Month: December 2018

Limbo

lyra211 asks:

OK, here’s the subject I’ve been googling obsessively and haven’t found much fodder about — would love to hear your thoughts: The year you are up for tenure. Awkwardness of interactions with colleagues, dealing with inappropriate communication from senior department members, the senior faculty perspective on what is happening behind the scenes, and in my case, going on parental leave while your tenure case is under consideration. Obviously I’ve got some angst about this right now, but since it seems that I have basically zero control over anything at this stage, I’m hoping I can just disappear on leave and let the process move forward without me and try not to dwell on it too much.

My former postdoc is in this pre-tenure limbo right now, and I really feel for him! I dispense periodic texts of encouragement and support, because he’s done great work and his institution would be crazy not to tenure him, but I understand it ain’t over till it’s over and no one can actually guarantee that it will all go smoothly.

In fact, if I had to pick the most anticlimactic event of my life, it would definitely be receiving that official letter that I was granted tenure. It was preceded by nearly a year of (in hindsight completely misplaced) anxiety; the news was overwhelmingly positive along the way, but none of it was 100% conclusive because it couldn’t be. In hindsight, the case was a slam dunk and went without a hitch, but it was nerve-wrecking anyway.

The pre-tenure year is a tough year. People will tell you not to worry, which is useless advice. I’d say try (but you’ll likely fail) not to worry too much, because a) you likely have no reason to, or if you had a serious reason to worry, it would have come up already or the department wouldn’t have put you up for tenure and b) once you’ve done your job on the package (how much varies greatly among departments, schools, disciplines) there’s really nothing you can do.

Now to the real question: how to interact with colleagues. Presumably the department voted in favor of promotion, so they are probably all or nearly all your supporters. At this point they are as helpless as you are. If they try to cheer you up, accept the act of good will. If they try to share what happens behind the scenes, listen, they might not be that far off, especially if they’ve been involved in the later steps of the tenure process at your institution or elsewhere. It’s info, it’s anecdata, and if it temporarily quells your anxiety, good. But if it only adds to your anxiety, avoid it.

It’s limbo and limbo is always difficult. I was really short with some of my colleagues in that period, more than ever before or since. I didn’t realized at the time how the pre-tenure anxiety affected me, but it did.

If you can disengage and focus on something else (like a new baby! :-), just let the process unfold, that would be ideal. I can never fully get out of my head, so this wouldn’t have been an option for me, at least not in full, but consciously pushing for disengagement when feasible is definitely what I would recommend. I generally don’t lose sleep over things I cannot influence, and the tenure decision is one such thing, even though it feels like it’s not. Remind yourself that, once the packet is out, your job is done. I mean, don’t run off with the Dean’s spouse or kill the Provost’s dog, but aside from that, there’s very little you can do to your institutional image one way or another once the case has been turned in.

Good luck to lyra211 and to everyone else who’s in pre-tenure limbo!