Tenure/Research at Undergraduate Insitutions

S. Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Wed Oct 29 18:48:51 EST 1997

Hi Ellen and others,

I really enjoyed your summary of posts on undergraduate research -
although I was rather surprised by the one person who went on about not
going into it because it will eat you up.  I would really be curious if
they though it would eat you up more than "big" academic research.  

For me, the real issue about undergrad. institutes is the tenure
requirement - that is, how realistic is a given dept. about its capacity
to support research and is this in line with their tenure decisions.
Right now is a really weird time, I think, for a lot of small
colleges/universities because there is this prevalent notion that they are
"research" institutes and should have standards like "real" research

I worked at the most well-funded public research institute for eight
years, after attending a small liberal arts undergrad. institute and I
will say it loud and clear:  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AND WILL NEVER BE!

I have known many small college profs who have simple left small colleges
because, when it came to tenure, the decision was going to be weighted
surprisingly more on research than teaching.  And I knowingly am taking
that risk in pursuing a comparable tenure track position.  I tried to ask
the right questions and glean from the people here how important grants
and publications are in terms of tenure - but the fact is - especially for
me - it is probably a black hole.  We are in the process of retiring 3-5
faculty who have been here for 20+ years and haven't done research... so
the game could change if younger new faculty come in with grants (and I
will be curious, as part of three selection committees this year myself,
to see this process - to see how important that is as a hiring credential
because my fate could be spelled out right there). Of course, they hired
me knowing I had no money - BECAUSE I could teach, because I was
well-connected, and because I could write - and present. When I hit the
dept.  head up with questions about what EXACTLY will be considered
adequate research for tenure, I was given information like:  I earned
tenure three years ago based on training 1-2 students each year, getting a
couple small equipment grants, and attending meetings every other year. 
There is NOT an emphasis on journal publications - and obviously getting a
sustainable NSF or NIH grant has not been a reality here.  The start-up
money is very minimal but I know I can sustain 1-2 students doing basic
cloning and culture attempts.  The key here seems to be quality teaching -
I was told point blank - it doesn't matter how much research you do or how
good you are at it, if you can't teach, you won't get tenure.  

And the teaching load is rather large.  I actually replaced a faculty who
came to this insititute with a big research style NIH grant and left
because they wouldn't give them adequate time off from teaching.  In some
ways, I think I have come to a dept. that is realistically aware of the
fact that small universities are NOT big universities and there simply are
things that can't be done or accomodated.  I like to think I made a sound
decision - I could be wrong but, in the words of one very dear friend: 
"Sarah, ask yourself what is going to be better for you in the long run,
what is going to make you happiest... to have a great time teaching and
dabbling in small research for the next six years or to flail away in
uncertainty as a post-doc.  Even if you don't make tenure, you have more
realistic experience to get a position teaching, which is what you love
most.  "  This is a mentor of mine from my undergrad. research days who
did leave a small school after five years - he wound up going to the
community college level, where he has thrived extremely well.  Research
was never his primary thing, even though he was an exceptional grad. 
student and did successfully lead students through small research
projects at my old, old school.  But the school didn't think it was
enough for tenure.  I always live with his story in the back of my mind.

But, at the same time, I have always known the answer to his question as
well.  That's why I am here.


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