Finding my “Why”

Having been granted tenure and promoted to associate professor in 2015, I subsequently Entrance gate University of the Pacificneglected this blog.  I could provide many excuses, but will forego those and, instead, commence writing again.  Although technically I’m no longer “on the road to tenure,” I appreciate the title and don’t really want to set up a new blog.  Maintaining the original blog also provides perspectives that will be of interest, at least to me, as I continue on the road to full professor.

Simon Sinek encourages us to find our “why” – our purpose, if you will, in the things we do.  As I contemplate my academic journey, it would be quite simple (and not uncommon) to stop here.  The title of associate professor carries some gravitas and generally signifies to the academic community that one has achieved a level of academic prowess and been granted tenure.  As a result, the pressure to continue research and service (both to the university and to the broader academic community) is lessened by a considerable amount.  Many people decide that this is the highest academic rank they seek and shift their focus – perhaps more to teaching and different kinds of service.

I will confess that I considered this possibility.  That is, to stop here and to use a sabbatical leave to focus on my teaching in order to return to campus with redesigned courses, new approaches to teaching, and new ideas for service.

As a pre-tenure faculty member, there was clear, defined pressure to meet the requirements for promotion and tenure within a specific period of time.  Failure to meet this deadline would require one to leave the university. Once granted tenure, there is no specific time frame within which one must apply for full professor. Some may remain at the associate faculty level by choice, others may focus on promotion to full professor and stretch out the time for promotion to balance other needs (family obligations, for example).  Some of my colleagues and I, with the encouragement of full professors in our school, have decided to continue moving forward toward full professor and apply for promotion at the first opportunity (typically this is a minimum of five years after being granted tenure and promoted to associate professor).

I am curious about my motivation … what compels me to want to continue this journey when it could be much easier to stop at this point?  In my earlier life I would have been driven by the prestige of the title.  Somehow the title and rank would have been tied to my sense of self-worth rather than some larger purpose.  If seeking the rank of full professor is now tied to something larger, what exactly is that? Part of it is a sense of completion.  I do not begrudge others who decided to remain at the associate faculty level; we have worked hard to reach this point and it’s reasonable to say, “Okay, that’s enough pushing. Let’s see what else I can do.”  For me, the rank of full professor has become my finish line and that not moving forward would seem like an incomplete journey.

In re-reading this blog I just realized something:  A few years ago my goal was, in fact, the rank of associate professor.  I knew I would be satisfied with that accomplishment and that I could define my position differently if that were my end goal.  Two things changed my perspective.  One was our new department chair who encouraged me to see a longer road ahead and to work toward full professor. The other was the actual process of assembling my promotion and tenure portfolio.  My committee members and the external reviewers were so positive about my research and my future that I began to see myself differently … I began to see myself as others see me; I was heartened by their belief in me.

Tenure affords me the opportunity to push my research deeper and to take more risks with my research ideas.  Like many, I took a safe route as a pre-tenure faculty; not really jumping into things that were too edgy or controversial.  Because I like research projects, I can now move forward with some confidence that it is not only okay to tackle riskier research questions – it might actually be expected.  Framing this next part of the journey – from associate to full professor – is exciting.  I have co-authored an article with a former student which took an inordinate amount of time to work through the editorial process.  During this process, I came to appreciate that I’m quite skilled at this work and could support my co-author as she navigated these murky waters for the first time.  Similarly, I co-authored an article with several colleagues which has led to new insights about teaching and learning as well as new friendships with peers.  In co-authoring another article, I provided substantial contributions that strengthened an article I might not have written on my own.

So the “why” of this journey is that this is something I want to do for myself, for students, and for colleagues.  This is an opportunity for professional development; more importantly, it’s an opportunity to create an intentional path forward in ways I haven’t done before.  Without the pressure of a tenure decision, the process is energizing, invigorating, and liberating.