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Author Topic: angry post-tenure  (Read 17140 times)
bigfatsouthernu
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« on: February 17, 2012, 2:01:20 AM »

Hello.  I looked for previous posts on this, but could find none, so forgive if this is redundant topic.

I am newly tenured & promoted.  I am grateful.  I worked really hard, and mine was not the easiest tenure path, to say the least.  Just sat through the first committee on the other side.  Saw a lovely colleague denied tenure after what looked like years of conflicting advice, and a department chair who provided little advocacy, and after she put off having kids for fear of tenure repercussions.  The climate where I am is pretty hostile, in general.  So, I feel some survivor's guilt, and I feel like I *should* be happy, having made tenure in this difficult environment.  Lucky to be employed (and with a successful academic spouse, too) in these economic times.

Last year I took two friends out for a toast to their tenures during our academic conference, and they both ended up crying and saying how depressed they were post-tenure, so I know that there can be a post-tenure let-down.

But here is the thing:  I realize that I am angry.  Actually, really angry. 

I'm certainly burned out, and haven't given myself time to catch a breath.  And I don't have any real vision for the future (which is weird, having been so focused, desperately focused on getting tenure for so long), in terms of my research agenda or my life, so there are probably some positive directions this anger could take me.  (Oh, and I met with dept chair to talk about how to navigate the path to full, and he said that he had no advice, that he just kept on being successful like he had always been...but since I had had difficulty being successful...stumper...but I am perceived as successful in my discipline, just not as much in my academic home...as no one is really viewed as successful by our full professors....)

But, I write here to this Forum, because I wonder if this anger sounds at all familiar to you.  And I welcome advice, because I really don't like feeling this way.

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melba_frilkins
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2012, 2:20:15 AM »

I'll answer you straight and say, no, I never felt any anger upon earning tenure. What are some of the particulars that you are angry about? I'm just wondering because that might help us to help you sort it out.

As for burnout, to reset yourself, I'd recommend sliding and slacking through the rest of this semester (do only what's truly essential and what you enjoy) and then take the summer OFF. Try to arrange for some major non-work related events during the summer (e.g., travel, garden, DIY stuff that you enjoy, active hobbies).

PS: And congratulations on a hard-earned tenure.
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bigfatsouthernu
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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2012, 2:30:55 AM »

Thanks, the advice on burnout is really good. 

I'm not sure why I am angry, and it surprises me, which is one reason I find myself writing here.

Part of it might be anger at how hard the process was (not the writing, the teaching, or the service itself, i.e., not the actual "job" of getting tenure), how mean of a process it was, how unclear it was, and for what?  Why does it---the process---need to be this hard?  Why can't we make it more productive, mentoring, human?  And yet I found myself in two conversations with frantic, scared junior colleagues.  The best I could muster was a realistic, "It's worth it."  Really?  I have no insight to offer.  I feel a bit hollowed out about the TT process.

Now I have security (and a tiny raise).  That should make me very, very happy.  And freedom to pursue more of the job, the parts I love rather than the stresses of the TT.  Perhaps I just need to rest and heal, and all will be well. 
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entwife
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2012, 3:14:37 AM »

I think it is not too unusual to be angry on the other side of some immensely brutal process. I did not feel this way about tenure, but I did after passing my comps - my grad program used to find find pride in having the most brutal comps process in the field. Also happened a couple of times with more personal things. It changes with time, as you gain a different perspective. In time, you might also become a great mentor to new TTs. Or rewrite your faculty handbook. After you take some time to chill.
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larryc
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« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2012, 4:07:59 AM »

Maybe you can work with some other recent survivors and change the process to make it more humane?
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totoro
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2012, 5:03:52 AM »

Feeling depressed is common, there is an article in the Advice section of the site about that at the moment. Angry might be specific to your institution. In many or most places it's pretty clear what you need to do.
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fishoutofwater
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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2012, 10:54:20 AM »

OP, I also just got tenure and have been feeling slightly sad and angry. Sad because I feel somewhat stuck in a place that I don't like and worried that I can't write my way out of it. Angry because of the brutality of the tenure process and because I question its fairness (I'm in a minority field in an multi-disciplinary department, and had to go far above and beyond the standards set for people in my field at other similarly-ranked schools). And now, I don't feel any greater respect from my colleagues (probably because I'm still in a minority field they don't particularly know or respect).

I've been trying to deal with it by focusing on rebalancing my life (spending more energy on making sure that my non-work life is vibrant and full) and by focusing on new work projects. 
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2012, 11:31:27 AM »

This is one of the primary reasons that offering a sabbatical in the next year but one after tenure (i.e., applications in the fall when the candidate is finally an associate professor; sabbatical in the following year because it's too late to have sabbatical plans in hand and department preparation for covering the classes in the current year) is a splendid idea -- usual at this university and at several other R-1s I know about. No time to be depressed or angry if one is looking forward to a semester or a year of real, full-time research.
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busyslinky
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2012, 12:19:36 PM »

There are a lot of things that can go awry with the process of tenure, I agree with that.  But, if you build up enough inventory of tenurable goods, the process will be less likely to go awry and make it seem less brutal.

That is, be a good teacher, get many publications, and a good colleague.  It made it less brutal for me and most of the people I know who did receive tenure.  The process gets brutal from the other side as well when the person doesn't have a strong inventory.
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2012, 2:54:35 PM »

OP, I also just got tenure and have been feeling slightly sad and angry.

Me too. OP, I think people have a wide range of reactions to passing this milestone -- for most of us, it is a stressful process that takes a long time, and when you finally start to be able to release some of that stress, a variety of other emotions can come to the fore. I think some anger is not unreasonable. There are a lot of issues that arise about power, powerlessness, frustration, sacrifice, people not holding up their ends of bargains, swallowing things you need to say, general interpersonal hostility, fear, self-judgment, never feeling that you're good enough or that you've done enough, worry, etc., etc., etc.

This is not to say that I'm not happy about having earned tenure. I am. I have lots of good feelings about it. But I would be lying if I said that there were no negative emotions in there too.

I used to think the timing of the post-tenure sabbatical Seniorscholar mentions was weird -- too soon after tenure, I thought. Now I understand it much more. We have one of those but I don't know whether or not I'll be able to take mine at the standard time because the teaching needs of the school may require that I delay it. I hope I don't have to do that; I'll need that time to get the lingering fallout of the whole process out of my system.

I think you're within the bounds of "normal" reactions, OP. Will you have some down time over the summer in which you can indulge in some good self-care? That will help, I think. I wish you the best!

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southerntransplant
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« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2012, 11:32:29 AM »

I'm not tenured yet but am awaiting the last rubber stamp. Our department has done pretty well with tenure cases over the past decade.

I can relate to the feelings of burnout and anger. I don't have a deep problem with the institution, nor with the department. Even though The Process went fairly smoothly, it's not just counting down the calendar. Getting the application to shine was an ordeal - classes, papers, proposals, students, service, etc. in bloody single-minded pursuit of Tenure.

Now I think I need to detox a bit. Everything that had been considered something to put up with over the course of the tenure runup (I have heavier service loads and far more new course preps than the others in my cohort, and still managed to keep my research going on par with theirs in terms of research dollars and other metrics) has now become little nodules of bitterness stored in body fat, just waiting to burst forth anew at the slightest provocation or suggestion of new course development. What was once an attitude of cooperation and "we're all in this together"-ness is hardening into closed office doors and "what do you bring to the table?" I think, to a large degree, previous experience at a non-academic institution with similar hierarchy has helped me keep a lot of the upper-level disturbances in perspective - so I know that I only have to worry about local suckage.

I had suggested to a friend in a similar situation that we should take the tenure letters (when they come) and convert them to wallet sized laminated cards. On the back we can write "NO! (See other side)"

It's not a good sign when I still think this is a pretty damned good idea.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2012, 11:32:57 AM by southerntransplant » Logged

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amador
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« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2012, 12:24:20 PM »

I feel a little the opposite way, because I haven't gone for tenure.  My department groomed me to go for early tenure since the beginning.  But things started to go south two years ago.  Eventually, I decided to not go for early tenure, then not to go for tenure at all.  I have found a new job, better paid and with better conditions, my research has taken a more creative turn, and I don't mind at all starting the whole tenure cycle all over again. 

Just a year ago, some fellows were giving me lots of fear-uncertainty-doubt about leaving the security of tenure, going in the market.  "Don't you see the market?  This place is not perfect, but you have it done here" was the bottom line.  Now I read fishoutofwater, and I think I would've come to regret putting my papers for tenure.
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2012, 1:54:48 PM »

Everything that had been considered something to put up with over the course of the tenure runup (I have heavier service loads and far more new course preps than the others in my cohort, and still managed to keep my research going on par with theirs in terms of research dollars and other metrics) has now become little nodules of bitterness stored in body fat, just waiting to burst forth anew at the slightest provocation or suggestion of new course development.

I am in the same boat for both bolded sections.

Eventually this will go away, but it will take some time. The second bolded bit played itself out in exactly that way with exactly that provocation this week.

Quote
I had suggested to a friend in a similar situation that we should take the tenure letters (when they come) and convert them to wallet sized laminated cards. On the back we can write "NO! (See other side)"

It's not a good sign when I still think this is a pretty damned good idea.

I love this.

For my own part, I started bringing in to my office some things that I wouldn't have brought in before tenure. None of them are terrible, but I have a funny calendar that for one month includes the words "kick your ass" in the monthly photo and some video-game paraphernalia. And I have printouts of some of these letters, which I have put up on the wall and over which I intend to write "My Post-Tenure Hero."

(That person is not actually my post-tenure hero, but it's kind of like a pipe dream of "what you wish you could say.")

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instructorman
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« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2012, 10:20:01 PM »

OP: I sympathize.

I offer the following in all seriousness:

Figure out how to apply to a sabbatical. Odds are good your dept/institution does not freely advertise the process and deadlines.

Enjoy your success.
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observer3
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« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2012, 4:25:48 PM »

I had a lot of anger after something sort of got resolved in my department, but it wasn't resolved for me.

I was shocked by how angry I was. That is what happens after you just STFU for too long.

I made seeing a therapist a priority. I would strongly recommend this. Especially if you can't find a way to take a sabbatical. Also, it won't hurt to be around the place a bit less. It is possible to create a sabbatical-like space in your mind for a bit until you heal.

While I was rather disturbed about being so angry at first, with the therapist I got a better sense of the pathologies that put me there. I make sure to balance the time I have to spend with the dysfunction in my department with other activities outside, with relatively sane people.
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