Pre-tenure planning for your post-tenure life: my interview for the Decision Analysis Society

Allison Coffey Reilly and Florian Federspiel interviewed me for the INFORMS Decision Analysis Society’s quarterly newsletter as part of an article about how OR faculty transitioned from pre-tenure to post-tenure life. My interview is below.


Pre-tenure planning for your post-tenure life

For this edition of Ask DAS, we had the exciting opportunity to speak with Drs. Laura Albert (University of Wisconsin – Madison), Jason Merrick (Virginia Commonwealth University, Canan Ulu (Georgetown University), and Jun Zhuang (University at Buffalo) about how they thought about their transition from pre- to post-tenure. We are sharing an excerpt of our conversation below. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

  • Was there anything that surprised you while preparing your tenure dossier or when going through the tenure process?

Laura Albert (LA): I went through the tenure process twice in two years – first at Virginia Commonwealth University and then at University of Wisconsin – Madison, after I moved. This is not the typical way to do it. The process was significantly more difficult the second time around. If you’ve been at an institution for five years, the process should be fairly straightforward. The institution, college, and department should provide clear expectations during that time. They might provide example portfolios – nothing should be too surprising. But, when a faculty member switches universities mid-stream, that can pose unique challenges. He or she may not be aware of or be able to meet specific institutional or departmental milestones at the new universities. These need to be made clear and then discussed and managed by the new university.

  • It is frequently said that tenure is needed to allow for researchers to take-on riskier research. In what ways did your research or your approaches to research become “higher risk?”

LA: Yes, definitely. Post-tenure is a good time to take on new research projects. One of the difficulties with new research is that there is high start-up cost – it might take 6 – 12 months to scope out the work and get things going. It’s a much better time to get more irons in the fire, which can be very intellectually rewarding. The research itself might not be risky, but the time it takes to get the research going could be seen as a risk if done before tenure.

  • Were there research topics that interested you pre-tenure that you knew you shouldn’t have broached until post-tenure? How did you conclude pre-tenure to wait to pursue the topic?

LA: I have a foot in bracketology, including football rankings, basketball rankings, college football playoff forecasting, and that was totally a post-tenure gift to myself. It such a fun thing to do, mainly for outreach. It gets people excited for industrial engineering and shows people what we do in operations research. Related to that, I developed a course on sports analytics. It’s good to develop some things post-tenure that might not be directly related to your research or that you, per se, having funding to support, but that really brings you enjoyment. For me, it has helped me to establish a balance that I like in my life.

  • Do you think it’s necessary to have a plan prepared pre-tenure for the post-tenure life? If so, how did or would you go about that planning?

LA: I guess, in some ways, I went from having a plan to being more flexible, which has been fun. I’m someone that really focused my time during my pre-tenure period. I had a lot of ideas, but I really only focused on one to two. I wanted to open that up post-tenure. I have been able to be more flexible in the ideas that I pursue. It certainly poses some risk – it doesn’t guarantee that you will get the maximum number of publications out next year that you could otherwise.

  • What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of post-tenure life?

LA: Oh, you think you are going to be less busy. You’re busier than ever. All of those things that you do to get tenure make people take notice. So, they ask you to do more reviews, serve on more committees, and your department will expect you to do more. And there are often a bunch of research ideas that you have been waiting to pursue.

  • Was there anything that I missed?

LA: I had three children pre-tenure. I did get nervous any time someone brought up the conversion of tenure or children, because children are so often framed as having a negative impact on tenure. There are a lot of exceptions to what we think is the rule. It’s certainly possible to have children on the tenure clock and succeed.


2 responses to “Pre-tenure planning for your post-tenure life: my interview for the Decision Analysis Society

  • Jesus R

    Thank you for sharing your advice, Prof. Albert.

  • Mark L. Stone

    All the advice and discussion of pre-tenure planning and post-tenure outcomes is predicated on getting tenure. Congratulations to Laura Albert for getting tenure, but what if you don’t? Or is there plenty of time to line up a (non-academic or lower-tier academic) job after being denied tenure before your academic employment ends? Should a candidate be enhancing skills pre-tenure which makes them more marketable in non-academic employment, or does doing so take effort away from academic pursuits, thereby decreasing the probability of getting tenure? I think these are legitimate considerations to enter into an O.R. style risk analysis, the optimal solution of which depends on the candidate’s risk preferences and a priori perceived probability of getting tenure, among other things.

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