Tenure (or ‘ten-year’ as some students seem to think) is a commitment from a University to a faculty member. As U of S writes:
The award of tenure represents a long-term commitment of the University to a faculty member. It is a status granted as a result of judgment, by one’s peers, on both the performance of academic duties and the expectation of future accomplishments.
Often this does come after a decade or so, when a faculty member is established and has proven herself… so the students’ homonym is not far off. However, at U of S, tenure and promotion come much earlier. I expect this is due to recruitment/retention factors; the opportunity to advance keeps people around at that critical 5-year point when many people leave for greener pastures.
The biggest benefit to tenure is job security – the University has committed to employ you for your whole career. Even if you decide to switch your research focus, even if you become a bit less productive- ‘publish or perish’ only lasts until tenure. After that low publications won’t get you canned, but they might to let you get promoted or pay raises (and promotion to the storied rank of ‘full Professor’ is for another post). The system varies a little bit between Universities (like U of S’ early approach) and quite a lot between countries. I was discussing this with a colleague from another country and he was curious about a job from which someone could not be fired.
“Can nothing get you fired?”
I went straight the worst offense I could think of:
“Well yeah, if you were sleeping with your students or plagiarizing or something” CONVERSATION CHANGER. It turned out that this person had met partners at work, where one was a mature grad student etc. OK, so maybe even that wouldn’t get you fired. Andrew Wakefeild was (deservedly!) fired, but I’m not sure if he had tenure in the UK or not. You can still shop for other jobs when you have tenure and you might be headhunted away, so the commitment really only works one way.
In May I had a performance review and received a recommendation to apply for tenure. I have heard that women are more likely to get tenure when they apply, but on average apply 5 years later than their male peers. One theory is that this is fear of rejection and risk-taking. With that in mind, I decided to apply as soon as I could, to buck the trend and also get the benefit of promotion $ and increased pension as early as possible… I also don’t want to be making 75 cents to the dollar of my male colleagues. So at the end of May I decided I should assemble a big case-file package and submit it as my application for tenure and promotion by July 31st.
At U of S, the tenure file includes 7 essays that you write about how awesome you are, and photocopies of EVERYTHING you have done since being appointed. Articles, conferences, course you taught, grants you received, studies you worked on, etc. This is a massive amount of work! Since coming back from Korea I have been on it nearly full time, with the last week being 12-hour days and weekends. 😛 Happily, I handed it in on Wednesday and can catch up a bit before enjoying a fun long weekend with NO WORK!
My application is not a slam-dunk, and I wouldn’t apply at another University… but since the bar here seems a little lower, it would be silly not to try. Besides, tenure at 35 sounds nice, doesn’t it? Coasting 30 years to retirement (of course not, just kidding).