Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How is the assistant professor class of 2010-2012 doing?

A question inspired by an e-mail: 

Does anyone know how assistant professors going up for tenure are doing these days? Is it a "no grants, no tenure" sort of thing? Or is it more nuanced than that? (I expect it's more nuanced, but only slightly more.)

(UPDATE: To clarify, I'm asking more for R1 assistant professors, but I'd be interested in small colleges as well, especially my vague understanding that smaller schools are expecting external funding (or at least applications for external funding) of their newer faculty.) 

Actually, this gets to a favorite question of mine: do we have any idea about the percentage of assistant professors of chemistry who are promoted to associate professor each year? What is the best statistical data set for this? 

Readers, your thoughts?

UPDATE: Professor (and associate dean!) Chris Cramer weighs in for Team Nuance.  Also, I clarified above. 


  1. I'm gonna come up to bat for the nuance team, evidently. First, you have to remember that there's quite a broad ecosystem of higher education -- achieving tenure and promotion at a small, faith-based 4-year college is unlikely to look anything much like doing it at a very-high-research-activity University (what used to be called an "R1"). I'm not qualified to say much about probationary faculty in community colleges, primarily undergraduate institutions, and so forth, but I can offer SOME insight into us big-research places.

    I'd say, "no grants, no tenure" is somewhat oversimplified. The more evaluative way to put it would be, "no evidence of ability to sustain an active research program for the long term, no tenure". Depending on what it is you DO as a chemist, the amount of funding required for such sustainability can vary over quite a wide margin -- and moreover you may get your funding primarily as a member of teams compared to as a solo operator. Those considerations figure into the mix. (Also, I don't mean to seem to be overlooking the importance of teaching accomplishments -- they matter a lot, too, with different places perhaps assigning the relative weights of the research and teaching portfolios somewhat differently -- it's just that you ASKED about grants.)

    One item to bear in mind when thinking about tenure success is just. how. much. money. it costs to start someone these days. Your average experimentalist is coming in at about $1M in start-up funds in Chemistry right now. At typical overhead rates, it takes $3M in sponsored research from federal agencies (that pay full indirect cost recovery rates -- they don't all do that...) to cover that start up. So, we are ALL pulling for young faculty to succeed -- we can't really afford for them not to! Considerable attention is therefore dedicated, at most places, to mentoring and providing regular feedback on progress and expectations.

    I'll be interested to see responses from folks in other parts of the higher-ed Chem universe.

  2. You can always check up on these folks in a few years and see how it went:

  3. Are there any other lists like the one "Unknown at 2:10" posted? From older or more recent years.

    1. http://justlikecooking.blogspot.com/2017/01/chemistry-bumper-cars-2017.html

  4. I'll chime in from the non "R1" side of things. I'm currently on the TT at a decent sized state school (~25k students). Our department offers an MS, but not a PhD degree in chemistry. However, due to the number of PhDs granted per year, we don't qualify as a PUI according to the NSF definition. This is an important consideration because it means that we don't qualify for RUI grants and are essentially competing for the same piles of money as the R1's (more or less). Our tenure granting rate is probably not as high as some might imagine. A lot of my acquaintances at R1's like to think that we have it easy: shorter work weeks, less pressure, and a leisurely path to tenure. The truth is that most pre-tenured faculty put in 65-80 hrs/week and are under tremendous pressure to bring in $$$ and publish papers. This pressure is compounded by the fact that our startups are not even close to the $1M that Chris mentioned above. Startups typically range from $150-250k, and we're expected to land a major federal grant before going up for tenure. Of the last 5 people to get tenure, 2 have benefited from tenure clock extensions for personal reasons and the other 3 barely scraped by on the merits of last minute grant/paper approvals. We have also had a few folks leave the department after the 3-year performance review, and as such never made it to the tenure application stage. I should note that all of these people moved on to TT faculty positions at PUI or liberal arts colleges because they felt that the university was moving away from its teaching roots and that the emerging emphasis on research was inconsistent with their personal values and career objectives. I did some digging into the tenure success rates at the peer institutions in my state, and they are about the same. Oddly enough, I observed a similar pattern of migration towards smaller PUI and lib arts schools.

    1. OP here. I guess I forget to actually mention the overall tenure success rate. Looking at the last 10-12 years, we have a 50% success rate. This is based only on the number of faculty hired compared to the number who were eventually tenured.