Academia

The road from intelligence to insanity

Story: On February 2010 a biology professor (see photo below) killed three  professors and wounded other three at the University of Alabama at Huntsville during  a faculty meeting.

Motive: According to her husband “she felt she had been unfairly denied tenure.”

Alabama

Conclusion: I will leave the discussion about her mental stability and her previous accusation of killing her brother to experts. [read more…]

But what is tenure track?

I wanted to write about the tenure track process long time ago. But there is a lot to say about this issue and I always procrastinate. So, may be now I can summarize few things here about this long and hard process:

  1. Five years (more or less) in PhD program. During these years a PhD student needs to pass  the qualifying exam, the comprehensive exam, his dissertation defense and many other academic related subjects.
  2. In many majors, a PhD holder can not apply for a faculty position without having experience after his PhD degree. So, he applies for postdoctoral  research position either with the same professor or work at a different research university who ever can pay him. Being a postdoctoral is just another way to put the PhD holders’ dreams on hold. It usually takes between one and 3 years and sometime may be extended to 5 years. The average salary of a postdoctoral researcher is usually less than a fresh bachelor degree graduate.
  3. After years of postdoctoral research in which he published good quality papers and earned experience working as a researcher, the PhD holder is hired at a research university as an Assistant Professor. As soon as he earns the Assistant Professor title he starts his tenure track which, depending on the university, is about  6 years long process. Tenure track is an evaluation process by the Department before promoting him to an Associate Professor. During these years he needs to show strong academic achievement such as publishing many papers, getting funds from different resources, etc.
  4. During the tenure track process, Assistant professors work harder than anytime in their lives. I have seen Assistant professors in my department working daily until 12 am and later and they are the first to be in the office in the morning. One of my former advisors, who was in his tenure track, used to email me at 11 pm requesting work to be done and ask me about the results in the next day at 9 am. And stories like these are endless. Why those Assistant professors work that hard? It is because if they didn’t get tenured they are fired from the university and they have to go to a less reputable research university and restart the process all over again. The tense of this period is affected by many factors. One factor I found really problematic is when the Assistant professor is a foreigner who is trying to settle with his family in the United States. Not having tenured means loosing his work permit. So, you can imagine the hardship those foreigner assistant professors are enduring before they get tenured.

To get tenure means promoted to an Associate Professor which entitles somehow job stability and security. So after all these years of enduring intense hard work could someone lose his mind if not get tenured?

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7 thoughts on “The road from intelligence to insanity

  1. wow, I had no idea the process was this extenuating in the US I wouldn’t be surprised if this is not the first or the last mental breakdown of a PHD student

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    1. melicieuse,
      Actually some studies suggest that the attrition rate for Ph.D. programs in the US 40% to 50%. Many PhD students choose to be ABD (All But Dissertation). They just quit before they defend their dissertation. And from what I wrote in this post things are not easier after earning a PhD degree.

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  2. this is crazy, I thought they were supposed to make people wiser not send them to the looney bin. I’m not surprised quit, at the end of the day your own mental sanity is more important than an academic title

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  3. Great post. And, unfortunately, it’s only worse for those of us who are humanities ABDs/PhDs b/c we usually don’t get postdocs. There has to be a better way . . .

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    1. Thanks Jenni. I know humanities spend the most in PhD. You don’t want to do postdoc after 7 or 10 years in PhD. Yes, there should be a better way.

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  4. okayyy…i wouldn’t really blame her if all this is true.. :s (not really bas ino) if our university doctors had to go through all that to teach i think we’d not have one university open!

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    1. Dee,
      Yes, the process is insanely difficult. In research universities, faculty members earn their salaries from funds they earn. Yet, even in the US the process of difficulty differs a lot from one major to another and from one university to another.

      Like

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