Cosmic Variance's Sean Carroll has some advice about how to get tenure at a big research institution. The biggest problem for aspiring professors is the "leap" from postdoc to junior faculty. Although it's technically easier to get tenure once you're a professor than to become a professor in the first place, tenure is "not guaranteed," Carroll says. Every case, department, and university is different, but there are some things that are generally true across the board. "Here is the Overriding Principle: what major research universities care about is research. That's all. Nothing else. But even once you recognize that, there is still some craft involved in shaping your research career in the right way," Carroll says. There are two routes to tenure — the first is to be "a productive genius," but for the rest of "us schlubs," there's a more explicit route, he adds. Do good research, be reliable and "prolific," make sure you display technical ability, "make an impact in the field," bring in grant money, don't become too well known outside your field or write a book, and don't dabble in something that's outside your specialty, Carroll advises, among other things. "The tenure decision is very different than the hiring decision," he says. "When you get hired, everyone can afford to be optimistic; you are an experiment and you might just hit paydirt. When you come up for tenure, the prevailing emotion is one of worry. … They are committing to you for the next three decades. And what scares them to death is that you will stop being a productive researcher."
Some Sage Advice
Mar 31, 2011