Ten Things To Do After You Get Tenure
1. Be Careful … to tell only the small number of people that you are already certain will be happy for you. Let others vine these grapes according to the whims of time and chance. I know your first impulse is to race to Dr. Bozo’s office in order to taunt him, and it’s a laudable one. “BOOM!” you rap to a victory twerk, “Dead-old-man-just-a-picture-on-the-wall / I-still-be-getting-mad-pay-to-diss-you-in-the-hall!” You’re recklessly risking your buzz in that Dr. Bozo may then respond with, “It was only because you’re a woman,” or the exhilaratingly direct, “I voted against it.” Let him say these things to someone else while you are at home having a little party — a little party, not a big party. Hey, I know Tenure feels like a victory over something or a reward for something. IT’S NOT. It will take you a little while to figure out what it is. A while. Like months.
2. Take A Walk. Go to a hospital intensive care unit, go to a sewage treatment plant, go to your kid’s daycare – hell, go to the slaughterhouse where most of my friends from high school work. Grab a cup of coffee and look around for a while. You will notice lots of women and men working hard to make difficult things happen. Now stop and wonder if any of these people will ever be eligible for Tenure at their jobs, regardless of how hard they work and how effective they are. Then wonder the same thing about public defenders, sex workers and Starbucks baristas. Realize that the answer is a resounding “no”.
3. Ask Yourself … why the concept of Tenure is reserved for academics. Is it because what you do is more important than what these other people do? Newsflash: it’s not. Is it because you are a super smart special genius who deserves more out of life than the average unwashed global villager? Glory be — if you believe that then you’re probably already beyond help. Listen up: Tenure is actually some kind of a tool that might be particularly useful in your line of work. It is up to you to decide if you will shove this rare and transformative tool into a drawer and let it rust, or if you will pick it up and use it. It is your choice.
4. Get A Piece of Paper And A Pen … and write down a few of the things that you declined to do because you were Untenured. Pick the things that you really feel guilty for turning down. It can include all those STEM education RFPs to which you didn’t respond, or the Rape Crisis Center that needed a faculty liaison. What about the OA journal that wanted new Editors, or the journalist that you didn’t have time for? The fact that you actually got Tenure means that there will be at least five items on your list, but limit yourself to the ten most compelling examples. And don’t get all freaked out on me dammit — you’re not necessarily going to sign up and do these very things, but listing them is a critical part of the exercise.
5. Now Write Down … the choice zingers that you declined to say because you were Untenured. Pick your favorites. It can be things like, “Modeling plant evapotranspiration as a passive function of atmospheric temperature is feebleminded bullshit you dumbass,” or, “Why the f*ck are we still teaching optical mineralogy when our graduates don’t know the difference between a plant and an animal?” Or perhaps, “F*ckyou you evil f*ckwad registrar, my best undergrad is dropping out because he can’t pay the exorbitant tuition,” or even, “We both know damn well that dickhead is also sliming on the students and the staff.” Again, list no less than five and no more than ten. We don’t want go down the resentment rabbit-hole here; whenever you start to feel put-upon, go back and do step #2.
6. Think Hard About #5. What was really behind those things you didn’t say? What was your truest motivation for wanting to say those things? What part of those petty sniping sarcastic comments was your brave heroic best self trying to come through? What was the real risk that you chose not to take when you bit down on your tongue? Now rewrite those 5-10 things within this new and better context.
7. Compare … the items in list #4 and list #6. Is there any overlap? If there is, then YOU’RE GOLDEN. Somewhere within that overlap lies the key to your unique potential as an agent of real change. Right there is the intersection between what you believe and the access that your Tenured position provides. Now take a deep breath because what you just figured out is important: You just figured out Where To Start.
8. Make A Plan. Here comes the hard part: It’s going to take you some time to map out a plan for how to activate this newly-found potential. You’ll need to disengage from most of what you’ve been doing and decide what parts of the status quo to dump unceremoniously in favor of your new crusade. Map out a great strategy, and then map out several fallback plans for when your awesome can’t-fail strategy doesn’t pan out. Know that you are basically starting your career over, with a whole different set of performance standards set internally instead of externally. A Sabbatical is the perfect time to do all this – in fact, this is what a Sabbatical is meant to facilitate, IMHO. Removed from the habits and rituals of your accustomed institution, can you envision a new set of principles, the new resultant set of tasks and new inbox? Can you come back from your Sabbatical meaningfully changed, ready to do your work differently and with more conviction?
9. Commit … to your new Post-Tenure identity. Tell the people you love and who love you that you’ve decided to transform the nature of your job, and explain to them about the greater good for which you are now working. Ask them if they’re OK with it, because if you do this right, your world – and perhaps theirs – is about to be rocked. You are going to disappoint some people by ceasing to do what they have come to expect you will do. It will be scary, too. You’ve decided to stop relying upon what has finally been conceded as expertise in order to launch shakier skills that you haven’t tested yet. You will inevitably upset some people. You’ll lose some friends and gain others, and you’ll come to know yourself much better along the way. You are opting for the discomfort of growth over the entitled ease of decay. Many days, you’ll find comfort in one thing only: You are not wasting the most valuable tool you’ve ever been given.
10. Change The World … into what you wished it was when you were coming up, as an undergrad, as a grad student, as a new professor. Go out and give someone what you wish you had gotten. All these things you’ve been bitching so bitterly about for years: Public apathy over Climate Change, lack of minorities in STEM, how damn dumb the students are – it is up to you to make the data that shows these things are getting better. So gird your loins, Take Up The Tenured Man’s Burden and carry with you all the good luck that I can possibly conjure. Go change our world a lot or a little. Or a lot. Because you are now finally doing something that only Tenured You can do.Want to leave a comment? LOL you can’t, and here’s why. But you can tweet my stupid *ss and I’ll tweetcha back.