15 highlights from our annual tenure and promotion workshops

Every year, FAUW offers a series of workshops to help members prepare for career transitions and milestones.

  1. FAUW’s Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee (AF&T) can provide a range of support, from reviewing your application, to attending meetings with you, or helping you appeal a negative decision, if it comes to that. You’re entitled to have an “academic colleague” with you at all meetings, and faculty members often bring an AF&T member. You should definitely contact AF&T if you receive a letter expressing reservations or any other negative signs or decisions. We’ve seen a lot of those and can help you figure out how to respond.
  2. You can apply for tenure either one or two years after you’re reappointed, so you’re going through the tenure process during your fifth or sixth year. (Of course, your timeline will be affected by any leaves and extensions you take.) Both options are normal; neither is “early” or “late.”
    • “Applying early” refers to applying before either of those options, and requires agreement from your dean and departmental tenure & promotion committee (and is usually arranged when you’re hired and documented in your appointment letter).
  3. Make sure you address any concerns raised in performance reviews or your reappointment letter, and that you document signs of improvement in any areas where you’re struggling.
  4. We recommend that you take your pre-tenure sabbatical. It’s likely the only time you’ll get a six-month sabbatical at full pay, and it can give you essential time to work on preparing for tenure. It will impact the length and/or timing of your sabbaticals after tenure by using up the sabbatical credits you’ve accrued so far, but your primary goal at this time is making sure you get tenure. Those credits won’t do you any good later if you’re not here!
  5. When applying for tenure, you will be assessed on what you’ve accomplished since arriving at Waterloo. External referees will look at your whole careers, but the UW committees will focus on your work at UW. Your previous work is what got you hired; now you need to show what you’ve done since and where you’re going.
  6. The emphasis for promotion is usually on scholarship, but you can get promoted based on an outstanding teaching record, with long-standing, satisfactory scholarship.
  1. People who have an interest or stake in you getting tenure are unlikely to be deemed suitable referees. Be clear about your interactions or relationship with each person when suggesting them; you can also explain why you’re suggesting particular people. And do not contact referees yourself. If you talk to a potential referee about your promotion, they will be ineligible.
  2. Peer evaluations of teaching are a great way to help bolster your evidence of excellent teaching, especially if your student course perception scores aren’t fantastic. If you say that your scores for a course are low because of particularly challenging material, it sounds like an excuse, when a peer says you did well despite challenging material, it sounds impressive.
  3. Even enormous amounts of service will not make up for lackluster teaching and research. Protect your time by being careful about service work before you get tenure.
  4. UTPC vs UTPAC: The University Tenure and Promotion Committee (UTPC) advises the President on individual cases. The University Tenure and Promotion Advisory Committee (UTPAC) advises Senate on tenure and promotion standards and procedures and appoints a non-voting advisor to each Faculty Tenure & Promotion Committee.
  5. You may want to add more detail than usual to your CV, such as explaining your contribution to multi-authored papers, the appropriateness or quality of publication venues, or the number of citations.
  6. Some chairs will reach out when they think you’re ready to or eligible to apply for promotion, but not all. You may need to be proactive and start the conversation yourself. And you don’t need the support of your chair (though of course it helps).
  7. Two common mistakes are:
    • Appearing defensive or blaming others for any shortcomings (including students). Focus on the positive: what you were able to accomplish despite the circumstances, and the trajectory you’re on.
    • Being too technical – your package has to be understood by colleagues who are not experts in your discipline.
  8. Expectations are higher for promotion than for tenure. You need a “high order of achievement,” both nationally and internationally. You’ll need senior, internationally recognized external referees. And be especially sure to demonstrate that your work isn’t slowing down.
  9. Reservations from a committee are often a way to clarify information, or even to encourage you to improve your package before it goes to the next level of review. We generally suggest you meet with the committee at the reservations stage. Keep in mind that, for promotion, you can withdraw your package at any stage and reapply in two years with a stronger case.

What other advice would you add?

Also see: Highlights from our promotion workshop specifically for women, and the slides from our 2023 tenure and promotion workshops.

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