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Working at a Major Research Institution, Part 5: On Track for Tenure

Speaking at the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting this month, Ohio State University's Michael Ibba said that one of the most anti-climactic moments of an academic career occurs "when the tenure clock stops ticking." Most academic faculty, he said, tend to think that "'If I just get tenure it's going to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me.' … But the reality is that, if you get this right, getting tenure will be without a doubt one of the greatest anti-climactics of your career." An associate professor on the tenure track ought to be aware of what his or her institute wants, as well as what he or she wants from the institute, Ibba said. "What the institute wants from you," he said, is that "they want you to become that income stream" — by renewing grants and seeking out additional ones. As such, institutes want their faculty to maintain a high level of productivity, to take on more teaching and administrative responsibilities, and to pledge a "lifelong allegiance at no cost to them," Ibba said. On the other hand — while they, too, wish to maintain funding, productivity, and diversify their teaching and administrative work — academic faculty know that institutional allegiance comes at a price, particularly those associate professors who've been courted by other universities. To that, Ibba said "if you're successful in your job, retention will become an issue. ... Because if you do the math, a new hire is a risk ... you could just hire somebody who's successful, pay them a bit more startup up front, and they're going to come with grants already." While he said the decision of whether to stay or to go is up to each individual, Ibba added it'd be foolish to not consider each opportunity, as there is "no loyalty value in this for you." Ibba also said that, once tenured, professors ought to "take your sabbatical as soon as you're entitled to it. Get out, refresh, move on. ... It's your entitlement; it's part of your academic freedom. You worked very hard for it to get tenure."

Overall, while they are by no means simple to successfully navigate, Ibba said that careers on the academic tenure track at major research institutions are ideal for those who seek to "get much more out of it than you put in, if you're good at it."

"I love my job. And I think it's the best job I could have. I enjoy going to work every day," he said, adding that "there are very, very few careers where you can define your own path so clearly."

See also Working at a Major Research Institution, Part 1: Reflections, Part 2: The Application, Part 3: The Interviews, and Part 4: On Being Junior Faculty.

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