Initial Publication Date: October 30, 2006

Getting Tenure

According to our workshop participants, getting tenure is a major concern for new faculty members in tenure-track jobs. Good news: experts (see resources below) agree that how to get tenure need not be a mystery. Find out what the expectations are for tenure at your institution, meet those expectations, and in a few years, you'll be tenured. The resources below show you how.

Jump down to Preparing Yourself for the Tenure Process * Your Tenure Package * Frequently Asked Questions * Books * Articles * Tips from Academic Geoscientists

Behind one door is tenure -- behind the other is flipping burgers at McDonald

thumbnail image of mountaineers in the French Alps

Preparing Yourself for the Tenure Process

These pages contain advice and strategies to help you be plan and prepare your strongest case for tenure. The advice here is structured to give you concrete steps to be your own best advocate and to be as well prepared as possible. Pages on Charting Your Progress Toward Tenure and Taking an Active, Strategic Approach to Tenure are included.

Your Tenure Package

The tenure package you submit is your opportunity to make a strong written case for why your institution should grant you tenure. Two of the most important components of the tenure package are the CV and the narrative (personal statement). These pages contain advice on the nuts & bolts of preparing your CV and your narrative.

Tenure FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

In our workshops for early career geoscience faculty members, some questions about tenure come up frequently. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to any question about tenure, the answers given here are our best attempts to summarize general practices in academia in the US.

Other Resources


  • Getting Tenure (Survival Skills for Scholars) , by Marcia Whicker, Jennie Kronenfeld, & Ruth Strickland. The authors demystify the tenure process, describing steps you can take to ensure your success. Read an excerpt, published on Rick Reis' Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List.
  • Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus , by Robert Boice. Based on years of research, Boice describes the habits of new faculty members who quickly and efficiently set themselves up for success, and includes simple suggestions to learn those habits.
  • Life on the Tenure Track: Lessons from the First Year , by James Lang. In this book, the author chronicles his experiences, reactions, thoughts and feelings during his first year in a tenure-track position at Assumption College in central Massachusetts. He recounts struggling to make the best use of his unstructured time, trying to understand the expectations of the college administration, experimenting with new teaching methods in an attempt to reach the students in his classroom - all while finding time for his family. Devoting one chapter for each month of the academic year, the author studies what it will take to get tenure, and whether that is what he wants. Read an excerpt, published on Rick Reis' Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List.
  • Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic Ladder to Tenure, by Clay Schoenfeld and Robert Magnan. Using a representative institution and a prototype assistant professor, this book provides counsel for those on the tenure track.
  • Preparing for Promotion, Tenure, and Annual Review: A Faculty Guide, by Robert M. Diamond. This book enumerates important questions to be asked and the issues that should be considered as faculty approach the review process. Concrete resources, examples, references, and a faculty checklist make this a practical tool for any instructor facing a professional evaluation.
  • "Promotion and Tenure," a chapter in Good Start: A Guidebook for New Faculty in Liberal Arts Colleges, includes a set of twenty questions designed to help you assess your own progress toward tenure.
  • Understanding University Structure and Planning for Tenure is chapter 2 from Making the Right Moves: A practical guide to scientific management for postdocs and new faculty, by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund (2nd edition, 2006). The book was written for medical students, but most of it is also relevant for other scientists at research universities.


  • Graham, W. M. (2003) Navigating promotion and tenure: strategies for the newly-employed. Limnology & Oceanography Bulletin, v. 12, n. 4, pp. 85-86. This article was written by oceanographer Monty Graham as a presentation at one of the DIALOG Symposia. Short and to the point.
  • Stalcup, Apryll, 2006. The Mechanics of Getting Tenure. (Acrobat (PDF) 96kB Jun1 06) Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, v. 385, p. 1-5. While this article is written primarily for an audience of chemists at large research universities, it is relevant for most scientists at such institutions, and includes some advice relevant for anyone in academia.
  • From the Chronicle of Higher Education
    • Tenured Twice, by Amy Jones. One woman's story of recognizing that her first department/institution was not a good fit -- just as she received tenure there -- and her decision to pursue a position somewhere that would be a better fit.
    • Road Signs to Tenure, by Miguel Mantero. Compiled advice from six tenured professors. Also, Were the Road Signs Wrong? Miguel's retrospective article as he comes up for tenure, written two years after the previous article, analyzes and responds to the earlier advice.
    • Shameless Self-Promotion, by James Lang. "Given the unsupervised nature of much of what we do in this business, I am really in the best position both to describe and to evaluate my work most effectively," explains the author.
    • How First-Year Faculty Members Can Help Their Chairmen, by Gene Fant, Jr. Suggestions for being proactive, from a department chair.
    • Keeping Your Research Alive, by Rick Reis. How to make your research a priority, in the face of other, more urgent (but not necessarily more important) demands on your time.
  • From Rick Reis' "Tomorrow's Professor" Mailing List

Tips from Academic Geoscientists

  • If you do the work, get the credit. If you can't get the credit, don't do the work.
  • Think about image management. Be careful who you share your personal reactions with. I have the devil of self-doubt sitting on my shoulder far too often. What I have come to learn is to pick carefully who gets to hear that devil. Most professional colleagues--department chair, department members, the folks you will ask to write letters of reference--are NOT good places to go when that devil wants to gab. Or have me cry when a proposal gets turned down. Or a student evaluation is particularly nasty. Find friends who you can trust absolutely (good test--Do they share similar concerns with you? Can they put these in perspective? Can they keep a confidence?). Commiserate with them; keep self-doubt out of your workplace interactions. On the positive side, do let collegues know as a paper gets accepted, a grant gets funded, or you get an invitation to speak somewhere. Keep their eyes focused on your accomplishments and competency.
  • Keep great records of ALL you do, even or especially the thankless tasks and the external things your colleagues may not know about. Put these on your c.v. Write persuasive statements for your personnel actions that include these. I hate, hate, hate updating my c.v. and I hate doing my own personnel actions. I have learned to keep track of what I do (what, when, where, its importance, my contribution) and that makes it easier. Keep a notebook where you can jot everything down--every student committee, every departmental exam, every session chaired--and pair it with a file you can drop every relevant piece of paper into. Then, when updating key documents, pretend you are doing it about a friend you really admire, and see it as a game of strategy, not an evaluation of self worth. You want to remember and convey all of your contributions.
  • Use written statements to give context and meaning to what you do in personnel actions. Use these to "claim" the importance and coherency of your contributions. Don't assume your department will know and put this in their evaluations. Realise that almost all personnel actions have important evaluations that take place outside your department (a dean, a campuswide committee) and tell a story that is compelling to them. Like how an interest in graduate education led you to serve on x committees and to rewrite the evaluation matrix for student qualifying exams and write an NSF MRI proposal to get much needed common access equipment for graduate students to use. Make these statements focused, positive, and understandable.
  • Find senior people you can trust absolutely to guide you. Ideally these are folks at your institution--one inside your department (not always possible), one at your institution outside your department--and one somewhere else. These folks should understand how the system works, be in a position to have your best interests at heart, and help you take the long view of career development and how each step fits in.

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