Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is it like to be a bat TT professor?

In comments, Rabbit asks,

As a grad student, I often wonder what it might be like to actually have a TT job. Any chance of hearing from readers who have graduated, but have yet to receive tenure, about the pressures of such jobs and how they differ from those of grad school?

So, how about it?

--Mr. Zero


junior TT said...

Here are a few of the biggest surprises I've found in my four years on the TT:

~just how time consuming committee/service work can be (at all levels--department, college, university, profession), and just how frustrating. Committees are often a lot more impotent than one would think. But one is still expected to put in significant work on them.

~depending on where you are and the atmosphere in your department, departmental politics can be shocking. While we'd hope that our colleagues would be professional, I've seen people take personal grudges over, for example, who gets assigned which course, who gets approached by people from other departments for certain projects, and who wants to hire which candidate for an opening. And then I've seen these personal grudges come back to haunt at evaluation/reappointment time.

~One needs to have even better time-management skills than in grad school for balancing the various aspects. One might only, for example, get formal feedback on how one is balancing one's time on teaching vs. one's research during reviews, which can be every 2 or 3 years.

There are also, of course, great things about being in a TT post. But My guess is that you can imagine those pretty easily.

Anonymous said...

In most ways, it is much better. People are nicer to you, you have more money, you get to teach more of the stuff you care most about.

You'll have less time for reading and writing. But if you have (or can learn, late in life!) good time-management, you'll be able to get things done. And for some folks, having less unstructured time can actually be a boon.

The hardest thing for me to get used to is not having other people around the department working in my area. Modern communications technology and travel help to soften the blow, but there are still things to miss about having several people in your department in your AOS.

Anonymous said...

Also, I can now echolocate. (Or, if Eric Schwitzgebel is to be believed, I always could.)

Anonymous said...

I'll bite.
Ph.D. from a R1, TT at a mid to high-end SLAC, small dept (4.5) with one HUGE name,two years from tenure.
The biggest change is the emphasis that I thought was the case and is actually the case. My department is 80% concerned that I teach like a genius and 20% concerned that I pull my weight in service. The Dean in 50% concerned that I teach like a genius and 50% concerned that I pull me weight in service. These are the two entities that control my professional life. Anyone see anything missing that was a large feature of my R1 graduate experience?

Research and publication. A few publications in peer reviewed journals, one chapter in a book (Cambridge) and many conference presentations is considered adequate for the research component for tenure. I am active in the field. The College needs me to really teach and manage the life of the college. Research is an important part of my personal philosophical life but I must make room for it around the other two. Many of you may end up at R1s or SLACs that have an emphasis on research but I doubt you will find many jobs that honestly put research first. In fact, I am paid to go to conferences that provide service to the college or improve my teaching but I must apply for funds to present my own work. Many of my colleagues from graduate school are either lectures or VAPs and continue to chase the golden publication(s) that will guarantee them a job. I try and tell them that those publications that you peg your hopes to does not get you hired. Does my department really care if you are publishing in top journals? No. It does not bring students into the major and that is the lifeblood of our department, great teaching and management of our resources keep the department alive. When we pass a recommendation for a hire up to the Dean does s/he really care about publications? No. S/he needs a person that will retain students through great teaching and will pull their weight as a management cog in the wheel of the college. Research is important to keep the mind alive but at my R1 I was under the impression that it was the norm and it is not. Go ahead and rip my station in the profession but I do not think that I am in an odd situation at my SLAC.
5th year.

Junior TT is right on point.

Anonymous said...

The biggest (and most disappointing) shock for me has been how much time is taken up by paperwork that has nothing to do with teaching or research. I never heard the words "annual review" and "assessment" in grad school, but now what feels like a big part of my job involves performing counting tasks and filling out forms. (How many student meetings did you have? and how many recommendation letters did you write? and how many colloquium talks did you attend? and how many graduation applications did you check? and on and on)

junior TT said...

Ah yes, letters of rec. How did I forget those? Some terms I write as many as 20 for 7-8 different students--not just grad school, but for study abroad, scholarships, internships, etc.... Time spent on them really adds up.

Assessment is the anti-christ. Avoid getting involved as much as possible.

Find out the committees that are less of a time drain than others.

And Anon 11:54's comments about teaching vs. research are even more pressing if you're not at a top SLAC, but a more middling school.

And Anon 10:45's also right about having people working on the same issues as you. I'm at a pretty big department (>15) and don't have anyone else working in the same area as I am, though this isn't the case for some of my colleagues. Those in another thread that were doubting the benefits of conferences probably haven't experienced this yet.

first (now second) year TT guy said...

The most important thing to figure out when you have a TT job is what the department and administration REALLY value, not what they claim to value.

I think the winning formula in general between service/teaching/research is:

Do whatever will be interpreted (by both administration and department) as your share of the service (whether or not their perceptions are really fair)...but do NOT do more than you need to in order to attain the level of 'doing your share'.)

For teaching, find out what is valued by the department: high student evals? peer evaluation of your teaching? attending teaching oriented seminars/conferences? Does the department value tough grading or is inflating grades the norm? [I'm not saying you have to follow suit on this one, but you should at least be aware if you're the 'tough grader' in the department]

For research, try to find out exactly what recent successful TT profs had when they went up for tenure and meet or exceed that level. At my school, the official bar is 3-4 peer reviewed journal articles or a book.... but the reality seems higher than that. I would recommend blocking out research time as the very first priority in your schedule. My school really values research right now because we are trying very hard to improve our reputation and rankings. When in doubt, overemphasize research... after all, no other school will possibly hire you based on your service to your TT school.... a few will hire you based on your teaching skills and evals, but research productivity is the number one way to land another job if things don't work out at your TT school.

Be aware of departmental/university politics, but do not get involved (if at all possible)... you have nothing to gain from it and everything to lose. Be a good colleague to everyone and don't make any enemies (especially in the administration).

Anonymous said...

One thing I noticed in my first few years is how different everything here is from the research environment of my grad program. I teach a full load at a private school, so maybe I should have predicted this, but still, it's quite a change.

In my grad days there were whole faculty meetings devoted to how to move us up on the PGR. Here some of the profs in my department have never heard of the PGR. They rejected candidates from schools much better-ranked than mine for my line because other things were more important to them. Also, the other day I mentioned a debate I read on Leiter's blog to the one I thought was in the loop, and he just gave me a blank stare. He had never heard of Leiter's blog.

In grad school, I never thought for a second about departmental service and university-wide committees and so on. Now everyone keeps telling me on a weekly basis to do more service and get on more committees. (They said at my interview the split here was 60-20-20 for teaching-research-service, but service is all anyone ever talks about.)

At my grad school, I did not have any collegial relationships with people from other departments. I spent most of my time alone in my office or cubicle, with the occasional break talking shop over beers with the other kids in my department. Here you quickly realize that you need to spend a lot of time meeting people around the rest of campus, one because your own department is so small, and two because who knows who could be voting for you to be on such-and-such committee (oh yeah, did I mention that you have to run and be elected for the important committee work here?) or reviewing your tenure file. I recall one of my undergrad profs telling me that philosophers don't sit around and think about philosophy all day. I was scandalized then, but now I totally get it. The atmosphere at my university is a lot like the police department on the Wire: all about promotion, power, and pay grade, without much police-work going on.

Also, faculty here are old as hell. Imagine you are suddenly colleagues with that 80-year-old in your grad department. What are you going to talk about at lunch? Additionally, if you look like you are under 40 be prepared for everyone you meet to ask you "Are you on the tenure-track?" I'm just gonna wear a sign from now on.

One last thing. I'm incredibly happy. My spouse doesn't have to work. I had a kid. We all go on long vacations (granted inexpensive ones, and I bring my work with me) whenever we feel like it in the 22 weeks of the year I don't have to be anywhere. I get a letter every so often about how my retirement fund is doing. Having a t-t job is awesome.

Anonymous said...

For me, the biggest change in TT life has been the dawning recognition about being in it for the long haul and everything that means. For a very long time in my life I spent an enormous amount of energy and effort into achievement without material gains and without any sense of stability except with respect to my achievements. I was sort of a highly successful vagabond, in a way. There were an incredible amount of frustrations being in this state, but there were also a number of freedoms. Maybe, simply having an open horizon while achieving so much made me something of a maverick. My ties to things were loose ones, which I felt would be pulled tight in a distant "someday."

Presently, in my TT these "ties" have really tightened. It is, sometimes, a little overwhelming. Everything that goes on in my department and university matters (usually) in some way, shape or form. Even the politics, which I try to steer clear of, can't really be avoided. That there are such politics in itself effects how things go. I find that I have to pay attention, at least to understand why certain decisions get made at administrative levels. When I've wanted to do interesting things, like setting up new programs and curricula, I've discovered that things don't change without winning over people, hence there I was, engaging in politics myself. I was truly surprised at how resistant to change, even seemingly beneficial ones, my institution was on the whole. People say a lot about "innovation" and all sorts of stuff like that--and seem to expect new TT faculty to be at the forefront of innovation--but there is a difference between what is said and what actually gets done. At least, that's how it has gone for me.

The thing is, given my increasing sense that this really is my grown-up, long term job and my vagabond years are behind me, I want things to go well. I mean really, really well. Issues at large in my department and institution make a difference to me. Complacency is, well, something that I see around me--not only in tenured faculty, but in TT faculty, too. I understand it. With so much else to do, it is incredibly difficult not to want to keep one's head down and just keep up. Being a part of an institution has been incredibly challenging for me.

On a personal level, what I love the most about being TT is being a professional academic. Maybe that sounds corny, but the alignment between my achievements and a secure job and salary and the home this has provided for me has made things better. Call it "validation," or whatever, but it has made me more confident and secure. I wish all the job-seekers the very best.

Anonymous said...


This is off topic, but I wanted to submit a suggestion for a post topic. I'm wondering what people think about whether philosophy couples ought to go on the job market together. Does going separately compromise the chances of getting jobs in the same university or area? Or is this whole thing such a crapshoot anyway that it doesn't matter? Is there even received wisdom on this? I've heard very different advice given to people with the two body problem.


Anonymous said...

TT for a few years; PhD from R1; now teaching at lower down R2. Department has 9 faculty.

Several of the above comments I agree with. I am the only faculty in my area, which means I have to communicate and conference with others at other schools. There are a lot of service "opportunities" that people want me involved with. And there are too many introductory level courses one needs to teach. But on the whole it has been a great experience and I am pleased with the job.

I'll comment on something nobody has mentioned yet. One thing I find interesting is lunching in the faculty lounge with faculty from all over the University. It is not uncommon to have at the lunch table a philosopher, two historians, a mathematician, someone from religious studies, and then English. What I find interesting are arguments over the University’s core curriculum. Faculty really have different perspectives on what undergraduates should be reading ("do they really all have to read Plato to be educated? Marx? Why not something more practical?"). There are very large ideological differences among faculty (English affected by postmodernism, scientists stuck in old-fashioned positivism, etc.), and it is interesting to see how the broad issues we discussed in graduate school play out in practice. Debates that were abstract and theoretical with your colleagues in grad. school are live issues here. The English faculty want to add Martin Buber, I and Thou, to the core curriculum and remove Descartes’ Discourse. Which is more important for students to have read? It interesting arguing with others about the broad importance of certain texts, and what a proper undergraduate curriculum should look like.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a new guy--Full Prof--but I think the issues mentioned and discussed here are extremely valuable. And don't discount Anon 11:01's great question--but expand it to academic couples in general--been there, divorced that. The strain of shared academic careers is a real problem. And kudos to Anon 2:42--one of the richest parts of my own academic experience comes from lunching with people from other disciplines. (One result for me: two different publications with colleagues from other disciplines that shook out of lunch debates!)

To those on this thread--I also came out on the market at a bad economic time; hang in there: get a good position you're comfortable with and it's worth it. But it is a crapshoot--even good people need a measure of luck in times like these.

And if you are 1/2 of an academic couple. . . remember the Scout motto.

Acronyms Galore! said...

This thread has been very helpful. But could someone please explain what "R1," "R2," "SLAC," "LAC," and so on stand for?

The old blog used to have a glossary thingy, but this one doesn't. The old blog's glossary, btw, sucked. AOS, AOC, APA, JFP? C'mon. I figured out VAP and possibly some others on here. But I'm stumped on these other ones. I imagine R1 and R2 have to do with school ranks, but I'm not sure how these are determined, etc.

Sorry for the bitching, but isn't that what this blog is an open forum for?

Mr. Zero said...

R1 = research 1. google it.

R2 = research 2. ditto.

LAC = liberal arts college.

SLAC = Small LAC.

Please feel free to bitch. But remember, GFE.

Anonymous said...

Three years in to TT and I can't remember WHY I ever felt busy in grad school. I mean, I remember feeling busy, even when all I was doing was TAing and writing. But I can't make any sense of that feeling now. Puzzling.

Anonymous said...

The biggest difference is (as many posts have noted) how much more work it is than being a grad student, and how 'service and assessment' take up a huge amount of time.

On the plus side, while its natural to be stressed about tenure, most people end up at schools where getting tenure is easier than it was at the institution where they have received their PhD's. I've been out over 10 years, and I'd say of the people I know who got TT jobs around the time that I did (about 40, most not from my program) about 90% of them got tenure on their first try, with about half of those getting tenure the next year when they reapplied. Getting the TT job is *much* harder than getting tenure itself.

In general, my impression is that graduate students spend not nearly enough of their time at graduate school worrying about eventually getting a TT job, and TT profs spend way too much time worrying about getting tenure.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and another thing: don't be surprised if you find that you can't manage to get much writing done for the first year or two. It's normal. It happens to *a lot* of people. Of course you should try to get writing done (assuming that's the kind of job you have, or want). But don't be hard on yourself if you don't make much progress at first.

Anonymous said...

I think this thread illustrates a general theme, namely that there is a huge diversity among types of departments and what is valued. For job-market purposes, I think it's good to figure out what your own personal identity is, and so your best o play to that when on the market, rather than trying to be all things to all people. Of course, this needs to be tempered by realism, too -- no sense applying for a top LAC in a popular location if your teaching is mediocre, for example. But more on topic: what I like best about being on TT is being more in charge of my own projects. There is more freedom to work on what I want, how I want, with journals ultimately deciding whether what I've done is worth reading. Somehow I find that more freeing than submitting work to a small, pre-defined committee (and I had a very good committee). And for the record, at my institution (an R1), publication is definitely the name of the game for tenure.