Overcoming Tenure Paralysis

The Stress of the Tenure Track

Feeling stressed about tenure?  Whether it’s called continuing appointment, promotion, tenure, or permanent status, I have seen countless people become paralyzed at how to embark on this journey. Many of my clients come to me with this feeling, often years before their tenure packet is do. This is actually a great sign because it means that they are thinking ahead and taking their tenure evaluation seriously.  So how do you turn that stress into action? Here are 5 steps to stop feeling stuck and start building a strong tenure file.


Image of the WEB DuBois Library by Step used under Creative Commons License.

Step 1: Know the Tenure Requirements at Your Institution

Tenure requirements vary from institution to institution. Mainly they include academic service, teaching and publication–and of course being excellent at your job.  Your first step is to research the tenure requirements at your institution.  What do the actual written guidelines say? Find out what is required and who will evaluate you. Reading the actual guidelines may not answer all of your questions, but it will help you to clearly formulate what you need to know to build a strong portfolio.

Step 2: Find a Recently Tenured Friend

Once you have read the tenure requirements you can understand them better by talking with others who have been through the process.  Perhaps a friend or colleague has recently been tenured? Perhaps your supervisor is familiar with the process? Maybe the person in charge of faculty appointments can help? Talking to people who have real-world experience with the specific tenure process on your campus will help you to find out what is it takes to earn tenure.

Step 3: Seek out service opportunities

Each year, ACRL, ALA, SLA and other library associations call for volunteers.  Check with your local and specialty library associations about how to get involved.  This may seem an intimidating process but these groups rely on librarians at all career stages to carry out important committee work. Talk to your boss about library and campus committees you could contribute to.

Step 4: Don’t Be Intimidated by Publishing or Presenting

Submitting a paper for publication or conference presentation can be a very intimidating process. But think about it this way: the economic models of academic publishing and professional conferences would not survive without faculty librarians submitting their work. Publishers and conference organizers need you! So don’t be intimidated. Be aware of upcoming conferences and their calls for proposals. Check out the submission guidelines of your favorite journal and think about what you have to say. Perhaps you can collaborate with a colleague? Talk to your boss or mentor about your research ideas. Not sure how to get started? A coach can help you through the process.

Step 5: Get involved in Teaching

Effective teaching is often a component of the tenure evaluation. Even if your job is only tangentially related to bibliographic instruction why not volunteer to assist with the BI program? Have specific subject liaison responsibilities? Maybe there is a professor you could partner with. What about contributing to another program on campus, like faculty or staff development or new student orientation? If you prefer to contribute more broadly to the profession you can contact a local library school about an adjunct teaching appointment. If a shorter duration of teaching appeals to you approach ALA’s Online Learning or a local library association about providing a professional development course in your area of expertise.

The Tenure Track Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

Like any large project it is helpful to keep your tenure process well organized. With each new project, accomplishment, committee assignment, presentation or publication, update your CV. Each year keep a “running” annual review draft to which you can add these things. Keep all of your professional feedback in a designated place. Take the process one step at a time, and seek out help. You were hired for a tenure track position because your organization believes you can do it. Now go show them how it’s done!

Are you on the tenure track and not sure of how to start building your tenure application?  Contact me! Working with librarians on their tenure case is my coaching specialty.  I offer an affordable, targeted session to help you focus your thinking around your tenure journey that is guaranteed to help. 


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