28 August 2013

“I'll be brave after I’m tenured”

“I don’t like doing this, but I need to for tenure. I can’t fight the good fight for change if I don’t have tenure. Once I have tenure, things will be different.”

If you aren't willing to take a stand before tenure, forgive me if I have my doubts that you’re going to take a stand after tenure. That “I need to do this to succeed” reason you gave for doing stuff that you handled like a dead fish (at arm’s length, holding your nose) will morph into “I need to do this for my doctoral and grad students to succeed.” It’ll become “I need to do this for grants." It’ll change to, “I need to do this for my annual merit raise.” It’ll be, “I need to do this for promotion.”

Tenure won’t give automatically you courage. If you’re waiting for when the time is perfect and you’re free to fight without risk, you might wait so long that you miss the fight all together.

If there is something about your department, your university, your branch of academia, that you want to see changed, start working on it now. You might not get any braver after tenure. Look around at the people who have tenure. How many of them use it to fight to make things better?

Additional, 2 September 2013: When I saw you should do something, I am not advising that you should go to war with nukes on every issue. I’m saying you should do something. It’s better than doing nothing.

6 comments:

Bill Skaggs said...

Right! But grant support, of course, is a different story . . .

d l'amororo said...

I completely see your point. But I think your last paragraph is the kicker...

"If there is something about your department, your university, your branch of academia, that you want to see changed, start working on it now. You might not get any braver after tenure. Look around at the people who have tenure. How many of them use it to fight to make things better?"

You were thinking of the ridiculousness that is publishing and merit as it stands today, with too much emphasis on how many publications, and in what journals. I believe in Open Access, and I think the person you're talking to does as well.

But maybe that person has picked a different problem to tackle. Maybe there's something else in their department, university and academia that they think is wrong, and they want it changed. Like the lack of diversity in tenured faculty. That is a serious issue. It is not less serious than Open Access. This person doesn't feel that they can fight both battles, and I can see why. So they're choosing to fight the diversity battle and not the publishing battle. And they're called cowardly for picking one over the other.

I don't really think that's a fair assessment of the situation.

If that person chose to publish in an open access journal, and come tenure review time they don't meet the minimum impact factor cut off and they don't make tenure, then they've lost both battles. That's unlikely to happen, sure. But when the cards are somewhat stacked against you, I can see why you chose to not add one more to the pile.

Potnia Theron said...

Junior faculty actually have more power than they realize. Everyone knows that they don't have tenure. And when they do speak out, the old fartes tend to give what they say more weight, because the assumption is they are terrified.

Pi said...

What a bunch of naivety. Opening your mouth if it's not what is desired is the surest way to find yourself out of a job come review. Been through it. Seen it happen to others. The reason people do copycat science, cross Ts and dot I's in experimental work, glad-hand at conferences, don't work on what the powerful don't want them to, and YES, keep their mouth closed until they have tenure is because science is no different than any other human enterprise - it's social, often arbitrary, and decisions are built on the psychology of human beings who are no more objective or rational in general than non-scientists. Fair has nothing to do with it.

The one exception is if you are ultra-star material. Those folks can get away with anything. Otherwise, rock the boat and you'll get tossed overboard, I can guarantee it.

But you gotta do what you gotta do. Just don't say you weren't warned.

Jan Jensen said...

Excellent post. Thanks for writing it.

Bjoern Brembs said...

I've always tried to do and say what I thought I could get away with. Now that I have tenure (one year), I indeed feel more free to express myself even more openly than before. So while I completely agree that there won't be a coward/hero conversion at tenure, there is a degree of security that eases up on some of the tension that guides our actions.

So at least from my personal perspective, this post is half true (or half false :-)