This is a re-post of a column originally posted on August 11, 2011. As the 2011-2012 job market winds down, and various readers and clients look ahead to the new jobs they are starting in the fall, I want you all to have a very firm handle on the nature of a tenure track research trajectory. Be aware that this post is written firmly from the perspective of an R1 book field, so please get your own tenure expectations in writing from your department head as soon as you can. And then, as this post explains, work BACKWARDS from Spring of your 5th year to plot out a writing and research schedule.
Today’s post is a Special Request Post for Ana and Lauri, who both wrote in requesting advice on how they, as new assistant professors, could best plan out a research trajectory.
I was actually a little startled to encounter this particular query. For myself, my research trajectory as an assistant professor was relatively clear. But by the same token, I landed in a good and supportive department for my first position, a department in which senior colleagues took pains to make sure that the expectations for tenure were clear. This might not be the case for everyone. And actually, as Head I routinely made the Assistant Professors cry at our annual meetings to go over their research trajectories. They would get so stressed out! But they thanked me later. Yes, they ALL got tenure.
So, I want to share here some general advice for thinking about a pre-tenure research trajectory. I am going to limit my comments to book-based fields in the humanities and social sciences.
Now, before I begin: any discussion of your research trajectory must begin with a discussion of your tenure expectations. These will vary according to field, department, and university setting,. You must schedule an appointment with your department head, and get, in writing, a clear picture of your tenure expectations. In addition, attend any and all workshops held on your campus about the tenure process, especially anything organized by specialized groups such as the Center for Women and Gender Studies, etc. You want to see this thing from as many angles as possible, as early as possible.
Now, once you have a clear sense of the expectations, sit down with your dissertation and other research, and map out a plan.
For the sake of this blog post, I am going to assume that you need a book and five articles for tenure, with your case starting in Spring of the 5th year. This is a relatively rigorous set of expectations, most likely seen at an R1 institution, but not the most rigorous imaginable.
Of the five articles, three will most likely be based on the dissertation research or closely related. Two will be on a major second, post-book project. Be aware that a second major project is a critical element to a successful tenure case at a research institution.
Lay out a timeline, working backward from Spring of your 5th year, which is when the tenure file will be sent out to your external reviewers. At that time, you need your book and all of your articles to be published or in press. The reviews will come back in Fall of your 6th year, your department will vote on your tenure in or around September, your file will be submitted to the College in or around October, and then wend its way through upper committees, with your final decision coming to you in May.
It takes approximately one year from first submission to a press to having a book reach the stage of being “in press.” Therefore, the book mss. must be finished and ready for submission, at the very latest, by Spring of your 4th year.
Working backward yet again, we know that you will undergo a Third Year Review in Spring of your third year. At that time, it will be quite apparent whether or not the book is shaping up to be submitted to a press within one year’s time. Your article production will also be examined at this time. Your third year review committee will judge the state of your manuscript very severely indeed.
As you can see, there is very little room for missteps in this timeline. What there most definitely is not room for is switching topics in mid-stream. If you have a dissertation, then that dissertation needs to be the foundation of your book. I understand that some assistant professors find themselves bored with their dissertation topic and involved with fresh new research early on the job. Rarely, very rarely, does that work out well for the individual’s tenure case. The new research must be kept aside as the major second, post-book project.
Basically, an ideal research and writing trajectory will look like this:
Year One: Start work on the book mss.; Apply for research leave
Year One Summer: Article #1;
Year Two: Book mss.; Apply for research leave
Year Two Summer: Article #2
Year Three: Book mss.; Apply for research leave
Year Three Summer: Article #3 and book mss.
Year Four (ideally on post-third year review automatic research leave): book manuscript completely finished and submitted.
Year Four Summer: Article #4 (on new project); Possible research and fieldwork on new project.
Year Five: Book revisions and copyediting, and Article #5 (on new project)
As you can see, the key to maintaining a succcessful research and writing program is research leave. It is not possible to reach the standards of productivity expected of young assistant professors in this day and age without leave. You must prioritize applying for internal and external leave over all other writing in your first and second Fall semesters. If you are unsuccessful in obtaining external leave within the first two years, speak to your department chair about the possibility of an automatic post-third-year-review leave, or negotiating, minimally, one semester of teaching release. Do not consider applications for leave time as in any way secondary to the other writing that you do.
As you develop the articles for publication, one of the best and most efficient methods for getting them written and out, is to commit yourself to presenting them at major national conferences in your field. You don’t have to have a 35-page mss. with full citations and bibliography for the conference itself (unless, I’ve learned, you’re in philosophy, in which case you need those just to apply!). The 12-page double-spaced “paper” for presentation can suffice. But those 12 pages should be the core of an actual journal submission, and in good time, get that article expanded and submitted.
The early set of articles is tricky because they must build excitement about the coming book, but not reveal its contents. It’s critical that they be in the highest status journals you can get into, as they establish your voice and authority, and lay the groundwork for the reception of your book. They also help build credibility for you to get the contract for the book at the best presses.
The second major project does not have to be in book form for most tenure cases (we do hear of some Ivy Leagues expecting two books for tenure), although it does need to exist in article, conference paper, and grant form.
The second major project needs to show a natural development of the research trajectory that you began with the dissertation/first book, a kind of organic move forward, while still being quite new and original. In other words, deep thematics remain consistent while the topic is clearly distinct.
As you can imagine, a major squeeze happens in Year Four Summer and Year Five, when you must produce refereed journal articles on this new original second project, without any real time to conduct new research. Sometimes the second major project is a product of a certain amount of smoke and mirrors, and some creative thinking about how to conjure up a major project without doing lengthy fieldwork or research, or going overseas.
Thinking ahead about this squeeze, it is good to begin thinking about the second major project while still in your first year on the job. Begin a file for it, start reading some of the literature, and eventually, in year three or so, start presenting papers at panels on the new project. You want to have the core of an idea that is feasible and plausible by Year Four, so that AS SOON AS the book manuscript leaves your desk, you are ready to hit the ground running on two new publishable pieces on the second topic.
In general, plan to submit all of your best work to refereed journals. Chapters in edited collections are significantly lower status in a tenure case (particularly at an R1), and can sink a weak case.
It goes without saying that your tenure case cannot rest, if you are at a research-oriented institution, on an edited collection.
I understand that edited collections can serve for tenure at teaching or lower ranking institutions. However, if you have aspirations to move to a higher ranking institution, then the edited collection will do you little good. And beware—the edited collection takes at least as much time as a monograph, and often more. These are the reasons, as you know from this post, that I advocate just saying no to edited collections until after tenure.
There are countless other considerations in planning a research trajectory, but many of them are too individualized to be discussed in a general post. Readers, if you have some tips, however, please do contribute them in the comments!