One of the things I’ve been appreciating so far this summer is that the milestones for tenure are much more clear to me than the milestones for getting a job. When I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time worrying that I would never get a job — in part, I think, because I didn’t have a clear set of goals to follow. All I knew was that to get a job I needed to publish “a lot,” but I didn’t know what “a lot” was, and all of my papers took a long time to get accepted. So I spent a long time feeling like I had a big goal (get a TT job) and not a clear sense of what specific things to accomplish to reach that goal.
I know that most institutions don’t spell out their tenure guidelines very clearly, either. My institution, like most, doesn’t say anything like “publish X papers and get Y dollars in grants, and you’re good for tenure.” But for some reason, I feel like I have a much better sense of the smaller goals I need to reach in order to be a strong tenure candidate down the line. In part, that comes from having conversations with mentors who gave me some sense of what a reasonable tenure case might look like, even though the formal guidelines don’t include any concrete numbers. Even more than that, it might also come from being more familiar with academia in general and from speeding up my own trajectory. I’ve produced more papers as a post-doc than as a graduate student, even though I spent more time being a graduate student than being a post-doc. So I feel like I have some kind of sense of what I can reasonably produce, and that amount seems to approach “a lot,” so I end up feeling like I have a better sense of how to make “a lot” of publications happen.
I might change my mind about all of this when I’m closer to going up for tenure, but for now, it’s nice to feel like I have a clearer path instead of wandering around in an amorphous mass of soup. (Not sure why a mass of soup was the image that came into my head just now, but it was quite the vivid image!)