An overview of tenure

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Read on for an overview of Tenure by a number of Professors in various fields at U. Michigan!

Tim McKay – Professor Physics/Astronomy and Education UMich

Andrew Martin – Professor Political Science – Dean, LSA UMich

Alec Gallimore – Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Dean Designate UMich

Pamela Raymond – Professor MCBD – UMich

Deborah Goldberg –  Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – UMich

What are the biggest factors in getting tenure?

  • Research (50%)
    • Recognized world class research
    • Demonstrated research independence
      • this includes sufficient funding to maintain your research/lab
      • collaborations are encouraged, but be sure to understand the institution culure.  Smaller institutions have fewer departmental colleagues to judge your independence.  This may factor into to your strategy to build collaborations with former mentors.
    • Your significant contributions to your field
  • Teaching
    • Become a diligent and improving teacher
      • Articulate how you have improved and what you are doing to improve
    • Teach at multiple levels
  • Service

Tools for evaluating teaching:

  • Students evaluations
  • Your own documentation of your teaching materials
  • Involvement of senior faculty
  • Some universities have a third year review – used to chart improvement at tenure
  • Demonstration of thoughtful engagement of your field in your teaching


  • Being a good colleague, some institutional committee work
    • Use it as an opportunity to build relationships with your colleagues
  • Professional service – invitations to
    • committees
    • editorial boards
    • NSF, grant review panel
  • Outreach, diversity and service can be integrated into your research and can build your service portfolio
  • Seek out chair opportunities at conferences and seminar series as a means to interact with your colleagues (and ultimately request letters for tenure)

Alec: just do what you love and don’t over think the

The timeline:

  • Tenure occurs typically in year 6, 7, or 8
  • Some institutions have yearly or a third year review
  • All institutions ask for external review
    • Received summer/early Fall before tenure review
    • Typically impact on field, sometimes more
  • Reviewed by department (Fall)
  • Then forwarded to college level (Winter)
    • Frequently a mix of STEM, Humanities and Social Sciences
    • Plan to demonstrate broad contributuibns
  • The forwarded to Dean
  • Then forwarded to Provost (Early Spring)
  • The forwarded to Regents (Late Spring)


  • The department chair chooses letters
  • Others in the department ask for letters
    • Who are the likely candidates in your field?
    • Reinforces the need to be well known and regarded in your field
    • Attend meetings!
  • Poor letters will often be explained by the Department chair and discounted by the College and Deans
  • Most letters are very positive

Factors affecting the tenure clock:

  • Adoption or birth of a child (automatically grants at UMich)
  • Family leave (needs approval as UMich)
  • Lab space not ready
  • If things are going well, you may go up for tenure early
  • Be sure to ask about the institutional norms

Is tenure a summation of accomplishments or is it affected by rate and time frame?  It depends on the institution- ask.

You will be notified at each level when a decision has been reached.

What happens if you don’t make tenure?

  • You will be notified and given a year to find a new position
  • Have a “Plan B” when you’re going onto the tenure track

Resoources available to assist in achieving tenure

You are hired with the idea that you will make tenure

  • Teaching resources
    • Many universities have resources on best practices and evidence-based learning techniques
  • Mentors and launch committees
    • Maybe a mix of research, teaching and organizational/structural challenges
  • Definitely discuss resources during negotiating and hiring

Start up packages

  • Resources for
    • equipment
    • personnel
    • travel
  • Ask mentors what is the recommendations on startup packages
  • Remember: if you receive a large package, you will likely be expected to bring in a proportionally larger number of grants
  • Don’t look only at size of the package
    • What do you need to get your research done?
      • Some universities perform their accounting differently
      • Think about the support of the community
    • Some

Full vs Associate Professor


Evnidence and potential for significant teaching or research impact


  • Demonstrate impactful contribution to teaching, research and scholarship
  • Think about how you define impact.  Does it align with the goals of the university?