April 10, 2010

The Five-Year Plan for Tenure-Track Professors

As anyone up for tenure can attest, the time between your first day as an Assistant Professor and the day you have to submit your tenure file flies by. Colleges and universities vary on the procedures and dates, but in general, you have five years to put your tenure file together.

I know you are supposed to have six years, but it is actually only five. Let me explain. Suppose you begin a tenure track position in August 2010. By August 2011, you will have completed your first academic year, and by August 2015, you likely will have to submit some parts of your tenure file – such as the names of external reviewers. The review of your tenure case will be complete at the end of your sixth year. This usually means you have to start the review process about a year beforehand.

Thus, if you are starting an academic position this year, you have five years to prepare. For this reason, you need a five year plan. In this article, I will focus on the research side of the equation, as this is most often the most important part. However, this will vary by institution, and you need to figure out what is most important where you work.

Step One: Set your goals. The first step to creating a five year plan is to figure out what you need to accomplish in terms of research to have a successful tenure review. Where would you like to be in five years?

You can find out about departmental expectations by asking your mentors and colleagues. You also should look at the CVs of people who recently have been awarded tenure both in your department and at other institutions. If you think that it is possible that you might leave your current place of employment before going up for tenure, you need to be aware of standards at other institutions. And, even if you don’t plan to leave, you still need to be aware, as things might not work out for you at your current institution, and it is important to be marketable. Once you figure out the departmental and disciplinary expectations, you can set your own publication goals.

Step Two: Make a plan for achieving your goals. Let’s say, for the sake of this article, that your goal is to have one book and three articles in print by the time your tenure file is reviewed. You must now figure out how long that will take to accomplish, starting from the ideal publication date. You need to plan.

For example, if you would like for your book to be in print by August 2015, when you submit the names of external reviewers for your tenure review, you need to work backwards from that date. For your book to be published in August 2015, you need to submit the final version to the publisher by August 2014. For that to happen, you likely need to submit the original version by August 2013, which means you should submit the book proposal no later than February 2013. There you have your first concrete goal: Submit your book proposal to potential publishers no later than February 1, 2013.

You can then do the same thing with the articles, based on the time it takes for articles in your field to be accepted and published, and the amount of articles you reasonably can submit in a year or a semester.

Step Three: Map your plan out onto a calendar. Once you have decided, for example, that you will submit your book proposal by February 2013, your first article by February 2011, your second article in August 2011, and your third article by February 2012, then you can begin to map out the steps required onto a calendar.

For example, if your first goal is to submit an article by February 2011, then you can use the time between now and February 2011 to ensure that your article is ready for submission. You might use August 2010 to make a plan for the revision, September 2010 to do the literature review, October 2010 to re-analyze the data, November 2010 to write the first draft, and December and January to finish the revisions and get peer feedback.

You will need to do this for each of the goals you have set. However, if you have never mapped your goals onto a calendar before, it might work best for you to focus on one goal at a time. For example, once you have revised one chapter of your dissertation into an article, you will have a better idea as to how long it will take to do the others. Then, you can develop a feasible plan for the remaining articles.

Step Four: Execute the plan. The best way to meet your publication goals is to work on them consistently. If you spend at least one hour every day from Monday to Friday working on one of your publication goals, you are much more likely to meet them than if you only work on them on the weekends or only work on them over break. If getting tenure is important to you, and getting tenure requires publishing, it behooves you to do something that gets you towards publishing each and every day. Usually that “something” is writing. It also includes data analysis, reading background literature, and letting ideas percolate. However, most academics find it fairly easy to spend hours and hours reading and running data, yet find it harder to spend time actually writing. For this reason, it is important to write every day to ensure you achieve your goals.

If you have already started your faculty position and did not make a five year plan, it is not too late. You can make a plan based on what you would like to have accomplished by the time you go up for tenure or promotion, no matter how much time you have left.

The planning process can be stressful as you think of all you have to do. At the same time, it can be calming, as you come to terms with what you will and will not be able to accomplish over the next five years.


  1. Great post! I feel motivated to put my goals for completing my thesis on a calendar as a result of having read this.

  2. Emily: Glad you found it useful. And, yes ... make a plan!! It will help you measure your progress and meet your self-imposed deadlines!