Survive as an experimental physicist

Sep 14, 2015 career tenure

The Center for Teaching and Learning at USD organized a workshop on promotion and tenure process. The vice president in academic affairs, Jim Moran, described the USD mission and vision as the context of the process. An important aspect of tenure is to protect the academic freedom as pointed out by him. He also gave some statistics of the historical promotion and tenure rate:

FY 09-15 Applicants Approved
Associate 76 67 (88.2%)
Tenure 81 74 (91.4%)
Full 30 22 (73.3%)

According to him, the rate is way above the national average, which is about 60% if I remember correctly.

He then asked some FAQ to three panelists, Jill Tyler, Mike Allgrunn and David Burrow, who are members of the USD Promotion & Tenure Committee. Things that I learned from the discussion are summarized here.

  • It is natural that your performance in teaching in the first year is bad. Admit it, try to fix it, and don’t be defensive. It is OK, as long as you show a clear trajectory of improvement in late years.
  • Describe in detail what is your role in each publication. Such as why there are so many coauthors, why your student is the first author instead of you, etc. Most people in the promotion and tenure committee are not from your discipline, and don’t know situation which is common in your field. Explain to them instead of letting them to figure it out.
  • Ask your chair to setup a context for your development. Clear define the percentage of your teaching, research and service tasks. It is OK if the percentage changes according to the needs of your department as long as your effort reflects the changes.
  • Track your effort to tenure clearly and frequently. Update the database where you keep the record of your effort frequently.
  • The promotion and tenure committee knows that you are human, that the decision is very important to you. They assume that you are qualified, and try to find the evidence from your submitted material - Make those evidence clear to them so that they don’t have to search hard.
  • The promotion and tenure committee only check if you meet the criteria, it is not about your personality or anything else.
  • You can contact the Council of Higher Education (COHE) if you feel that you are treated unfair in the process. Do it as soon as possible. However, COHE cannot change the decision. It can only investigate whether the process leading to the decision is fair or not.
  • Try to do services that you are passionated about. Don’t take too much services that you don’t have time to teach and conduct research.

Blogs on physics research and educational activities of Jing LIU, an assistant professor in physics at the University of South Dakota. He is an experimental physicist developing novel particle detectors for astroparticle physics and civil use.