perspectives into my research, teaching, and consulting.
- Be a self-made professional. This is where you can become a pioneer in your field and set a whole new research line and focus for your field. Don’t we all want to do this? This is where you can make a true difference in the field. Yes, it is comfortable to follow in the footsteps of others, but the rewards you get in charting your own path can really make an impact on the community. You are able to get your start in your research area as a PhD student, but once you walk across that stage to be hooded, you are your own brand of a professor. Take ownership of it and embrace it. Being your own professor where you can build on the foundation of the work you have already done, but perhaps work towards being an explorer within the field and sharing new ideas. This may take some time, hard work, a little confidence, and even a team to support this journey with you. With that being said, the rewards for doing this pay off in the long run.
- Re-educate your field. Your field thinks a certain way? Then provide a different perspective and show them what is possible. This is what I did. I was able to share what I was learning from inside the classroom and position this as part of my established research agenda. For example, one of my areas is in crisis communication, and I discussed how higher education in many ways is in a crisis when it came to adapting to the growing gaps in technology skills and applications for students. So essentially, my teaching research aligned with this area.
- Social media is powerful and necessary for professors today. Social media is here to stay – and it can offer you more opportunities professionally than you can imagine. Sharing your research and coordinating ideas with others virtually is one way. Bouncing off ideas with practitioners to see what problems and issues they would like to be explored is another. Sharing your tips and best practices for teaching social media is another. You also want to push the barriers that may have been set for others when it comes to what professors “should be doing.” For me, this meant to invest in more time in social media, be active in consulting and social media service, take on leadership, volunteer for professional organizations in social media and sports, and share my experiences. My blog – and other social media platforms – have become one of the most important resources. Some may not appreciate what you are doing, but others will. I found by experimenting with social media to see what worked and what didn’t – and then share it with others, it made a huge difference.
- Teaching research is where it is at. Teaching social media has been the area which I have gotten the most praise and notice over the last few years. And this was an area that I really fell into. The work I was able to do in my class caught a lot of people’s attention, and people would ask me – does this assignment really work? What do professionals think? These sparked research questions, and the rest is history. Tying in teaching and research together is a win-win.
- Be brave, be yourself and have balance. You do not want tenure to consume you. Remember, there is more to life than your job. You want to make sure it is well balanced and full. Yes, I did work a lot over the last few years. I never really was “off” – meaning, wherever I went, so did my work. I did a little bit each day – there were some days that were really awesome, and then there were others that were my “one sentence days.” I made sure though to get exercise time each day and made sure to take breaks so I could get re-energized for the next session. In the time I have been an assistant professor, I have never had to do an all-nighter. I also understood this approach may not work for everyone. I was okay with that because this was something that worked for me.
What is next?
Tenure is awesome, but it is just the beginning for me. My goal has always been to make a difference in the field, and I feel like I am just getting started. More research, teaching, and professional opportunities are out there to take advantage of. I am excited with this new chapter and position title, and if anyone has any questions about the process or is going up soon, I’d be more than happy to chat.
Have a great day!