Pre-tenure book route contemplation

Now that I’m an old tenured woman…

My department is the kind where you can either write a book and a few articles before tenure or you can write a bunch of high quality articles.  I chose the article route.  I never really considered the book route because my sub-field’s conversations mainly occur in journals.  (It is true that my dissertation director does have a book, but only one!  My senior book route colleagues here all have multiple books.)

So far during my time here, all of my colleagues doing the article route have made tenure.  Only one choosing the book route has made tenure, and he had two books, went up early, and eventually got hired away at triple my salary.

This whole process was mysterious to me until I got tenure and got to sit in on my first 40 minutes of a committee meeting about when a book should count, and how my senior colleagues are worried about our assistant professors choosing the book route given their current progress.

I recently overheard one of our first years talking about how ze hadn’t gotten much research done, and one of our second years said, yeah, ze thinks that’s normal.  But at the committee meeting, they were worried about the second year’s lack of productivity.

Anyway, the next time I saw the first year, I did that horrible thing and asked hir how the book was coming.  Ze said ze’d taken the semester off from it.  There was so much other research that ze wants to work on besides the dissertation and the book.  Ze was thoroughly sick of the book.  And I can totally relate to that.  I wrote two articles that were completely different from my job market paper when I got out.  Nothing at all to do with my dissertation.  But… I also got my dissertation articles out to journals, as much as I hated them.  I wanted them done and gone more than I wanted to not work on them.  Since then, I’ve rediscovered what made me like my dissertation topic in the first place.

My senior colleagues tell me that leaving the book alone is dangerous.  That dissertation must be turned around quickly.  The book makes a scholar’s name in the field just as articles do for those of us who do the article route.

So I told my junior colleague, I think they expect you to have a book draft by the end of your second year.  You need to work on that.

I felt bad for being so out like that, when my colleague had stopped by to discuss baked goods. Ze had kind of settled into my office before I asked about the book, and left a bit abruptly.  I hope because ze felt like ze had work to do and not because I’m a buzz-kill.

I wanted to lend hir my copy of Boice, but I loaned that to my junior colleague in my own sub-field (another article route person) who I’ve felt more competent to mentor, and ze still has it.

So, lots of questions for academics.

Do you think it’s a good idea to take a break from the dissertation topic before you’ve gotten your main publications from it (the thought being you attack it with renewed interest when you return)?  Do you think you can get research done your first year on the job?  When does a book “count” (contract?  proofs?  reviews?)?  When should a book be done by in order for it to count for tenure?  What advice do you have for junior faculty expected to write a book?

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20 Responses to “Pre-tenure book route contemplation”

  1. Mr. Bonner Says:

    Sorry, can’t specifically help here. I bailed with a MS and went to industry. I just wasn’t as passionate as I wanted to be for my work.

    As far as procrastinating I think a semester is an ‘extended’ break and the longer the break the more difficult it is to get back to the task at hand. A week or two to clear your head is one thing, but a semester is a lot of time to let your thoughts drift away.

  2. Kellen Says:

    No academic experience, but I am always frustrated by the lack of convergence at our company between what management expects of employees, and what employees think management expects of them. Better that your colleague left abruptly and a bit upset than just brushed your advice off and continued to think they have all the time in the world to get back to the book.

  3. GMP Says:

    I am in a physical science field, so our requirements are different (we need to publish articles in good journals, unofficially at least 20 pre-tenure, plus conference papers and invited talks, lots of grant money, and at least one student graduated with a PhD pre-tenure), therefore I can’t really say anything on the book front. However, I will say that I think it’s a great thing you gave your junior colleague a kick in the pants; ze cannot chill on the tenure track, WTF taking a semester off?!?! And each junior colleague deserves honest feedback and ideally mentoring by senior colleagues. We give detailed feedback statements each year after formal review in the executive cte meeting, where things such as “We encourage you to publish more/apply for more grants” are given in black and white, and then the mentors (we have formal mentoring committees with 2 people on it for each junior person) would tell you in person what the discussion was basically about, that people were concerned you are not publishing enough or whatever.
    I think you did the colleague a favor by telling hir how things really look.

  4. Perpetua Says:

    I’m in the humanities and for me taking a break from the book was essential. In my first year, I wanted to acclimate to being an assistant professor and have a mental breather from the topic, so I could look at it with fresh eyes. It’s very common for us in the humanities to complete fairly significant revisions/ reconceptualizations. Sometimes distance is great for that. I did work on two articles that year, which came out the following year (based on dissertation research). I had taken thorough notes after my defense, which included great help on how to turn the diss into a book (a common feature of a humanities defense). So I had some ideas of what I needed to do. Then I put it aside and moved, worked on my new classes, got settled, etc. Once I came back to the diss, I was able to pull together a draft without too much agony, because I had had time to think through it, and I wasn’t thinking like a doctoral student anymore, but like someone writing a book. But I do tend to work quickly and efficiently, so maybe that’s why taking frequent breaks works for me. And I think it’s easy for t-t faculty in the humanities not to realize how long the process takes to get the book out – from submitting a proposal to production can be 3 years, depending on the press and the reviewers – it took a full year to get one of my reviewer’s reports back!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “from submitting a proposal to production can be 3 years, depending on the press and the reviewers ”

      was really eye-opening to me at the meeting we went to… I was *SO GLAD* I’m in an article sub-field.

      Do you know when your department considers a book to be a book for purposes of tenure and promotion?

      • Perpetua Says:

        It has varied (I’ve worked in different places) – some places it’s advanced contract, some production, and increasingly departments are wanting the book OUT. Most places say that having the book out is more of a guarantee, while you might squeak through on production. This seems cruel to me, since authors have such limited control over the production schedules of presses.

  5. Dr. Virago Says:

    Every discipline is different, and every *department* within that discipline is likely to be different, too. And then there are the differences among subfields. So. Take what I’m about to say as just another data point in showing how it works differently everywhere!

    OK, so I’m in English, in literature (definitely a book field — whereas Rhet/Comp is not as much, for example) and I’m at a regional research-y school (a former R1, but with not quite as high expectations as fancy places) with a 3/2 teaching load. We’re also unionized. So, we have a contract and then every department has elaborations, and then each individual has a Statement of Expectations generated when they’re hired, and all of that governs what’s expected. My expectations for tenure were *either* a book and an article or two, or roughly about 5-6 quality articles (equivalent to a 5-6-chapter book, in other words). I got tenure with a book and 2 or 3 articles (now I can’t remember which ones came out when). When we solicited the outside reviewers, the book was in proofs, but it was printed and in my file by the time it made the rounds at my university.But it didn’t need to be. Our department elaborations clearly state that a contract or agreement to publish counts, since it can take 2-3 years for a book to get from proposal to publication.

    On that note, our merit evaluation committee tends to give the highest research score for three years in a row to someone who published a book, because they figure it took you at *least* that long to write it and get it published. Of course, it often takes longer in reality.

    Also, we totally don’t expect a new assistant prof straight out of grad school to be very productive in their first year in terms of research. For someone straight from grad school, working up 5 totally new classes to teach takes up most of the time. Showing that you’re building momentum by presenting at a couple conferences and applying for our internal summer research money to get an article done or revise that diss into a book the summer *after* the first year is plenty good enough for us. Anything else (article acceptance, grant, whatever) is excellent. In fact, getting some distance from the diss and turning back to it the summer after one’s first year is what I think most of us would recommend. It’s what I did, and yes, I had a much better perspective on the thing with some time away from it, and could see it as a reader rather than as its writer (which is important in the humanities). I also had a summer grant (internal) to revise it and started shopping it around to publishers in the fall. That was 2004. It was published in the spring of 2007, and I went up for tenure a year early in 2007-2008.

  6. rented life Says:

    In my field articles are the only way to go. Everyone I know that got tenure, that’s how. Books come later. Most don’t take time off–they get articles from the dis and then move on, and I’ve never heard it advised to take a “break”. That was my problem–I did, I needed to, and I don’t regret it, as academia isn’t a long term path for me.

    I think doing less your first year depends on the school you’re at. My first school was big on doing as much as you could, and I did. You needed to be producing research, teaching, attending events, right away. I watched several friends get tenure and they were all active. The few people who weren’t were denied. My last school was “oh take it easy, get used to things.” I hated that. I was bored and wanted to be involved. If you did too much they didn’t respond well, which seemed strange to me. The one other girl in my field in that department (we were a strange blended department), was taking the book route. She didn’t get asked back, because really it wasn’t tangible enough work for the three years she had been there.

  7. moom Says:

    I thought you were in economics? The only econ field I know where books count is economic history.

  8. J Says:

    If you don’t get work done your first year, it is VERY hard to recover. I have never written a book (am in an article field) but I know being away from something and coming back to it is really hard.

    In my dept, the senior faculty (including me) always talk about how little work the juniors do. One of my jr colleagues was describing her vacation and I explained to her that I had never once in my entire life taken two straight weeks totally off from work. And it is true. Yes, you may be sick of your dissertation and yes we are lucky to have jobs where we mostly do whatever amuses us but your job is to publish and something you have already worked on for years is your best shot of publishing something in a short time.

  9. Funny about Money Says:

    Depends on your dissertation topic, doesn’t it? Some are more likely to be publishable than others. Speaking from within the scholarly publishing industry, let me note that today academic presses must keep an eye to potential sales. If you got your doctorate on the strength of a subject that’s already been done to death, that’s dry as dust, or that interests four people in your profession and your mother, trying to make the dissertation publishable may be a waste of time. Consider the audience; if it’s minuscule, you may be better off to go with articles.

  10. Sapience Says:

    Do you have any suggestions on this issue for someone who is in a book field, but isn’t going straight into a TT position? I have a 3-year post-doc that I’m starting, and some faculty at my doctoral institution have cautioned me against getting my book out too early, because then it might not count for tenure if/when I manage to get a TT. But getting a contract would probably help me actually land a tenure track position. I do have articles in the pipeline (one not related to the diss that is in a collection that just got a contract, and one spun-off from the diss that I presented at a conference last May). I’ll add that I’m unsure whether or not I need a break from the dissertation topic; I’m not sick of it at all yet, but I can’t tell if I need more perspective on the project before I begin the heavy lifting of revising.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ll throw this up as an ask the grumpies soon, but you have more than one book in you. Your letter writers will think much more highly of you the earlier your book is published, and the sooner you make a name for yourself, the easier it will be to get more published.

      If you’re not sick of the topic, go ahead and start revising!

      Good luck!

  11. How do you mentor junior faculty? | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] Book-article-book-article: make a choice and stick to it.  If you can, steer the juniors towards projects that will pay off faster.  If they do choose the book option, make sure they have a realistic idea of how long (very long!) it takes for the book to be published and all the obstacles that may come in their way through no fault of their own. […]


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