Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Starting up a new tenure track job is really, really hard. You are stepping into a new job that you were not trained to do. Up until now, your training was in research, and research is important (especially at research-intensive universities). In your new tenure track job, you will also have to teach (well), perform service work, mentor students and guide them, start a lab/research group from scratch, and manage people, manage budgets, manage your time. This job is not just one job, but several. The worst part is that you were supposed to have learned all these skills through osmosis somehow and observation. Unfortunately for many of us, our prior mentors were not good teachers, mentors, or managers. Or if they were, they did not share the secrets of their craft either through purposeful or accidental neglect. Thus, we are left to bumble through and figure things out on our own. 

Over the next few posts, I will be discussing some of the parts of starting a new job and some possible strategies for coping with myriad of new things you are now responsible for. In addition, the initial trial period before attaining tenure is prime time for fertility and trying to start a family and a life. Many women have babies in this time because it is now of never.  I hope the next several posts will help those entering and make those who somehow made it through feel better about how they did to get to the next stage. Please send guest posts and comments, especially those who just got tenure or are still pre-tenure and have specific questions.

Comments on: "Starting the Tenure Track" (4)

  1. There are a few topics that Philo4Thought’s female readership would like to see posted as pertains to women in academia, women in science, and so on. Please feel free to browse our page and to contact us: philoforthought.wordpress.com.

  2. 10 spruce said:

    The first paragraph of this post is perfectly crafted. Thank you for that.

    I would appreciate a post that can inform me how to explain to the general public/in laws that (1) we don’t have summers off and that (2) teaching really is just one of our (lesser) concerns. Thanks!

  3. I suggest you read “A PhD is NOT Enough,” a very helpful book written by Peter Feibelman. Get the newer edition (about 2011 I think.) It has plenty of useful advice about many of the issues you will confront in the next year or two.

    One of your most important goals is to bring in some grant funds. As a new assistant professor in the mid 1990’s, I found it helpful to get advice from a senior colleague who was a former NSF program officer. He was a great coach and provided very useful feedback.

    Some new faculty resent the idea that they might benefit from this kind of input from a senior colleague. The way I see it, even superstar athletes work with coaches who help them to achieve their full potential. Why should scientists be any different?

    Don’t wait until the proposal deadline is looming to get advice from your grant-writing mentor. Start bouncing research ideas around and working on your proposal and budget plan at least 60 to 90 days before the deadline. Every campus and funding agency have their own particular rules about budgets and you don’t want to waste valuable time figuring them out when the deadline is pressing.

    The most important page of your proposal is the project summary. Many panel members will vote having read only this small piece of the proposal with care and perused the rest.

    Remember that some programs such as the NSF Career Award are sufficiently interdisciplinary that many members of the panel will not be experts in your exact field. Make sure your summary is accessible to the panel. If you don’t know what kind of panel to expect, talk with the program officer at the funding agency for advice prior to submission.

    Make your project summary memorable and really clear without excessive jargon, and have three people proofread it to make sure it is 100% flawless.

    Check the agency’s formatting rules for total proposal length and font size and abide by them. Something as silly as using the wrong format for cited references can result in a proposal returned without review. Also don’t forget required elements such as a “postdoc mentoring plan” or “data management plan” that the funding agency may demand.

    Good luck!

    -Robin Selinger, Professor, Chemical Physics, Kent State University Liquid Crystal Institute

  4. Often times people in most professions are trained in content knowledge but not in “job readiness” skills — those organizational and social skills required within the profession. It’s the reason why Philo4Thought conducts workshops in local colleges and neighboring venues. We need to be more aware of what it takes to produce a well-rounded professional.

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