Victor Ray On “The Racialization Of Academic Funding”

victor-rayNote: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Dr. Victor Ray is an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. You can follow him on Twitter at @victorerikray.

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This essay is the first of two in which I will provide advice on getting research funding in graduate school. Here, I outline how disparities in graduate funding are deeply racialized and how that connects to racial issues in higher education more generally.

Let’s first take a brief look at the history of higher education in the United States. American colleges and universities were founded as white organizations. Part of their intellectual mission was to further the ideology and material practices of white supremacy. Profits from slavery, the exclusion of people of color and complicity in scientific racism were much more than unfortunate footnotes to an otherwise noble system.

As Craig Steven Wilder shows in the remarkable Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, higher education in the United States was founded on racial exclusion and explicitly designed to further white privilege. The life of the mind was underwritten by the cut of the whip. Although the civil rights movement and tepid diversity programming have reconfigured the racial relations central to higher education, they have by no means erased them. Colleges and universities attempt to project the illusion of a level playing field, yet racial disparities in funding, admittance and graduation rates remain deeply unequal.

Research funding is a racial issue in ways both easily apparent and occasionally hidden. Race shapes funding most obviously through the fact that the bulk of institutional resources remain firmly in white hands. Racial stratification is a defining feature of higher education at all levels of the hierarchy. For example, despite hand-wringing over supposedly “reverse racist” policies, whites are overrepresented relative to their proportion of the population when it comes to scholarships.

According to recent research by Louise Seamster and Raphaël Charron-Chénier, black students graduate with higher debt burdens. This bias extends to national funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health. After accounting for a host of factors that influence funding decisions — essentially, to statistically compare equally qualified white candidates and candidates of color — researchers found that black scholars were still 10 percent less likely than white scholars to receive NIH research funding. Such funding inequalities can make it less likely for students of color to be able to support their schooling and research, furthering racial inequity in higher education more generally.

Wider social factors also influence the ability of people of color to self-fund their education. As William Darity Jr., Darrick Hamilton and their colleagues have shown, deep racial differences in family wealth persist. Black and Latino families have fallen farther behind since the Great Recession, such that the “median black family has $7,113 in wealth, while the median white family has $111,740 in wealth.” The numbers are similarly stark for Latina/os. Those disparities are directly traceable to racist social policies like redlining, subprime lending and educational segregation, and they may make self-funding more difficult for nonwhite students.

Historical inequalities that can influence research opportunities and educational trajectories do not always show up in obvious ways. For instance, most legacy admittances can easily be construed as white racial preferences, given that many colleges and universities were only integrated in the 1960s. Similarly, the bias in so-called aptitude tests — which are excellent measures of inherited wealth — create the illusion of meritocracy while legitimizing educational inequality. Those historical inequalities influence current research realities. For instance, a dustup at New York University, in which the director of graduate admissions told a black student that perhaps he should rethink his application if he could not afford the fee, is a particularly blatant example of this racialized dynamic.

Because people of color are more likely to come from families without an ample and reliable store of wealth, they may not have the economic resources needed to support some basics of research. In my own discipline (sociology), necessary tools of the trade — such as laptops, digital tape recorders, data analysis software and money for transcription — may be unaffordable. A lack of funds for this basic equipment can put you behind your peers. And, psychologically, the very real sense of shame that comes from lacking resources in a society that measures your worth by your wealth can also constrain productivity. As a critical sociologist interested in racial inequality, I see how unequal funding holds implications for who gets to tell the stories of people of color.

Racial inequalities have real implications for conducting research. Sociologists have long argued that early disparities in funding create a Matthew effect that advantages scholars over the course of their careers. Based on the scripture “to them that has, more shall be given,” sociologist Robert K. Merton observed that scholars who found early success in securing funding were likely to have higher career productivity. Early funding provides vital resources — research assistants, course releases, money for travel — that scholars can use to extend their advantages. Those resources are then turned into the capital of academe: visibility, publications and access to social networks. Like compound interest, the productivity of scholars who achieve funding early in their careers is boosted, and that early advantage opens up subsequent opportunities. Racial disparities in funding thus create a cycle of cumulative disadvantage.

Beyond these reasons, the ability to acquire funding is becoming more important on the job market. Increasingly, departments in the social sciences are looking to hire scholars with a proven record of acquiring funding. Given the well-substantiated racial differences in rates of funding, this is yet another hurdle that scholars of color face — one that sets many of us behind.

Although personal action can never serve as a full substitute for institutional change, some strategies may make receiving funding more likely. In my next essay, I will offer practical advice on how students of color can increase their chances of getting funded and why they should apply for everything.

Pre-Tenure Scholar-Activist Blues

Me - Blue Looking

This morning’s tears were brought to you by the ongoing conflict between academia and activism.

About an hour ago, I decided to ask for my partner’s advice on a professional matter. Later this month, I am scheduled to give a talk of some sort at a race workshop in the sociology department at Duke University. My concern, on the surface, is time. The event is scheduled just a couple days after the upcoming deadline for accepted authors to submit their full contribution for my co-edited anthology, BRAVE — narratives of courage and overcoming among women of color scholars. Giving, as well as preparing, the talk means having to hold off on beginning to review the essays and provide authors feedback for revisions. That project, too, triggers concerns about time. Given the amount of work involved, the anthology has to become my sole priority for a little while. But, this is a project that will count little for tenure — if at all — and it is one that my department chair explicitly discouraged (at least while I am on the tenure-track).

What I thought was a simple practical matter — should I just cancel the talk since I feel I don’t have time? — was actually the usual internal conflict I experience between being an activist and being an academic. The question really was why the hell am I giving a(nother) talk on activism. Sure, it’s Duke — but it’s not a research talk or invited lecture.  Why the hell am I working on a book to feature stories of bravery among women of color academics?  Not only is this an edited volume, but it also seems to have little to do with my research program.

Maybe my department was right to criticize me in my mid-course review for failing to prioritize departmental service.  Since I actually exceed the expectations for doing service in the department, it remains unclear to me what else prioritizing such service would mean.  And, months after the review, in asking about it, I was told the department hadn’t yet decided what that could mean — besides pulling my weight around the department (which I do, more than I need to).  I suspect it is less about serving the department, and more about prioritizing the “wrong” kinds of external service — namely, anything reflecting or about activism.  Yet, here I am again, trying to spread the gospel about intellectual activism and doing “non-scholarly” work to amplify the voices of women of color academics.

I do this dance at least a couple of times a week.  I’ll say “fuck it” and do work about which I feel passionate (no matter its worth to my colleagues or the Tenure & Promotion Committee); then, I’ll get spooked by something, and return to resentfully conforming.  Early this week, I decided to change my mindset to be that of a professor who already has tenure, who is not concerned that the slightest misstep would cost them their jobs.  Now, late in the week, I’m back second guessing giving a talk on intellectual activism — a talk I’ve already given, and that I agreed to give again months ago.

I admitted to my partner that I am tired.  I am tired of trying to figure out what these people want from me to keep this job.  I am tired of selling out, shutting up, doubting myself, reading between the lines, begging everyone around me to assure me that my department or university or tenure letter-writers won’t attempt to sabotage me when I go up for tenure. Logically, I am in great shape for tenure, with enough publications and good student evaluations, though it seems I could stand to cutback on service to the discipline, profession, and community.  But, the biases that play out in formal evaluation in the academy are not based upon logic; so, I remain vigilant for words that say one thing and actions that say another.  It’s exhausting.

Then, the tears came, surprising both my partner and me.  Between sobs, I said that I was tired of second guessing doing work that is inherently about my survival and the liberation of my people.  I’m tired of holding out for a department or institution to value my worth as a human being, of deluding myself into thinking I would ever get their full acceptance and validation as a Black queer non-binary feminist intellectual activist.  I am tired of feeling unsettled between what is expected of me and what is exciting to me.  Given the self-doubt, and censorship, and contorting, and… and… and… is it really all worth it?  I told my partner that I would never wish this path on another person, on trying to survive within an institution that devalues your worth.

This morning’s meltdown confirms the importance of my work to champion intellectual activism, and, specifically, needing to give this talk at Duke (probably more for me than any audience I hope will attend).  I know that I am not alone, especially in the midst of widespread political turmoil and civil unrest in our country, in wrestling with the (unnecessary) tension between academia and activism.  That is why I have chosen to share this in this blog post.

I don’t have any advice to impart — yet.  I am still in the thick of figuring this shit out myself.  I invite you to stay tuned on this journey.  Though I have a growing list of role models and sheroes who have found their way, the norm appears to be one of tension — between one’s job and one’s survival.

Check out my other writings on being a scholar-activist:

Also:

Advice For Faculty To Track Their Work

shannon craigo-snellNote: this blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column.  Shannon Craigo-Snell is professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of three books, including The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford University Press, 2016), and numerous articles, essays and chapters. Her latest work, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice (co-authored with Christopher Doucot), will be out later this year.

Advice on Tracking Your Work

It is common in academe for women, people of color and LGBTQ people to end up doing a ridiculous amount of work, much of which goes unnoticed and often counts little toward tenure and promotion.

One of the few Asian-American professors on campus ends up being the de facto adviser for every Asian-American student. A queer professor spends hours doing the emotional work of hearing students in pain regarding their own sexual and gender identities and the anti-LGBTQ bias they experience. And, in what I believe to be one of the legacies of white supremacy in the United States, people of color are given workloads that would be deemed impossible for white professionals. Such structural injustice must be stopped.

In the meantime, as we try to survive, I suggest keeping two documents on your computer that you update regularly: your CV and a list of your work experiences. They should be distinct documents.

Four Steps to Creating a CV

  • Before composing your CV, look at multiple examples from scholars in your field. Many can be easily found online. Examine how different academics organize the material, as well as what kinds of things they list. Make sure to look across institutions. A scholar at a top research institution might not list courses taught, while one at a small liberal arts college might foreground teaching experience. Also, notice how scholars at different levels of experience organize their CVs. Younger professors often include accomplishments that a more experienced academic might omit, such as presiding over a panel at a guild meeting. Find a good model CV that coordinates with your location and level of experience.
  • Write up all of your accomplishments and experiences in the format of your model CV.
  • Once you have laid out your CV, scrutinize, edit and polish it carefully. Pay attention to details, such as punctuation and spacing. Ask friends to go over it and give feedback. Polish it once more.
  • Keep your CV handy on your computer so that you can add to it every time you do something. Do not wait until you are asked to produce a new CV. By then, you might not recall a talk you gave or an event in which you participated. Also, looking back over a well-written CV can help in discerning what your own strengths and passions are as you plan ahead.

Keeping a List of Work Experiences

In a separate document, keep note of every single bit of service work that you do in the academic institutions where you’ve been employed. Every. Single. Bit. I would include:

  • Official work, such as serving on committees. In many institutions, women, queer folks and people of color end up doing significantly more committee work than others. Sometimes this is explicit, such as the dean who unapologetically overworked women, claiming it was imperative to have a woman on every committee. At other times, it is unnoticed. I have a friend who did not realize how many committees she was on because she had never written them down and counted them up. Once she had tallied them, she asked other scholars at her institution and discovered she was serving on many more than they were.
  • Unofficial work. Many types of work never appear on CVs, such as introducing a visiting speaker, unofficially advising students, meeting with student groups that ask for input, attending lunch forums, supervising independent studies and so forth. Women, people of color and LGBTQ people often do a disproportionate amount of such work. Furthermore, this kind of work can easily remain invisible and undervalued. Five different groups might ask for a small effort, each not realizing they are one of many. Nobody else will keep track of this. If you keep a record, you will have documentation to refer to in reviews and negotiations. It can also be helpful backup if you need to decline an assignment.

Finally, a note on discernment. Early in an academic career, scholars are eager for every opportunity to publish, speak at a conference or participate in a project. In the past, that has been an expected pattern through which scholars build a repertoire and body of work to secure their standing in the field. However, for those who are not “likable,” for those who are conditionally accepted, that pattern often fails.

Instead of building a reputation as a solid scholar, academics who do not fit within the dominant culture often end up building an overwhelming load of commitments that, while good in other ways, are not recognized as adding up to scholarly standing. That reflects the increased demands upon these scholars.

Also, traditional academic structures often have no means by which to value the types of work that scholars outside the dominant culture do. For example, when a professor invests hours in an interdisciplinary program or a cultural studies center, people in the department where that person works may not fully value it. They can even view such work as neglecting departmental duties. Similarly, they can portray work that attends to the practical needs of non-dominant communities as not sufficiently scholarly.

You need careful and clear-sighted discernment to determine which commitments are valuable and for what purpose — if they are career enhancing or life-giving, or both. Friends, mentors and a clear-eyed assessment of your own goals can all help with this discernment.

For many of us, individual professional success is not the only goal at play in this discernment. We are also hoping to shift the oppressive systems of academe itself — not to become likable but rather to embody a different paradigm altogether, where senior scholars learn with and support younger scholars, where different perspectives are valued and engaged, and where the secret handshake of the inner circle is posted on placards for all to see. Jennifer Ho, professor of English and grammar queen, says that she mentors others because her vision for the academy is not an exclusive dinner party but rather a rowdy potluck where everyone is welcome and brings something to share.

Whatever your goals are, tracking your work carefully can help you stay focused on them and not fall prey to the dissipation of your energies by the endless demands made of marginalized scholars.

On Solving The Tenure Problem

jamieNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Jamie J. Hagen is a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, researching gender and security. Her most recent article is “Queering Women, Peace and Security.” She is also an independent journalist and writes about queer politics and reproductive justice.

Why Most of Us Won’t Get Tenure

The academic job market is bleak, as most certainly all of you reading this are well aware. Over the summer, Gawker gathered some personal stories to highlight just how bad things are out there. One adjunct wrote about how they work at Starbucks to make ends meet, while another realized the janitor at their institution makes more than they do.

This conversation in popular media reveals how out of touch those with tenure often are regarding the future of their students in the academy.

I work in the field of international relations, and a couple of pieces published over at Foreign Policy made the rounds a few months ago about what those of us on the other side should do on our journey to the ever-elusive tenure-track job. First was the piece about how to get tenure. Then some women academics pointed out how gender also factors into the experience of seeking tenure in the academy.

Yet both of these pieces focus on individual actions rather than looking at the larger institution granting tenure. In her response, which Foreign Policy opted not to publish, Laura Sjoberg, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, wrote in a blog pot for Relations International:

“One the one hand, this advice is solid — after all, to an extent, we all navigate the existing system individually. On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I have two serious concerns about the advice provided. First, I am concerned that providing advice for navigating the gendered system of achieving tenure without strategizing to change the system as a whole puts the primary responsibility for overcoming bias on the victims of the bias. Second, I am concerned that a significant number of the strategies provided are only available to a small percentage of those who might seek professional success as political science faculty, narrowing the spectrum of those to whom tenure might be available.”

I, too, am concerned about the lack of a larger strategy for institutional change. But I am most troubled by how the conversation seems to keep missing the biggest question. This query was raised in a post for Ducks of Minerva by Annick T. R. Wibben: “Why do we keep focusing on getting tenure when most junior academics will never be on the tenure track?”

Indeed. And I would add: Why is it that those in the most precarious position — doctoral candidates and adjuncts — are seemingly left to make a living, and discuss and resolve this tenuous academic landscape on our own, barring a few vocal feminist tenured professors?

Rather, the prospect of a tenure-track future hinges on departments renegotiating institutional infrastructure, creating a new landscape of possibilities for adjuncts and students alike. With this in mind, I offer five ways to address the reality of the tenure track today. I offer these tips primarily for tenured and tenure-track faculty, although they may be useful to graduate students and other members of the faculty as well.

  1. Tenure-track faculty must recognize openly that as the system stands, tenure is not a possibility for most Ph.D.s, regardless of merit or method. Daniel Dreznor reflected on the academic job market in Foreign Policy back in 2013, noting, “The job market is brutal. The academic job market has been abysmal for as long as I can remember, but things have only gotten worse recently. Just click here and make sure that there are no children in the room, because the numbers are so horrific they should be rated NC-17. If you’re not going to a top-20 school in your field, well, those numbers are even worse.”
  2. Talk directly with doctoral students about adjuncts, acknowledging how the labor force has shifted at your institution as well as in the field as a whole. Even a cursory Google search reveals the extent to which the university system has steadily been corporatized, class sizes have increased and the adjunct labor force has exploded. The Adjunct Project of CUNY offers a number of ways to Bring It to Class, including blurbs to put in your syllabi, ideas for class lessons, a video to show and articles about adjuncting. Directly acknowledging adjunct labor creates a safer space for doctoral students to discuss the issue with faculty members as well as other students.
  3. Know that the route to the tenure track is not an equal playing field. As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the class, race and gender dynamics of tenure denial — to say nothing of getting a tenure-track job in the first place — have continued to make headlines this year. A great resource for understanding this is the book Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González and Angela P. Harris. One of the editors explains, “Existing academic structures facilitate different realities and rules of the game for members of historically underrepresented groups as compared to those of their white, heterosexual colleagues.” The book concludes with a chapter of recommendations and lessons, including a section on tenure and promotion.
  4. Departments should gather data about their work force and practices in the field to share with faculty members and students. They should make information about average class size readily available, as well as how this number has changed over the past five or 10 years. Departments should also make clear the number of tenure-track positions in the department versus part-time or adjunct positions. They also need to gather data about job placement of students in the department and field, especially for Ph.D. students. That information should be gathered and distributed as part of best practices for the department — not something that precarious faculty members, administrators or students are expected to investigate and report on their own.
  5. Senior faculty can use their bargaining power to address low pay, inadequate health care and a lack of job security for most of their department’s work force when negotiating contracts. Placing the impetus for change on the backs of the most vulnerable people within the system is unreasonable. As Jennifer Gaboury wrote in a Facebook status update about the recent contract negotiations at the City University of New York, “When pay was deprioritized as an issue in the last two contracts, what gets said is: that’s too big of a fight, and the support isn’t there among ladder-rank faculty — a minority of the faculty but a majority of voting members in the union. Yes, more adjuncts need to become members of the union and push for pay. So many adjunct activists that I know, having worked on these issues for years, feel alienated from this work and burned by the union.”

During the time I have been part of a doctoral program, a number of colleges and universities have negotiated contracts for adjuncts. We no longer need advice for individual faculty. We are overdue for attending to real institutional change. Hope for most young professionals in the academy relies not on following tips for obtaining a tenure-track job but rather in the solidarity from those with job security when it comes to tackling the growing insecurity of the majority of the academic work force.

Advice On Soliciting Strong Recommendation Letters

shannon craigo-snellNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Shannon Craigo-Snell is professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford, 2014). Her forthcoming book, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice, co-authored with Christopher Doucot, will be released in 2017. She is involved in activism as well as a variety of academic organizations.

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In the early years of academic life, scholars are asked to provide letters of recommendation for various opportunities, including jobs, grants, summer funding and fellowships.

For scholars who are “likable” — those who reflect the dominant culture and fit neatly into the mold of senior scholars eager to mentor them — I suspect this is rather easy. When I was a graduate student, my male classmates played squash with senior professors, took them out for a celebratory drink after completing comprehensive exams and invited them over for dinner. None of these avenues of getting to know professors seemed open to me. If I, as a woman, asked a senior professor (quite likely a man) out for a drink, the cultural subtext would be very different. That meant that when it was time to ask for letters of recommendation, the male professors knew Tom, Dick and Harry quite well, while they might not recall a paper I had written.

Marginalized scholars often face an uphill battle in finding mentors, and that can be reflected in letters of recommendation that have enormous importance in opening doors throughout their careers. Thus, in this essay, I provide concrete tips for soliciting strong letters of recommendation, specifically for my fellow marginalized scholars.

Selecting Recommenders

Often a scholar is asked to provide more than one letter of recommendation. As you consider whom to ask, keep in mind that you will want people who can speak to different parts of your experience or different strengths. You will also want to make sure that your recommenders are from diverse backgrounds and varied specializations or research areas.

Unfortunately, having only women or only people of color will be a drawback in many situations. For those operating out of explicit or implicit (racial and/or gender) bias, this can pigeonhole a scholar into a particular niche and lessen the sense that they will contribute broadly to the field. In certain fields, it might be the case that having all white men write letters on your behalf would also be a drawback. Balance is likely key in whom you ask to write for you.

Asking for a Letter

When I ask someone for a recommendation, I try to do three things. First, I make clear why I am asking them, in particular, to write this letter on my behalf. Something along the lines of “Because we worked together in this capacity or on this project, you are able to speak to this specific skill, ability, strength or experience I have.” Second, I put them on the hook for a really strong letter. I ask them, specifically, if they could write a strong letter of recommendation for me.

Third, I give them a way out if they feel like they cannot write a really strong letter. My wording is something like this: “I am applying for X. They have asked for recommendation letters to be sent by X date. You know my work well from our past experience X, so I was wondering if you would be able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me. I know that you have a lot going on right now, so I understand if the timing does not work.” At least once, I have had a recommender use the back-out option, and I was glad. I would much prefer to be told no than to have a weak letter that could sabotage my entire application.

Providing Information

What makes a letter of recommendation stand out from all of the rest is its level of specificity. Generic letters fade into the background, while detailed and particular letters shine. For example, every recommendation form asks the writer to say how long they have known the person they are recommending. A generic letter says, “Three years.” A specific letter says, “I first met X when we both spoke on a panel about X. Her presentation was a comparison between Y and Z that was so insightful, I began teaching her article on the subject in my classes.”

To help your recommenders write detailed letters, you can provide them with tailored information that is easy to access. I suggest giving your recommender a packet that contains materials such as:

  1. A personalized letter that: a) thanks them for agreeing to write for you, b) reminds them the particular reason you have asked them to write and c) reminds them of the various ways you have interacted professionally. For example: “We first met in 2007 when I took your course on X, you sat on my comprehensive exam in 2010, we were on a panel together in 2011,” and so forth. Or it might be: “We worked together on X research project in 2012 and served on X committee together for three semesters.”
  2. A copy of the official description of the opportunity for which you are applying.
  3. A copy of your up-to-date CV.
  4. A copy of your letter of application, personal statement or research proposal.
  5. If you are a student asking a professor or former professor for a letter, it is good to include a paper that you wrote for that professor with the professor’s comments and grade on it. I realize this might not be possible, and that it would have been helpful to have this advice earlier.
  6. If you are a graduate student writing a dissertation, you might send a chapter of your dissertation.
  7. A very clear statement of how and when to submit the requested recommendations.

It is important to give this information to your recommender in a format that is extremely easy to see and cross-reference. Ask your recommender if she would prefer digital or electronic copies of your materials.

Follow Up

A few days before the letter is due, send a friendly email reminder, which can be as simple as “This is a friendly reminder that the recommendation letter for X is due on X.” After the deadline has passed or you receive notification that the letter has been received, send a handwritten thank-you note. If someone writes multiple letters of reference for you, it is appropriate to send a small gift, such as a small package of good chocolates, in appreciation.

These steps — selecting recommenders, asking for a strong letter, providing information and following up — will improve a marginalized scholar’s chances of getting a selection of outstanding letters of recommendation.

7 Strategies For Success For Tenure-Track Faculty

Tanya Golash-BozaNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Tanya Golash-Boza is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her most recent book is Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism (NYU Press, 2015). She runs the blog Get a Life, PhD and tweets at @tanyaboza.

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Securing a tenure-track position in this academic market is difficult. Of course, once you have such a position, the trials are not over, as you now have to work to achieve tenure. And the very thought of working toward tenure can be overwhelming.

However, I encourage tenure-track faculty members not only to think about achieving tenure but to be strategic and focused to ensure you are on the right path. Even if tenure is a few years off, new tenure-track faculty can take a few important steps now (other than, of course, work on publishing their dissertations, improving their courses and developing new research projects). Here are a few examples.

Check out the tenure documentation. What forms are you going to have to fill out when you go up for tenure? If possible, secure a copy of those forms so that you can see what information you will be asked to provide when you make your tenure case. Many colleges and universities have a mid-career or third-year review process, which is identical to the tenure review. That can help familiarize you with the process.

Develop an aspirational tenure CV for yourself. You should include in it all of the things you would like to have accomplished by the time you are up for tenure. If you are in the humanities, that probably will include a book and perhaps multiple articles. (If you are unclear about the expectations, this post has some suggestions for how to figure those out.) Also include conference presentations, service obligations, teaching accolades, invited lectures and anything else that you think will help you make your case for tenure. This will help you to see the bigger picture more clearly. Once you have your aspirational CV, use it to develop your long-term plan for tenure.

Create a list of your external reviewers. One of the best pieces of advice that I received on the tenure- track was to make a list of 12 people in my field whom I admired, and then to make it a point to contact them while I was on the tenure track. If you write this list in your first year, you only have to contact two people per year over the next six years. You can reach out in a variety of ways. You can invite them to have coffee at a conference. You can send them a recently published article of yours that you think they might find interesting. You can send them feedback or questions about an article or book they recently published. I recommend contacting them in a way that feels natural or comfortable to you and that engages with your shared research interests. Most universities expect that external reviewers will be at similar or more highly ranked institutions than your own, so keep that in mind when you formulate your list.

Network to establish a national reputation. At many research universities, having a national reputation is a vital component of your tenure case. For that reason, it is important to make sure that other scholars are aware that you exist and know about your work. One example of a way to do this is to organize a panel at a national conference in your discipline. That will put you in touch with scholars in your field and increase your visibility. Another strategy is to invite prominent scholars to your campus. If your university has funds to do so, suggest people in your field to ask to deliver talks. (This also can permit you to check a name off your list from the previous suggestion.) In some universities, it is also expected that you will be invited to share your research at other campuses to demonstrate that you have a national reputation. Finally, if a blog in your field publishes guest posts, try to publish your own on it. (In my field, Border Criminologies is an example of this kind of blog, and they accept guest posts.)

Figure out what kind of service you like. What is the right kind of service for you? Do you like serving on review panels? Do you like curriculum development? Do you like organizing seminars? Do you want to be on the athletics committee in the hopes of scoring free basketball tickets? Once you determine what kind of service you like, you may want to be proactive and search out those kinds of opportunities. That way, when other opportunities arise, you can say that you are already occupied with service tasks. It is, of course, crucial to know that you can say no to service requests, especially when your no is accompanied by a good explanation. When thinking about what kind of service opportunities you will seek out, be mindful of the expectations at your institution. Some institutions expect some form of departmental, university, community and national service. Other institutions are less concerned about national service yet have higher expectations for local service. Be clear about these expectations.

Teach effectively and efficiently. Robert Boice found that successful new faculty members spend no more than two hours preparing for each hour of class. Seek out advice from more seasoned colleagues about how to be a more efficient grader and more effective teacher. Ask your colleagues how much time they spend preparing for class and grading papers to make sure that your efforts are near the norm in your department. (See this blog post for additional tips.)

Know your evaluation criteria and use them as a guide. Your university may have straightforward criteria. When I worked at the University of Kansas, the evaluation criteria were 40 percent research, 40 percent teaching and 20 percent service, and I tried to make sure to spend about that percentage of time every week in each of those areas. (I actually printed out a document that said I would spend 3.2 hours a day on research, 3.2 hours on teaching and 1.6 hours on service and stuck it on my wall.) Your university may not have such clear criteria, but you should be able to estimate how much value is given to each area and make an attempt to align your work hours with those expectations.

It can be overwhelming to start a new tenure-track position. But life on the tenure track does not have to be torturous. Develop clear goals for yourself for tenure and work toward those a little bit every day. Six years is a long time to be stressed out and worried, so figure out ways that you can minimize that stress and worry. Do what you can not only to survive but also to thrive on the tenure track.

Post-PhD Growth: This Is Where I Stop Apologizing For Who I Am

"Not Sorry" by Alex Guerrero

“Not Sorry” by Alex Guerrero

I am embarrassed to state this… again.

My graduate training traumatized me. Yes, let me give the obligatory qualifier: I mean “little t” trauma, not “big T” trauma like sexual violence, natural disasters, or war. I continue to work through that special kind of trauma that is not even listed in the DSMcomplex trauma. No one has accused me of being overly dramatic, or playing the victim, or being unfairly critical of my grad program — at least not to my face. But, I feel self-conscious about it — not enough to keep it between my therapist and me, obviously, but just enough to downplay something that has plagued my heart, spirit, mind, identity, and career for a few years now.

But, enough about that. I am tired of telling that story, even though I feel compelled to do so again as though I need to convince others how bad grad school was for me. I am tired of hearing myself tell that story. I am sure at least a few others who have heard me talk about it are tired of hearing it, too, though no one has ever said so. But, that’s trauma for you. I have gotten better about recognizing trauma’s impact on others’ lives; they tell the same story, less for informing others, and more for validating their own hurt (though it’s never enough to heal deep wounds).

Though I no longer have meaningful ties to my graduate program or any of my graduate school professors, their influence has lingered in my life. The little voice that tells me what I should be doing with my career was deeply implanted into my head. Even as I intentionally and actively pursue opportunities that defy the expectations of a normative career typical of professors at Research I universities, my efforts often involve negotiation with the should voice. I have found myself justifying why doing something other than should makes sense for me and/or my career. I sometimes compromise with should by doing what it demands to compensate for doing things it cautions against. (“Yes, I’m running this blog, but I’ve got two papers under review!”) On occasion, I have apologized for doing things that should says I shouldn’t be doing. Half-joking, yet half-serious, I have complained to my partner, “why couldn’t I just be a normative, elitist, apolitical and ‘objective’ status-obsessed researcher?”

I don’t know that I believe in destiny or fate, for I have never given it much thought. But, working through the trauma of grad school has helped me to see the inevitability of some events in my life. I gave grad school a good try. But, structurally and culturally, it was bound to traumatize me, even if I totally caved to the pressures to forgo research on my own communities and advocacy with those communities. I knew too little as an undergraduate student to be able to assess the extent to which a given graduate program would support me in developing a career as a scholar-activist. I can no longer blame myself for the choices and compromises that I made, the parts of my soul I sold for job prospects, or for the things I did or didn’t say. This Black queer non-binary feminist intellectual activist could never come out of a program like the one I attended with both a job and full sanity — I had to pick one or the other.

But, I graduated three years ago. I am now halfway to tenure at the University of Richmond, and many (all?) of the signs point to a smooth, favorable tenure decision. I have found in UR a place that supports my career as a scholar-activist. I no longer have contact with my grad school. I am long overdue for cutting grad school’s influence in my career and my life.

The primary reason for moving on — forgiving them and forgiving myself — is that I landed exactly where I said that I would. I intended to end up at a liberal arts college so that I could teach and do research, but leave myself ample time for advocacy and community service. Though with a regrettable detour (i.e., grad school’s push away from marginal research), I am doing research on my communities. Grad school was nothing more than the means to this desired end. That’s all getting the degree should be for anyone, no matter their background or career goals.

And, though I was naïve about what graduate training in mainstream sociology entailed, I was completely honest about who I was when I entered the program. In my personal statement, I noted my experience with activism as an undergrad, and that this work influenced my scholarship. And, I even stated a desire to make the academy more inclusive and hospitable for marginalized folks like myself. To quote the phenomenal Maya Angelou, “[w]hen someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” I showed the program who I was and who I wanted to become — it was their opportunity to embrace or waste to support me in developing that self-defined career.

I am done apologizing for who I am and the career that I have designed for myself. I will never be a traditional academic, no matter how hard I try. It was never in the cards for me. I am sure I am not alone in being seduced into the highly-valued Research I career path, but it just doesn’t suit me. That is fine for those who are genuinely interested in such a career — no shade to those people.

There is more than one way to be a successful academic. I have finally found mine.