The Honest Professor: An Introduction
By all accounts, the road to tenure is a difficult one. It's designed that way. The idea, as I understand it, is that if you want to become a tenured professor, you have to really want it.
How do you prove that you really want it? By running the academic gauntlet—publishing profusely (preferably producing quality content, although that often seems a secondary concern) and teaching terrifically (at least according to student evals) while advising, serving on committees, keeping on the literature and news in your field, and so on. If you have time, you're allowed to attempt to maintain a family and, if you're truly ambitious, a social life.
Where does this blog come in? And who's the honest professor?
The honest professor is me, Ken J. Ward. As I'm writing this in March 2018, I've just completed, defended, and published my dissertation. Beginning in fall 2018, I will myself be trekking down the tenure track as an assistant professor of communication at Lamar University in southeast Texas.
This blog, then, is my attempt to spin golden thread from the crucible on which I'm about to embark. During the earlier episodes of my academic career—finding a grad school, learning to do academic research and teach, completing a dissertation, finding a job, and on and on—I found it extremely difficult to find helpful information about the process online.
In this blog, you will find my reflections on the process of starting out as an assistant professor and working toward tenure. It is my hope that the lessons I learn along the way will be instructive for people at various points of the road to tenure.
Who is this blog for?
There are three groups that I think will benefit from the information posted here:
- Others trying to navigate the tenure track. I want to help ease your trek by warning you of pitfalls and sharing with you insights I learn as I work toward tenure. I also hope that you will share your own advice with me. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours!
- Tenured folk. Just as I want to exchange ideas with other tenure-track academics, I would love to learn from you and share your wisdom with the untenured masses.
- Those thinking about starting down the tenure track and at other stages of their academic careers. If you're not sure whether you want to take a run at tenure, the information found in this blog may help you make your decision. Also, having recently earned a Ph.D., I'll share a little bit of what I learned from that process as well.
Why the honest professor?
I believe that one of the reasons there isn't more information online about successfully navigating the road to tenure is that people are afraid of the consequences of honesty. They're afraid to admit when they're struggling in the classroom or in their research. They're afraid to show weakness because they know that reputation is everything in academic circles, and they don't want to look anything but sterling to their peers. They also know their tenure and promotion committee members use the web.
I certainly felt this fear as a graduate student. I would have done anything to avoid appearing unknowledgable in front of anyone except my mentors and close peers. And, after speaking with some of those peers, I know I'm not alone.
So I'm taking a chance with this blog. I am going out on a limb and making honesty the cornerstone of everything I write here. When I feel weak, I'm going to say so, because others may benefit from learning about how I cope with that weakness. When I do things out of self-interest, I'm going to say so, because like it or not, self-promotion is a big part of the academic game. And I'm trusting that others will be human in their responses to this honesty—that they won't judge me unfairly and that, hopefully, they will themselves find the strength to be honest with themselves and others.
As such, this blog is predicated on the following four rules:
- This blog is honest. It doesn't pull any punches or sugar-coat.
- The participants in this blog will be human and treat others as such. No one should come here to judge themselves or others. Let's embrace one another's faults, celebrate our strengths, and become better educators and people.
- This blog does not blame others. I'm going to rant about people who I think are being unjust toward me, and I won't tolerate others doing so. It's unproductive. Honesty is not the same as griping.
- This blog assumes everyone will stay at their institution unless explicitly stated otherwise. One potentially dangerous area that being honest takes us is into the realm of job hunting. The spirit of full disclosure might push someone to think they need to say when they're considering moving to another institution. I'm formally absolving anyone who participates in this blog of that responsibility. We can be honest with one another without putting our own or one another's current positions in jeopardy.
What this blog asks of you
For this blog to really benefit people, it requires more than me blathering into the ether. It requires conversation. Comment frequently and honestly. If you'd like to make a post of your own, send me an email and we'll get you a guest post. Let's learn from one another in the spirit of self-discovery and success.