Teach the Earth > Early Career > Getting Tenure > Your Tenure Package > Tenure Narrative

Your Tenure Narrative

Contributed by R. Mark Leckie (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Kristen St. John (James Madison University)

Petroglyphs in Gilf Kebir, Egypt
Petroglyphs carved into rocks in what is now the Gilf Kebir, in Egypt. Photo by Ilan Molcho.

What is a tenure narrative?

A tenure narrative (also known as your personal statement) is a statement that describes your career: what you have done in the areas of teaching, research, and service. The statement should be a strong and persuasive case for excellence in teaching and research and make clear your valuable service contributions. It includes an executive summary and/or introduction, and sections on teaching, research, and service, and may include appendices of supporting documents.

Not everything you do will fit neatly into separate categories; blending of categories will sometimes happen. For example, mentoring undergraduates in research is arguably both teaching and research, and (depending on your institution) should be addressed in either the research or the teaching category, or both. Similarly, research in undergraduate geoscience education may have aspects that fit not only in research but also in teaching.

Who is your audience?

Your tenure narrative serves three audiences: (1) colleagues in your department, (2) people in the tenure review process who are not geoscientists (e.g., deans, college Promotion and Tenure (P&T) committee members, provosts, presidents), and possibly (3) colleagues at other institutions, if external review is part of the P&T process at your institution.

Your narrative provides the department, dean, P&T committee, provost, etc. with a broad overview of who you are, what you have contributed, and why it's a good idea to keep you and/or reward you with a promotion. A positive recommendation at the department and institutional levels will draw from the evidence provided to them in your narrative and CV.

Your narrative provides your external reviewers with a broad overview of your academic career (research, teaching, and service). These referees may be unaware of all the other things you do in your academic life so don't skimp in your self-assessment of teaching and service contributions. A strong letter from an external reviewer will draw from the evidence provided to them in your narrative and CV.

How to showcase strengths

How to address weaknesses

Your narrative is also the place to acknowledge and address issues in teaching, research, and service that might be perceived as weaknesses. Your narrative provides the opportunity to demonstrate that you recognize the issue, you have learned from it, and you have moved forward in an appropriate and professional way.

An Example: Perhaps you had a series of poor teaching evaluations for a period of time. This needs to be addressed. If the teaching evaluations were poor early on but improved with time, discuss what you did to overcome the challenges. How did you adjust your teaching methods to address the needs and/or concerns of the students? If your teaching evaluations were weak during a semester in which you were experimenting with a new course or new teaching method, what did you learn from the constructive feedback? Narrative reflection on teaching success and challenges can help reviewers understand inconsistencies in teaching.

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