December 2011

Advice for new assistant professors

As someone who has observed many assistant professors over the years and lived to get tenure himself, I have observed certain patterns that appear to hold true for assistant professors who aspire to be tenured. When I became department head, I put together a list of these items to pass on to newly arrived faculty members. Although the list was generated with the environment and expectations of a research university in mind, most of these items also apply to new faculty members at primarily undergraduate institutions, medical schools, and so on.

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Work with a sense of urgency. 
Time is a nonrenewable resource, and the probationary period before submitting your promotion-and-tenure dossier will pass quickly.

Get to the bench!  
It takes considerable time to recruit and train graduate students, technicians and postdoctoral fellows to the point at which they produce publication-quality results with some consistency. In the interim, the most experienced and skilled set of hands in your laboratory will belong to you, the principal investigator. Make time, especially during the first two to three years, to get to the bench and generate the data for a manuscript or two.

Be opportunistic. 
Opportunities rarely come along at convenient times; or, to put it another way, it is the nature of passionate, self-motivated people perpetually to be overcommitted. Invitations to review papers and grants, to give talks or write reviews or chapters, to participate in site visits and the like represent golden opportunities to raise your visibility among your peers across the globe, to establish relationships with program officers and journal editors, and to document respect and recognition by the scientific community for your promotion-and-tenure committee. You also will find that reviewing manuscripts and grant applications will teach you more about writing and grantsmanship than attending a dozen workshops.

Attend conferences early and regularly.  
Your attendance helps establish your new identity as an independent investigator in the eyes of your colleagues, helps you to keep current with developments and opportunities in your field, and may attract a seminar invitation or recruit a collaborator.

Treat staff with courtesy and respect. 
You are all members of the same departmental team. Avoid crying wolf. Your procrastination does not constitute another person’s emergency.

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