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Author Topic: Post Tenure Let Down  (Read 40709 times)
canadatourismguy
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« on: April 14, 2012, 3:05:51 PM »

I actually always thought that post tenure let down was a bit of a myth but it turns out, at least in my case, to be somewhat accurate. 

I am relieved to have earned my tenure and promotion but since getting the letter I have:

a) been feeling ambivalent - not good or bad just there;
b) have been counting down to the end of term (I have never done this before); and
c) been procrastinating (another trait that is unusual for me). 

I was talking in class the other day about how technology has evolved and I used the phrase, "I am not that much older than you" to the class and suddenly felt as though I was trying to convince myself of the reasoning.

I guess it feels weird not to think of myself as a young professor but rather as someone now in mid-career mode.  I was thinking the other day of how to set up my bid for full now - when two months ago that goal seemed too far in the future to consider. 

It is strange to think I am starting a sabbatical in two weeks.  I almost sent in my textbook order for the fall term the other day.

I guess like any change in life, it takes some time to get used to but the feelings (or lack thereof) are not what I expected. 
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litdawg
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2012, 12:47:27 AM »

I actually always thought that post tenure let down was a bit of a myth but it turns out, at least in my case, to be somewhat accurate. 

I am relieved to have earned my tenure and promotion but since getting the letter I have:

a) been feeling ambivalent - not good or bad just there;
b) have been counting down to the end of term (I have never done this before); and
c) been procrastinating (another trait that is unusual for me). 

I was talking in class the other day about how technology has evolved and I used the phrase, "I am not that much older than you" to the class and suddenly felt as though I was trying to convince myself of the reasoning.

I guess it feels weird not to think of myself as a young professor but rather as someone now in mid-career mode.  I was thinking the other day of how to set up my bid for full now - when two months ago that goal seemed too far in the future to consider. 

It is strange to think I am starting a sabbatical in two weeks.  I almost sent in my textbook order for the fall term the other day.

I guess like any change in life, it takes some time to get used to but the feelings (or lack thereof) are not what I expected. 

I think the "mid-career" mental transition is a challenge. I was working on an NEH grant application and had to mark myself as a "senior scholar" because I am just barely 7+ years past degree. I don't feel senior in any way. My best work is still ahead of me, and the sabbatical comes in the fall. The mismatch between other people's perceptions and internal reality is as strong now as when teen-aged me felt like an adult.
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busyslinky
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2012, 11:00:45 AM »

A question that arises is what is meant by 'mid-career'.  If it means somewhere between the very beginning and the very end, then you immediately become mid-career and in that mode until you retire.

Of course if you mean the exact middle of your career, then you can assume about 20 years into your career as middle of career (assuming a Ph.D. by 30 and retire at 70).

The O.P. has defined it as beginning right after tenure.  5-7 years after starting a regular TT position.  For me, that would be very early to be in mid-career mode.  But, I guess it is all relative.
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canadatourismguy
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2012, 9:38:04 PM »

Thanks for the comments -

Yes Linkdawg - the mental transition is challenging.  Sometimes I feel like a wise older person and other times a fraud.  It is a weird sensation.

Vox - I promise to be very nice to my department.   They are great people who I adore tremendously.  I know how rare it is to find a department that is full of people who work hard on a daily basis to make life better for our students.  It is a very special group of people indeed.

Busyslinky - Well, I am technically now at my official Mid-Life. I had an industry career before going back for the PhD so I am a little older than most in this situation.
 
I am happy and honored to pass this career hurdle - it is just changing the mind-set and reestablishing goals which is proving challenging.
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flotsam
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« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2012, 10:38:39 PM »

I think that the mentality is, largely, "what now?" Even though there are other promotions out there -- to full prof, or some named chair, or perhaps a position at another school -- in truth, the tenure/promotion to assoc. prof. is the brass ring.  This is not unique to academe, exactly; it is analogous to "making partner" in a law firm or investment firm, and similarly it comes with both a sense of relief/accomplishment and a new set of responsibilities.  A new mentality as well, since an underlying goal of all the earlier work was to get tenure or make partner or whatever.  Now the goals are different, the responsibilities are greater, and there's a welcome-but-daunting freedom.  Often this means a lot more work, but work that can be more rewarding.
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wellfleet
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2012, 4:10:57 PM »

I'm having some post-tenure letdown, too, and my symptom list looks like canadatourismguy's, only I have to wait a whole year before my sabbatical starts (which I am beginning to resent).

I have planned a lovely summer, and I'm latching on to that in the hopes that I'll be in a much better mood come fall. There are some other changes afoot at my place that will make for a new day come August, and I hope that new day will be a good one, as opposed to just different.
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2012, 4:44:27 PM »

Vox - I promise to be very nice to my department.   They are great people who I adore tremendously.  I know how rare it is to find a department that is full of people who work hard on a daily basis to make life better for our students.  It is a very special group of people indeed.

Uh, not that this isn't a lovely sentiment, but if you are responding to the post by the troll who tried to appropriate my moniker, then you should know that that post was by a troll who tried to appropriate my moniker. Still, I'm all for being nice to departments, and to the people in them. Unicorn stickers for all!

I earned tenure this year too, and the post-tenure let-down is entirely within the realm of "normal" reactions. It will all pass. Don't worry.

VP
(the real one)
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bassethound
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2012, 6:36:26 PM »

I love that people like to think of tenure as 'making partner' -- it's especially more hilarious when you consider the wage gap between lawyers and professors.
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canadatourismguy
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« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2012, 10:23:00 AM »

I was just fascinated that there was not more written about this phenomenon.  Lots about being denied but very little about receiving it and setting up the next component of your career.
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pats12
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« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2012, 12:33:10 PM »

I went to a faculty development talk on post-tenure letdown at my field's national conference a few weeks ago. One piece of advice I found really interesting was to "learn to love your field again."

Suggestions given for the immediate post-tenure period (6 mos.) were to read a brand new book in your field (or even in a related area) that looks interesting and to be a student again by taking one of MIT's Open Courseware classes.

The idea behind this suggestion is that after tenure, people tend to go one of two ways--they check out or they go like gangbusters. This was suggested as a reward for getting tenure but one that doesn't enable you to totally check out.
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flotsam
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« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2012, 7:02:23 PM »

I love that people like to think of tenure as 'making partner' -- it's especially more hilarious when you consider the wage gap between lawyers and professors.

Of course, I was referring to the levels of professional advancement.  At a law firm, for instance, "making partner" usually takes six years of being an associate, and the "full" partners who do the judging are looking at both your past achievements and your likelihood of future success.  It is not only analogous to the tenure process, but damned near identical. 

An obvious difference is the organization of the business entity; presumably making partner means having an equity stake in the partnership ... or, increasingly, "becoming a member" of the limited liability partnership (LLP) or company (LLC).  With the erosion of shared governance at universities, it is harder than it used to be to claim that tenured faculty are also the "members," rather than employees, of a university -- but when I was coming up, I was told that the university was its faculty, that the minds of its professors were as much a part of the substance of the university as the physcial library or the football stadium.  Again, analogous to law, but perhaps now (sadly) outdated.

For what it's worth, although bassethound may be thinking of attorneys in big, white-shoe firms with large, corporate client bases, many lawyers do not make all that much more than professors, by and large.  Of the law partners I know, and I know a few dozen, most make between $60-90K, some less, some more, but generally in line with full professors, at least in some fields.  (Perhaps they don't work at the Harvard and Yale of law firms.)  Still, my comments to the OP had less to do with salaries than with the stages of one's career.  I could have probably used certain blue-collar fields as an example, but then I'd have to show that attaining tenure means you've earned the right to retire (as Marc Bouquet has argued):
http://www.theminnesotareview.org/journal/ns7172/credos_bousquet.shtml

One more law/academe analogy for the OP: I found that many associates who made partner were miserable shortly thereafter, with some even dropping out of the firm (to become solo practitioners or even leave law altogether ... I know a few who became adjuncts at law schools or PoliSci departments).  I think that the brass-ring-attained syndrome applied there also, but now they had additional pressures -- like drumming up business, re-investing their salaries in the partnership (and hence taking a pay cut, at first), and having more non-billable service duties.  It is a prize, but it is not all glory.

I do agree with the others that there's also the opportunity for renewal, for taking new research directions or teaching new courses or getting involved in new activities, perhaps off campus even.  Good luck!
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mookie
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« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2012, 6:49:10 PM »

I sympathize with the original poster- I have also felt like getting tenure was a big disappointment. Disappointing mostly because tenure has always been the carrot before the nose that motivates but now tenure seems so final.

At the same time I am really grateful to have a job and a house.

There was an emotional let down for me that I still feel and I got tenure a couple of years ago.

I did find that working on a new project helped. It also feels good to be able to say 'no' every once in a while to ridiculous and pointless service commitments!
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quietly
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« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2012, 9:45:59 PM »

One year out and I'm having the feeling described in the subject line as well.  Except I'm not reacting with procrastination; rather, I'm frustrated at...ugh, I don't even know what.  I want to move faster than the system around me will allow, or something. 

Q.
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fast_and_bulbous
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« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2012, 10:36:23 PM »

It's really an awesome problem to have. And with a sabbatical in front of you - what could be better?

The year after I got it wasn't my most productive. I have seen the same thing happen with colleagues. My sabbatical was a year later than it could have been but it was really great and helped recharge the batteries and get things moving again.

If you still feel this way in a year, then maybe there it's time to worry. But now, it's normal.
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octoprof
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« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2012, 10:49:15 PM »

You are normal.

The best thing about being post tenure is you can stop spending so much effort jumping through all those real and imaginary hoops various folks wave in front of you and choose your own hoops. In my case that means choosing to research only the things I am interested in, no matter how odd they seem to my colleagues. Freedom is a wonderful gift.
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