Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tenure evaluations are awkward

Tenure as an institution is good (for several different reasons), and even the process of obtaining a tenure is good. But it is also weird, because you are judged by your friends and colleagues.

I mean, it's obviously the best thing that can happen. It's democratic, and you are welcomed (or rejected) by people with whom you would ultimately work (or not work). Every other alternative is objectively worse. Being judged by some random people who don't know you, for example, would be both cruel and inefficient. Collecting all hiring power in the hands of one (or two, or three) people would also be random, psychologically damaging, and bad for the institution in the long term. Being judged worthy by your friends is the best thing that could possibly happen to you, right?

But still it's also weird, because if you let yourself dwell on it for too long, it could totally poison several years worth of your life. If you allow yourself to fixate on this whole "tenure process" thing, you could start to strategize and calculate what to say and what to do instead of just talking to people and working with them; you would aim to please and "fit" instead of productively contributing to discussions, etc. It would just become weird.

So not only the tenure process is paradoxical (the optimal solution feels weird and almost "wrong" intuitively), but also the best way to go about it seems to be to pretend that it kind of does not exist. It's like in this most lovely article from 2013 about a 7-years-long postdoc: the first rule of getting a tenure is not to try to get a tenure. But live the full life instead (mostly scientific and pedagogical life in this case, but still).

I guess this last conclusion can be generalized to most things in life, from cooking to dating and child-raring, so it's not even that unique to career planning. Still funny though.

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