To the faculty on the tenure track at research institutions (and likely elsewhere, but the weight of research and letters vs other aspects may be different): Here are some things you absolutely must do, and maybe you think they are wrong and stupid but you must do them, and I am writing about this because a case of someone who hasn’t done them is very, very fresh.
What letter writers say is very important. What letter writers look for is whether you have established yourself in a niche where you are a key player, if not the key player. If you came from a group of a famous advisor, they will not take kindly to the fact that you never seemed to be able to fully emerge from the advisor’s shadow. Nobody wants a pale copy of your advisor. Nobody wants to employ you to work as a de facto extended postdoc for your advisor. People want to see a clearly (from paper authorship, from new collaborations, from the disappearance of advisor from your list of coauthors after a couple of years on the tenure track) that you are your own person.
Too many people think that because someone met them when they were a student or postdoc of famous advisor, that person knows and appreciates their work. No. In most cases, they do not remember you well, and anything you did during your PhD or postdoc is in their mind likely associated with your advisor, NOT with you. You need to put yourself in their way, in front of their face, with your awesome new independent work. You need to make them override all they thought (or more likely didn’t think at all) about you as a famous advisor’s graduate student and make them start to think of you as a colleague, as a rising star, as someone whose science should be watched for originality and impact.
Doing good work is not enough to get tenure. Maybe over the course of the career good work floats to the top yadda yadda, but more likely not. Genius work, sure, merely solid work–not. There’s far too much solid work, and much gets overlooked. You need to draw the attention of people to your work; you need to make them not dismiss you. The tenure track is not infinite in duration.
Travel. Give seminars. Go to conferences where big shots will show up and introduce yourself. Invite them to give seminars at your place.
Do not put yourself in the position where people write lukewarm letters or don’t want to write because they have no idea who you are or what you did since you were a student.
In my fiction as in research, I fall in between the cracks of common divisions (genres in fiction; areas in research). In research, people don’t believe me I can do all the things I say I can do (but I can, honestly!) and I likely have a harder time getting money than if I’d stayed in just one area. But I like what I like, and what I like is a challenge.
I have a piece of writing that I don’t even know if I should classify as fiction or creative nonfiction. It’s got speculative elements, observational humor, and societal commentary. Choosing where to send it is challenging.
There’s a prompt and all the pieces submitted are literary fiction; I absolutely itch to and thus end up writing high fantasy.
There’s a competition with a broad science prompt; everyone submits science fiction, while I decide I’d write lab lit.
When I write it out like this, I seem like a total pain in the a$$. What else is new?
How’s your week going, bloggy friends?