Paul Kei Matsuda

Protecting Your Time: Advice for Junior Faculty Members

Over the last few weeks (especially during the Symposium, which focused on graduate education in L2 writing), a number of people asked for my advice on how to balance the demands of the tenure-track job and contributions to the field as they establish their own scholarly profile. 

Here are some pieces of advice for two different types of junior scholars—the minimalist and the overachiever:

For the minimalist. Study the tenure requirement carefully. It usually involves scholarship, teaching and service. For each category, find out what counts and what doesn't. Do what counts and leave what doesn't. 

In research, prioritize the genre and outlet for your work rigorously. If a book is required, focus on the book and maybe a spin-off article or two; work only with reputable publishers. If articles are privileged at your institution, just focus on publishing refereed articles. Attend conferences to establish a good reputation in the field, but keep it to one or two per year, and only when you are presenting. Don't attend sessions; instead, go back to your room and work on your articles. Keep book chapters and encyclopedia entries to a minimum—unless they count as much as journal articles do. Do not edit books—unless they count toward tenure. If you are invited to write book chapters, say yes only if the editor is a well-established scholar in the field and if the publisher is well known in the field. In any case, one or two invited book chapters is enough to show that you are a valued member of the field. 

In teaching, teach the minimum required courses. Teach one or two courses in your specialization over the first few years. Do not take on independent studies. Insist on teaching the same set of courses and do not modify syllabi every time. If there is a problem with the program (and believe me, there is—no matter what institution you work for), don't try to fix it—it's not your problem until you are tenured. 

In service, complete the minimum required number of committees—and do the minimum amount of work to get by. Do not volunteer for anything, and if asked, find a good excuse. Serve on one university committee and one organizational committee before tenure. Do not take on review tasks—except if you are asked by top journals in the field, and do it only once per journal. Say no to everything else.

For the overachiever. Study the tenure requirement carefully. It usually involves scholarship, teaching and service. For each category, find out what counts and what doesn't. Do what counts and take on what doesn't, too, just because you can. 

In research, always have one or two publications under review, one or two publications in progress, and one or two edited collections under development. Publish at least one or two refereed journal articles per year; one or two book chapter every year. Publish in reputable outlets but also not-so-reputable outlets to support the publisher and the editor. If there is a call for proposals/manuscripts for special journal issues or edited books in your areas of expertise, put something in. If you are asked to write a chapter for an edited collection, say yes and try to come up with something that makes a significant contribution to the field—not just a rehashing of old materials. If you can't find an edited collection that you think is needed for the field, then edit one yourself. Provide careful and thorough editing suggestions to all contributors. Collaborate with people who have similar interests, especially novice scholars. Attend all conferences on topics related to one of your many areas of interest and present in multiple sessions if allowed or invited. 

In teaching, teach all the courses with full force, revising your syllabi and reading lists thoroughly each time. Teach a variety of courses within your areas of expertise, and if asked, teach courses that are beyond your comfort zone to expand your repertoire. Offer to work with students on independent studies to help them out. If there are courses or programs that students need and want, offer to develop proposals. Take on graduate advisees—ones who are interested in your area of expertise as well as those who can't find any other person to work with. Teach summer courses. Collaborate with graduate students. Organize reading groups and workshops. Provide mentoring to everyone. 

In service, serve on all committees that are important to you. If there are problems that are not being addressed, suggest creating a new committee and offer to chair it. Serve on university committees having to do with issues that are important to you. Attend all business meetings at conferences and volunteer to serve on committees. Attend most, if not all, sessions and offer insightful comments. Correspond with anyone who emails you about professional matters and provide mentoring. Organize conferences or volunteered to help in any way. Accept all review tasks for conferences, publishers and institutions to help shape the field.


I wrote these as tongue-in-cheek descriptions of extreme cases, but I realized that the overachiever pretty much describes myself, and the minimalist position is the opposite of everything I have done in my career. I don't recommend the overachiever profile to others, but I'm not a big fan of the minimalist, either. The minimalists can keep their jobs, but they may not be able to establish themselves in the field or make meaningful contributions to the profession. Some people actually do this and manage to get tenured. I've reviewed a few tenure and promotion cases for people whose profile looked exactly like that, and I wasn't impressed (though I did support the cases). 

Everyone should fall somewhere in-between. If you are already productive and not worried about tenure and promotion at all, lean toward the overachiever model. But if you are still struggling to establish yourself, start with the minimalist profile and gradually move toward the overachiever model. 

Don't be afraid to say no, especially if you can find a good excuse (e.g., schedule conflicts, sabbaticals, overcommitment, etc.) If you can't think of a good excuse, just say that you need to focus on your tenure and promotion for a while. There is no better excuse out there. 

Michelle Cox, one of my former doctoral students, now works as the Multilingual Specialist in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College. Congratulations, Michelle!

Labels: , ,

What Advisors Are For

Dear doctoral students: 

If you have questions related to your own research, and if you are in a graduate program, please ask your own advisors first. It's their job to help you and they are being paid for it. If your advisor doesn't know how to help you or are not willing to help you, perhaps you need to find a new advisor. 

If you can't find anyone who can help you at your institution, what do you do? If you are in your first few years into the program, consider moving to an institution where you can work with a real mentor. If it's too late, do your best to find the answers yourself first before asking others for help. 

If you are not in a doctoral program and are looking for one, go to an institution where there are faculty members who are willing and able to share all their expertise and resources to help you achieve your goals.

If you don't know how to identify a good doctoral program, take a look at this blog:

Here are some guidelines for e-mentorship:

Labels: , ,

Last update: January 6, 2008