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Getting--and Not Getting--Tenure

Tenure may not be a rock-solid guarantee of permanent employment and academic freedom, but it's unquestionably a crucial professional milestone for academic scientists. Even if guaranteed lifetime unemployment isn't a professional priority, not getting fired probably is. And that's an interesting thing about the tenure track: Either you win a lifetime-employment guarantee or you join the unemployment line, saying goodbye, in some cases, to a big chunk of your self-esteem and professional reputation.

In this feature, we're attacking the issue of tenure from both perspectives--how to get tenure, and what to do if you don't. We asked Cathy Trower, co-principal investigator of Harvard University's Study of New Scholars, editor of the book Policies on Faculty Appointment: Standard Practice and Unusual Arrangements (2000, Anker Publishing), and author of our four-part Women Without Tenure series, to squeeze all of the expert practical advice she could into a short essay. The result, "Advice on Achieving Tenure," squeezes a remarkable amount of insight into a small package.

Of course, not everyone gets tenure. What happens when you fail? It's usually a major professional, and sometimes personal, setback. But guess what? Life goes on. Sometimes things end up being worse, and sometimes better. And that is why, in part two of this feature, we asked Siri Carpenter to tell the tales of scientists for whom the decision went the wrong way. The result is "Life After Rejection." Yes, it does exist.

Seeking a personal perspective, I asked an old graduate-school classmate to tell her own story. Nearly 2 years after a negative tenure decision, Virginia Long's plans remain uncertain, but today she's living a simple, happy, low-key life raising vegetables, hiking in New Hampshire's White Mountains, and proving that there are worse things than not getting tenure.

While we're talking about tenure, we should review some previous articles Science Careers has published on the topic:

Photo (top): University of Innsbruck

Author identification: Jim Austin is the editor of Science Careers.

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