Tenure Track: Professor reviewing a blue folder with his student
This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

With the new academic year in full swing, this is a time, as junior faculty, that can be stressful. You are attending faculty orientation(s)/department meetings, having informal meetings with potential campus mentors, trying to figure out what you are teaching, and feeling pressure to get your research program off the ground. And all of this is in the context of a global pandemic! Trust me, I have been there and certainly understand the challenges junior faculty may be experiencing right now. Recently, I applied for tenure and promotion and through some reflection I wanted to share four systems that I believe are vital to the success of junior faculty to not only survive, but thrive on the tenure track.

Research Project System

When I give workshops about writing productivity, I typically get asked, “How have you been so productive as a junior faculty?” My response is always, “I think in systems and to manage multiple projects you have to develop your system.”

As a component of your system my suggestion first is to exhaust publications from your dissertation. Here is why: 

  • Your data has already been collected and analyzed and you have a body of work to work from. This cuts down on the time to submit your work for review and you don’t have to feel pressured right away to begin a second project.

However, if you are in your second or third year it is time to start considering that second research project that will provide you data to carry you into applying for tenure. While each discipline differs in whether they want you to write a book or peer-reviewed journal articles, you want to begin this project in year two or three. 

Additionally, as a component of your research system (if applicable) you should seek funding for this second project. It allows you to get in the practice of applying for grants if you haven’t had this experience and even if —worst case scenario— the grant does not get funded, you have most likely written a literature review and methodology that can be used for a publication related to this project once you collect your data. I always believe that anything written can be repurposed in another way.

Decline Opportunities System

As junior faculty there are many new opportunities that will come your way. In order to ensure that you have a streamlined research agenda, a critical part of your system has to include how to say no to opportunities. 

What I have found most effective is to have a visual or written document that outlines your research agenda, and when an opportunity comes your way, before accepting or declining the invitation you should review your agenda and first see if the opportunity fits. If the opportunity is a fit and you have capacity, then say yes to engaging in the opportunity

However, if the opportunity does not fit your agenda and may take more time than you have capacity for, you can decline and then suggest someone else in your network better aligned. I like to provide alternatives (after reaching out to them) because it’s important to support colleagues in our networks and the favor is often returned in the future. 

One caveat here to keep in mind are the politics around your decision for a particular opportunity. I certainly understand how this works and, in some instances, you may be forcefully compelled to accept an opportunity. However, even in these cases always look for a way to tie the opportunity back to your agenda.

Teaching Systems

For most new faculty outside of getting research off the ground, teaching can be a serious time drain. Often we think about the time needed to teach a class and connect with our students, but in many cases junior faculty spend a significant amount of time preparing for class. However, here is also the reality:

  • You are over preparing for your classes.

I know some of you, especially with higher teaching loads, might be saying “well how do I spend less time preparing for teaching?” These are some strategies that I have implemented:

  • Doing class preparation only on the day that I teach that specific class.
  • Blocking out specific times on my calendar to handle teaching related tasks (e.g., grading, course platform management, etc.) and sticking to those times.
  • If possible, limit the amount of new teaching prep I need to do. In many cases I always suggest faculty develop  3-4 classes that they can teach and always teach those classes to limit the prep work after the first time teaching the course.

Documentation System

Having just applied for tenure, one of the systems that saved me was my documentation system. I suggest all junior faculty develop a system that works for you early so that five or six years into your faculty career when you are applying for tenure and promotion you don’t have to say, “Wait, what did I do X years ago?”

During my time on the tenure track I had a few ways to keep tabs on what I was doing. Below are some of the methods I used:

  • Writing everything I did that would count towards tenure and promotion in a word document.
  • Updating the CV anytime a new research product (e.g., paper, book, etc.), presentation, or service commitment is completed.
  • Keeping folders in Google Workspace or DropBox for each academic year and putting copies of any publication in that year’s folder.
  • Asking for a letter from every service commitment.

What systems have you implemented to survive and thrive as a professor? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter!

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.