Imagine you are a Ph.D. student, passionate about teaching and doing research. Most likely, the dream job for you is becoming an assistant professor in a research university. However, you may want to take a closer look at this process and then judge whether or not it is what you really dream about.
Recently, I read three related articles on The Chronicle Higher Education: “How Hard Is It to Get Tenure?”, “What Is the Going Rate for Tenure Nowadays?” and “So You Think You Want a Tenure-Track Job?”. It was indicated how tricky it is to prepare the application material and modify it based on the institution and filed, with a focus on your arc of productivity forward toward tenure. Applicants must be clear on the contractual percentage of research, teaching and service that will be expected to meet for tenure. Note that getting tenure might be more challenging for minorities, such as women or people of color. Best case scenario, your quest for tenure if finally approved and you will be hired as a tenure-track. But is it the end of story? Absolutely not!
Junior faculty members receive a start-up funding to set up labs and hire graduate students. They are supposed to bring in at least one substantial grant from a federal agency, such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health, in order to get tenure. Given the increasing number of applications for a decreasing pool of federal research dollars, it is highly competitive to get funding, i.e. the odds of getting a typical federal grant in a major like population and community ecology is 5%. As such, many competitive research projects and proposal are rejected every year, resulting in many new assistant professors who are not awarded tenure-track while they have amazing publications.
Meanwhile the tenure-track period, junior faculties are implicitly forced to write proposal which have better chances to be funded. This might be interpreted as the loss of writing freedom in many cases. Moreover, it is undeniable that the salary is significantly lower than industry and national labs. Altogether, here is the big question that one should ask in the beginning of this journey full of ups and downs: is becoming a tenure assistant professor worth spending this time and energy?