The odds of winning the Powerball lottery in Massachusetts are 1 in 195,249,054. There’s a one percent chance your child will play baseball at the professional level (which includes the minor leagues). The odds—at the beginning of the season—of the Chicago Cubs winning the 2011 World Series was 750 to 1.
Graduate students interested in becoming tenure-track faculty members are facing some long odds as well. Still, we know of several Graduate School of Arts and Sciencesalumni who have beaten the odds and are working as tenure-stream or tenured faculty members. We reached out to these graduates to find out how they made it happen and how you can too.
Make Sure (Really Sure) An Academic Life is the One for You
Late nights, lack of sleep, demanding young people, way too much work to do. Sounds like the life of a parent with young children, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But this also describes what it’s like to be a tenure-stream faculty member. And while the first year of parenting—arguably the most difficult until the teenage years arrive—does mercifully come to an end, tenure-track faculty members endure a lifestyle of sleep deprivation and multiple responsibilities for a number of years (usually seven before the typical faculty member comes up for tenure). Therefore, it’s important for graduates to know what they are getting into and accept, if not wholeheartedly embrace, what an academic life involves.
“Make the extra effort to ensure that the path is right for you,” said Adam Carberry, G04, G10, who holds a master of science in chemistry and a Ph.D. in education from GSAS, and recently began working as an assistant professor at Arizona State University. “When an institution hires you into a tenure-track position, they are investing in you and want you to succeed. Accepting a position with the mindset of ‘let’s see how it goes’ is the wrong approach. I suggest doing a postdoc with someone experienced in your field of interest, and pursuing opportunities relevant to the roles you will play as a faculty member: research (for example, grant proposal writing); teaching; and service.”
“Be sure that you enjoy all aspects of academia, and expose yourself to these aspects as much as possible while still a graduate student,” said Cavanagh, an assistant professor of psychology at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. “If your aim is traditional tenure-track academia, don’t attempt to start a position without having engaged in the practice of teaching and service. Even at research-intensive institutions, you will be spending years of your life teaching classes and serving on committees. Ask your teaching mentors if you can lead a few lectures, or spend a summer doing the Graduate Institute for Teaching (GIFT). Also, sign up for some departmental committee work. If you find some of these aspects of academia detestable, you can then shift gears early and hone your skills toward research positions. Or you may find, as I did, that these features of academia are intensely rewarding and decide to focus on positions with a heavy classroom focus.”
(Blog note: There are many options for doctoral students who do not want to pursue an academic career. We plan to tackle this topic in a future blog)
Think Beyond the Dissertation
There’s more to the life of a graduate student than the dissertation. This is, of course, a fruitless argument to make to a student in the grips of writing one. But for students considering a career in academia, it helps to step away nonetheless.
“Barring the lucky few who will end up at R1 universities, the dissertation may be the moment of greatest specialization in one’s career,” said graduate alumnus Ed Wiltse, G98, a professor of English at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. “Spending five years buried in the library or the lab may ill-prepare candidates for teaching and scholarly work that bridges multiple fields and even disciplines. At least in the humanities, your ability to present yourself as an inspiring teacher able to talk engagingly to multiple audiences about your specialty, as well as the broader discipline, may be more important to landing a job than anything on your vita. However, you’re not likely to get a chance to talk with a hiring committee without something impressive on your vita.”
Adam Carberry added that, “Graduate students are often consumed by their dissertations, which often only address research. While interviewing for possible positions, I was told that my graduate teaching experience, service to the community, and my society affiliations showed the ability to balance the three key areas in academia: teaching, research, and service.”
“Start planning from day one,” shared a graduate alumna with a tenure-track position on the west coast. “Get involved in conferences, take on leadership positions in university, regional, and/or national organizations. Volunteer for committees and work hard at them. Having a service credit on your CV is one thing. Having a reputation for being responsible and committed to a school or organization is much better. We work in a small world.”
Get Those ZZZZ’s
When talking about graduate student life, it always comes back to sleep (or lack thereof), doesn’t it? Provided a graduate student has done all he or she can and lands a tenure-track faculty position, it’s important not to forget to get the proper rest…we know, we know, we sound like your mother, but listen to the American Psychological Association and Sarah Cavanagh. They can’t both be wrong, can they?
“Protect your sleep time,” said Cavanagh. “You’ll think better, react better, and finish work more quickly and more accurately. You’ll be a better teacher, researcher, and loved one.”
By Robert Bochnak, G07, senior writer/communications manager, Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences
Are you tenured or on a tenure track? Are there any best practices we missed? Want to share your thoughts on this blog entry? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.