Surviving the tenure process

Title: Surviving the tenure process: Wise words by Tom Lee

By Cristiano Guarana, Ph.D. Assistant Professor at Kelley School of Business

Pre-tenure careers can be stressful. Balancing the demands of building a research agenda, preparing for new classes, and engaging in service is a daunting task. Cristiano Guarana interviewed Tom Lee, Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at Michael G. Foster School of Business - University of Washington and former editor of the Academy of Management Journal, about surviving the tenure process.

How to survive the tenure process?
Tom Lee: Here are some random thoughts. First, you have to know or learn what the school wants. Here I’m talking about distinguishing between a school that heavily focuses on research or a school that might be more balanced with teaching and research. Second, if there is a list of A level journals, you should become very familiar with those A level journals.  Third, you must recognize that one of the purposes of the A level journals is to not so much to inform your department but to inform the other departments in the business school. The tenure process involves getting through your department but the school level as well. Being aware that people in other departments may not be as educated as you think about what your department’s A level journals are. 
This leads to another point. If you have a list, it makes your record much more defendable and much more interpretable, whereas if you have some very fine publications that are not on the list, then you have to be sure that somebody is going to educate people on the school wide committee about these “non-list journals,” as well as the dean.

Q: How to build a support network of colleagues that can help you in the tenure journey?
Tom Lee: First, you have to be cognizant that you will have to get letter writers. And so, being aware that you are going to have to ask people to write you letters and keep it in mind from very early on who these letter writer be. Second, based on how social you are, I think it’s important to have a support group to be able to talk to. It could be face to face, or frequent Skype or telephone conversations. Just some means to commiserate or celebrate, because both are important.

Q: Is it important that the school provide the structure for socialization, or new faculty needs to be proactive and look for ways to socialize?
Tom Lee: I think both are important. My opinion is that in a “good school,” the dean, associate deans, department chairs, and senior faculty see that part of their job is to help you get tenure. You have to do the work, but they have to setup conditions that help you accomplish what you need to accomplish. I’m applying Path-Goal leadership theory.

Q: What is your advice on balancing teaching, research, and service?
Tom Lee: I think a good school minimizes service requirements of assistant professors. It is increasingly becoming the norm. You have to teach well, undeniably; you have to do research well, but service is something that you could cut back on and the school and department should encourage and protect you from doing service. In addition, I think you want to recognize that during the initial period, your first year or two, you are trying to figure out how to do research; you are trying to figure out how to get a comfort level with your classes. After you master your one or two preps, you can use most of your creative energy on your research.

Q: What are your thoughts on how traditional OB topics can benefit by constructs in organizational cognition?
For instance, can sensemaking explain turnover? Tom Lee: Yes, I do. It gets back to the theory you are studying. Sometimes turnover is selected purely as a convenient outcome variable. But, to the extent that there is a theoretical link between your construct and the outcome of turnover, then it’s quite reasonable to do. There is evidence that sensemaking, for example, relates to turnover, but it is likely mediated by job satisfaction or intention to leave or one of the major attitudinal reactions to the job.

Q: What are your final thoughts?
Tom Lee: Please recognize two things: First, other challenges remain and become salient even after getting tenured. Second, in my experience, the vast preponderance of people who have been denied tenure end up in positions that are better suited for them.  That is very hard to recognize while you are going through the process.