|Barbara J. Risman||
Congratulations on your tenure! You are one of the few Americans left with any sort of job security. After more than two decades of education, and at least six years, and probably more, of precarious employment, you have arrived at your Associate Professorship. You know just how lucky you are. You’ve worked very hard, but so have others for whom no job exists in this shrinking professoriate. Take a deep breadth. Celebrate.!
I am going to assume you’ve worked so hard to become a tenured faculty member because you truly love your job. Some of you love the teaching most. Others love the freedom to study and write about your intellectual interest. Few of you think committee work is the best part of the job but some of you may love that too. Whatever is your passion, now is the time to follow it. You are free from the immediate pressures of unemployment. You are free from the immediacy of the terrors of publish or perish. What now?
How do you keep up the discipline of writing when service commitments will no doubt become heavier? Perhaps you’ve been waiting for this opportunity to become an advisor to a student organization that you know helped you survive college. Some of you you have even been putting off becoming the soccer coach or the class parent for your child’s homeroom until after your promotion. Now is the time to do those things. You earned it. Finding a comfortable balance between work, family, and life is your right. If you’ve put that off until now (and I wouldn’t have recommended that), now is the time to re-balance your work, family and leisure time. Life is very short. You deserve to enjoy it. And you deserve the right to keep your career on track.
Here’s how. It’s time to think big thoughts. You do not have to publish quickly at this point in your career. You can take the time to decide what your next major project will be. If you want to shift your research area, take the time to read widely. Be generous with your co-authorships, junior colleagues and students will be grateful, and you’ll get credit for both the publishing and for mentoring. It’s time to be captain of this ship, take time to chart your course before you move forward. Don’t just move forward on the path you have been walking. But do keep moving forward with your intellectual life as researcher and writer.
Do not do just what comes easiest, just more of the same. If you do that, without deep reflection and conscious decision, you may become dissatisfied, perhaps even disengaged. The excitement of tenure will wear off, and if you haven’t found your next challenge, you risk becoming the dead wood you once detested. You have the luxury, and it is a luxury, of following your passion. If you love to teach, shift gears and write about pedagogy in your discipline. If you actually enjoy committee work, think about moving into administration. Perhaps start by writing about higher education. Use the freedom of tenure to consciously choose the next direction for your career. You have the freedom to make a radical shift to or to jump further into your current research area wholeheartedly It is now the time to be reflexive and make a deliberate choice about the direction of your career.
While you are doing this, keep writing. If you lose the discipline of a regular writing practice, it is very hard to start again. Be lenient with yourself, however, in what you define as part of your writing practice. You are at the stage of your career when you can take a little time to asses what you want to study, and where you want to publish. If you are changing directions, and must learn a new literature, consider that part of your writing practice. Everything that moves you forward with a new intellectual project is part of your daily writing ritual. What is most important is moving forward and not letting all your time be spent on teaching and service. Both are like housework, very important, but will expand to fill as much time as you allow. Your intellectual work, your writing, takes even more discipline now that the immediacy of pressure has been lifted. Your career cannot move forward without some attention to writing, whether about pedagogy, higher education, or your research. In some colleges, you are not expected to publish often, but in every college or university, it helps your visibility. In research institutions, your ability to be promoted depends on writing productivity. No one knows about your research findings until you publish them.
Congratulations again on tenure! You hard work has paid off. You have won the lottery of a lifetime position as a professor. You are now mid-career with many years ahead of you. It’s the time to re-assess, choose your next path, and begin writing your way to your Full Professorship.