Academic's Forum: On Ending an Academic Chapter
Allison S. Gabriel, University of Arizona
I found out I received tenure at the University of Arizona on April 27, 2017. It was a Friday, and my department was spending the afternoon volunteering at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona in Tucson. I was standing at a table sorting cucumbers next to one of my PhD advisees talking about projects and how I was probably going to skip on the department happy hour because my parents were visiting for the weekend (a total fortuitous fluke in timing). I was so focused on the fact that my hand had literally just gone through the middle of a rotted cucumber that I didn’t see my department chair, Jerel Slaughter, coming over with a huge smile on his face. I looked up and I immediately knew. Nathan Podsakoff was promoted to full professor at the same time (he’d never announce it himself, so I’ll take advantage of my position one last time and announce it for him—I’m so, so proud of you, friend) and the department happy hour quickly became a tenure and promotion celebration for the two of us. My parents came with Mike. They were so proud and so relieved, because they all knew first hand how hard the last 5 years were on me (and them) at times. I was gifted a purple satin Miss-America-type sash from my PhD student that was bedazzled and said “Tenure, b**ches!” It is, almost a month later, still one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It was the perfect way to end this academic chapter. Oh, this crazy chapter—one of turbulence, and unexpected moves, and more self-doubt than I am probably willing to admit to myself. But, this crazy chapter also came with a lot of feelings of triumph, and amazing collaborators turned friends, and finally feeling as though I landed where I was always meant to be.
A few days after the celebrations, I was with a friend from the marketing department. She asked what felt different with the tenure decision. I told her I didn’t really know, because I still spent time the weekend it happened completing an R&R that was due. She told me that a friend of hers who had just received tenure described it as this: You’re still doing the same thing, but it no longer feels like a ravenous lion is chasing you down the entire time. That’s certainly true (maybe that’s why running pretenure was always a big stress reliever for me). But, as I thought about her question more over the following days, I realized that the other thing that had changed was that I wasn’t questioning my self-worth in the field anymore. And, that’s a problem. It’s a problem to have your self-worth so wrapped up in a five page single-spaced statement that you don’t feel relief until someone else tells you you’re enough. I wish that’s something I had told myself when I first started and that it didn’t take 5 years to get the message. It’s certainly something I plan on telling everyone one of my students who I advise moving forward. You are more than a piece of paper, or a citation index, or the number of A-publications you have. In a field where rejection is more the norm than not, we don’t need to be putting ourselves down.
It may be the case that I’m the only one that felt this way on the tenure track, and if it is, then let’s all be glad that I’m done with that phase of my academic career (I know Mike certainly is). But, in the event I’m not, I’d like my last column here for TIP—and one that’s rather brief given that I have overshared more than enough!—to say this: You are enough in this field. Make sure that you do good work that makes you feel fulfilled, and I promise that you will find where you are meant to be, and if you have doubts about that, come find me at SIOP. I’ll probably be hanging out in the lobby. You’ll find me in a purple bedazzled sash.
This marks my final column for TIP. It has been a joy—and an interesting form of public self-reflection—to write 14 columns. I’ve so appreciated every note received, social media mention, and word of encouragement from Morrie Mullins and Tara Behrend who trusted me enough to give me this platform. I hope that I stayed true to my original goal, which was giving honest insight into what I was thinking and feeling during the tenure process. Now, I am thrilled to be passing the baton to someone who I admire immensely, who has new perspectives we can all learn from, and who I immediately thought of when Tara and I began brainstorming who the column should go to next. Dorothy Carter (assistant professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology [extraordinaire] at the University of Georgia)—you are awesome, you are enough, and I can’t wait to be your biggest fan as you take on this column.
As I said at the end of my very first Academics’ Forum column in January of 2015: Let the next journey as an academic begin…