Essay

Surviving the pandemic as pretenure faculty

Mara Livezey
By Mara Livezey
Aug. 5, 2021

In March 2020, I had finished training my research assistants in cell culture technique, and, together, we just had reached the point of being able to gather publication-quality data. Then the pandemic hit. Not even one year into my career as an assistant professor at a primarily undergraduate institution, I shut down my lab, packed my bags and transitioned to teaching remotely. For more than a year, I haven’t stepped into my lab to run an experiment or into a classroom to teach, and neither have my students.

Pretenure-faculty-890x530.jpg
Courtesy of Mara Livezey
The author teaches a class online.

What has been going through my mind in the past year, and what might be going through the minds of your pretenure colleagues? Here is a short list of some anxieties we face:

  • I just spent a year learning how to teach online and gaining great skills. Will this make up for my lack of research productivity?
  • Will my efforts creating an inclusive online classroom be noticed?
  • All my trained researchers just graduated. Will I be able to train new students and publish wet lab data before I apply for tenure?
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, someone told me to be creative in adapting my research. Have I done enough remote research over the past 18 months?
  • Will the tenure and promotion committee recognize the impact of COVID-19 on my research productivity when I am up for tenure?

Yes, many of us were offered a one-year tenure clock pause. But in many ways, tenure clock pauses don’t equitably address the needs of pretenure faculty, and they only delay our promotion because of something out of our control.

So, how did I survive the pandemic? And how will I continue in the hope of successfully applying for tenure in a few short years?

My colleagues.

Since March 2020, my colleagues at University of Detroit Mercy have been my saving grace. When I have doubts about my progress, tenured faculty in my department remind me of my successes in the classroom and offer opportunities for collaboration. When I want to integrate what is happening in society into the scientific curriculum, faculty and staff at the university form book clubs, and we discuss how to become more anti-racist inside and outside the classroom. When I am struggling, I am invited to join an all-female pretenure group where we commiserate about our challenges and hold one another accountable to goals we set for ourselves. My colleagues, my community, have supported me through this pandemic, and their behavior reinforces why I chose Detroit Mercy as my home.

This year has been trying for us all and especially for pretenure folks facing the unknown. Reach out to us, ask us how we are doing, rally around us and, together, we will get through the rest of the pandemic.

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Mara Livezey
Mara Livezey

Mara Livezey is an assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Detroit Mercy.

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