Reflecting On Tenure After Six Years in PA

Well, assuming the board of regents approved it, it appears I earned tenure and promotion from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Tenure seemed like such a far-off concept when I started, yet I here I am. It feels good, and I am hopeful achieving it will enable me to focus on some longer-term projects, and participate more fully in department and university business. So now that I am here, what have I learned?

First, that everyone’s journey to academia is unique. After six years of getting to know other professors I still feel like a bit of an outlier. I did not get somebody else to pay for my grad school. I completed an interdisciplinary Ph.D. I worked a demanding full-time job throughout graduate school with a family. I placed pretty strict geographical restrictions on where I could go. But it worked out. And I know I am not the only one that feels like a bit of an outlier; I think most do at one time or another. There is no one path to this career.

Second, I realize just how ignorant I was to the profession when I began. I had no idea what a 3-3 actually was, or that it was considered a heavy teaching load. The publication process was also pretty foreign to me. I did not know what an impact factor was or why it mattered. My ignorance is on me. I never knew any academics outside of the classroom, never had time to socialize with other graduate students, and I did not ask questions when I could have. Why? I was busy and I did not want to appear stupid.

Third, I knew (and know) even less about the job market. After a couple of years and a good number of publications, I was encouraged to test the job market. But when I did, I could not get interviews anywhere. I felt unwanted, and admit being somewhat hurt and confused by it. But honestly, it motivated me to get busy. To keep publishing, to keep improving my teaching, to keep taking chances, and to spend everyday trying to make the positive impact I wanted to make. I also learned to fully appreciate being at the institution that was willing to take the chance of granting me an interview in the first place. If you follow my blog at all you know things are tough resource-wise at Oshkosh, but it is a great place where great things are possible. It is home. My advice to junior faculty is to not fall into the trap of letting your institution define your work, or of letting your success be a function of anybody else’s goals.

Fourth, that I got a lot of help. My Ph.D. adviser taught me to be positive, to be productive, to let my work speak for itself, and most importantly modeled how to treat people. Be kind, be positive, and realize it is not all about work. My students teach me everyday about new aspects of PA, and how we can bridge the academic practitioner-divide. My colleagues have exposed me to parts of PA that I did not know exist, and showed me that there are places in this profession where I will not feel like an outsider.

Fifth, and really the one that brings it all together, is I learned that I had to make my own place in PA. Few if any simply get invited to the table, sometimes you have to push your way in. How? My approach was to try everything. This strategy has given me opportunities to participate in fulfilling funded scholarly activities in Lubbock, Seattle, Ottawa, Calgary, D.C. (over and over), and Indianapolis. It has given me a voice as a PA Times columnist and MPAC representative. It has helped me meet new friends and research partners. It has expanded the scope of my research in ways I never imagined. It has helped me get my work, and ideas, in front of practitioners, legislators, and the general public in ways I never imagined six years ago.

In short, I feel good that I am making my place and my impact in the ways I know how. I am thankful to have this career, these networks, and the chance to be a positive welcoming voice in PA.

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