Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

When Do You Stop Being An Early-Career Scholar?

Chronicle of Higher Education, When Do You Stop Being an Early-Career Scholar?:

I had an experience recently that confirmed what I’d already suspected: I am no longer an early career scholar. Perhaps because of my age, or simply because I am pre-tenure, I had still considered myself to be "early" in my career until that moment.

It happened a week before my discipline’s biggest conference. As I was checking the online schedule for pre-meeting workshops, I found an intriguing one for "early career scholars of color." But after reading the agenda, I realized I wouldn’t benefit from the content. The lineup included sessions on developing career goals, publishing a dissertation, preparing for the job market, crafting a strong CV, negotiating a job offer, publishing your first book, finding a mentor. As an assistant professor, I’d already done those things. I read the list multiple times, searching, to no avail, for at least one applicable session. Then I posted on Facebook, asking the world: "When do you stop being an early career scholar?"

The consensus was clear: Ph.D.s are considered early career until we earn tenure and/or for the first five to seven years of our postgraduate career (whether or not we are in a tenure-track position). However, the professional-development opportunities for early career scholars mostly focus on graduate students and brand-new faculty members, and fail to address the professional concerns of people like me — an advanced assistant professor on the downward slope of the early career hill.

Signs that you’re over the hill. Advanced assistant professor is not an official rank — there are no formal changes in job description or expectations — but it is common lingo among academics. The term is used to describe people in Years 5 and 6 on the tenure track who are no longer considered "new," yet are not associate professors (which usually happens in Year 6 or 7). If you are currently in this period of limbo, you can attest to some very obvious changes in your professional life.

The structural protections in place when you started your career are now mostly gone. There are no more reprieves from committee service or advising, no more release time from teaching, and no more course-development grants. You’ve spent your start-up funds, and the faculty mentor you were assigned has been missing in action for a year or more. You need a new computer but it won’t be part of a hiring package, and it certainly won’t come with an updated version of the software you need to analyze your research data. Your scholarship has broadened into new areas but your institution will still only send you to one conference a year (if that).

To add salt to the wound, decreased support is coupled with increased job expectations for an advanced assistant professor. ...

All of which is why — instead of lamenting over my ever-expanding duties as an advanced assistant professor and an associate chair whose tenure file is due in five months (gulp) — I’ve tried to use this time as an opportunity to reflect on where I’ve been and where I intend to go. Here’s my advice for those of you who are already advanced assistant professors or soon will be. ...

Most important, remind yourself of your successes. Reread your publications, print positive course evaluations and keep them in a binder, revisit your third-year-review documents, and note your professional growth. You’re an advanced assistant professor, a title that — while not an official designation — means you belong in academe and are ready to take the next step.

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