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I have a tenure-track position at a research university (among top 20 in USA) in a decent city. This has been my fourth year as a tenure-track. I still have not heard from my department regarding the promotion. I do have very good publication record (over 20 published papers in top journals, including Annals and Inven. Math papers), and a decent teaching record. Is it advisable for me to apply for other jobs? I am happy with my current university, but I am very worried about the prospect of getting tenure. I would be very grateful for any comments and suggestions.

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This is a tough situation, and I hope you get good advice. I imagine it'll be hard for people to advise you without knowing a lot more of your situation. They'll probably encourage you to approach someone more senior in your department. In the meanwhile, you should make this question Community-Wiki because it's asking for advice and no one answer will be correct. When you edit, there's a box that says CW and you can click that box. –  David White Dec 11 '11 at 22:23
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Have you applied for tenure, and is this your first application? If you haven't applied for tenure (and or promotion) it does not seem like there's anything to discuss. If you have applied, you should be able to get an update on the status of your application from your chair, or possibly from whomever is on your departmental tenure/promotions committee. Either way it's not clear there's any way this can be made into a decent MO thread without you giving away too many revealing details, which would also be inappropriate. –  Ryan Budney Dec 11 '11 at 22:25
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At some universities (including mine), one doesn't formally apply for tenure. In any case, I would advise you to discuss your situation with your department chair. –  Andreas Blass Dec 11 '11 at 23:17
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Were you told how long it would take for the tenure decision to be made when you were hired? Were you put on a specific "clock", or simply told that a decision would be made "in due course" (the former is the more standard)? Unless there is some very specific reason to avoid doing so, I would recommend talking to your Chair/Dept. Head and tell him you are happy there, but are getting a little anxious by having no feedback, and ask him how you are doing towards getting tenure (and when you can expect the process to occur, if you don't know). Many Depts. do a "mid-tenure" internal review... –  Arturo Magidin Dec 12 '11 at 0:06
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You definitely shouldn't plunge into the process of applying for jobs only because your department has not told you something. Ask the department head for a run-down on (a) how you're doing towards getting tenure and (b) what the tenure decision process will be like and when it will take place, e.g., in the 6th year. Maybe speak first with other junior (non-tenured) faculty in your department to get their take on things before you approach the dept. head. –  KConrad Dec 12 '11 at 1:17
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3 Answers

I don't really think the question is appropriate, but anyhow: by applying for other jobs before the official tenure clock runs out you muddy the waters at your home university (they will wonder if there is some reason you hate them) and the other places (they might wonder if you have done some ax-murdering on the side, which would prevent you from getting tenure at your home university, who knows about it). If you are doing good work (it sounds like you are), you will do fine. A well known East Coast university failed to tenure several excellent people (including one future Fields medalist), none of whom missed any meals as a result. So, to put it bluntly, keep working and stop twitching.

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I'm sorry, but it is not clear to me what "none of whom missed any meals as a result" means. Could you please clarify? –  Joel Reyes Noche Dec 12 '11 at 0:41
    
That means they didn't have a gap in employment despite the tenure denial. –  Noah Snyder Dec 12 '11 at 2:14
    
@Noah, thanks . –  Joel Reyes Noche Dec 12 '11 at 2:50
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First, this sounds like an accidental, potentially completely innocent, failure of standard procedure, e.g., at Univ of Minn (where I am) and many other places, either the department head or some functionary has a yearly discussion with tenure-track people, giving them formal advice on how they're doing in all relevant categories: research, teaching, service.

Second, unless there's something seriously amiss, no information is imparted... It's more of a confirmation that everything's on track.

Third, for a variety of reasons, these days the actual getting-tenure seems to be put off as long as possible by the institution(s). One easy reason is that, if the person will put up with it, the institution has a longer time to judge... There seems to be some positive resistance to "early" consideration for tenure. Yes, one can directly tell the dept chair that one wants to be considered... but departments are well aware, if only for HR purposes, of the "tenure clock" on all non-tenured tenure-track faculty.

As to whether it's worthwhile to take initiative about tenure consideration... hard to know. "Rocking the boat" is generally not helpful, but sometimes people are tooo apathetic.

No way to know for sure on any of this apart from asking someone in your dept who knows the standard procedures there.

If your publication record is good and your teaching is ok-or-better, and you are a good citizen, probably nothing to worry about.

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I have my doubts about adding the third answer to this question, but here goes:

You should be in touch with your chair about whether you will get tenure. If the chair and various bigwigs in your department are remotely competent and there is even the slightest danger of you not getting tenure, they should be on your case about it; departments really do not want to have people go up for tenure and fail. It makes them look bad to both the administration and to job candidates.

So what you should do is talk to your chair and say "Hey, we haven't really talked about me going up for tenure. Do you have any concerns about my case? Is there anything I should be doing to prepare?" In all likelihood, your mind will be set at ease, and if not, well, then that's information you're in a better position for having.

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