Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Bloom Watch

Last week, in a post that touched on the topic of post-tenure emotions (empowered vs. entrapped), I wrote this:
.. I have done my best work after getting tenure. I am not one of those genius-people who did her best work by age 30 (or 35). Some of us get tenure based in part on our accomplishments, such as they are at the time of the tenure evaluation, but also largely on a gamble about our potential. (I am going to explore an aspect of this more in a near-future post.)
The kernel of the idea I want to explore relates to what we do after tenure, no matter what we did before tenure. In this case, the "what" mostly refers to research because I am basing this discussion on my MRU*-centric point of view, but, with some modifications, this classification scheme could perhaps be exported to other situations. I think that probably most of us in academia can easily think of examples of each of these Types listed below, although some are more common than others. [* Major Research University]

Type S: steep upward trajectory in career from day 1; S1: productive before and after tenure, but even more productive and creative after tenure; S2: flatline at high level after tenure;

TYPE M: moderate upward trajectory from day 1 to tenure (enough to get tenure), but then M1: a steep upward trajectory after tenure, similar to Type S1 but this person was slower to bloom, or M2: flatline at a moderate level after tenure;

Type F: flat trajectory before and after tenure, but at a high enough level to get tenure (maybe just skimming over and along the tenure bar) and high enough to escape the label of "deadwood" after tenure; not awesome, but steady and better than Type L..;

Type L: steep (L1) or moderate (L2) trajectory pre-tenure; other trajectories possible, e.g., intercept with vertical tenure-line may be just about anywhere, but the key to the L path is that it involves the total transformation to deadwood not long after tenure (that is, not decades after tenure, but instead it happens while still at the early/mid-career stage).

OMG I think I am going to have to graph this.

Note that there is no significance to the y-intercept. The Type S line could start above or below some of the other lines, for example, but I am imagining this type of person as making a strong start.

I think it is also important to note that I don't just mean 'number of publications' (or grants) in my definition of productivity. I mentioned creativity in my definition of Type S, and this is an important element of 'blooming' in my classification scheme. The post-tenure 'bloom' in this case is not just a churning out of a stupendous number of publications, but involves making new and interesting discoveries or advances, having new and creative ideas, and all that kind of good thing.

Also, there is no criticism attached to (some) of this. Some faculty who flatline at a moderate to low level, for example, have taken a different career path, such as one involving more teaching and/or service. That may or may not be fine, depending on circumstances and expectations.

Do you see yourself here, or did I leave out some important trajectories? Feel free to suggest significantly different trajectories (yours or your favorite/hated colleague's) and I may modify the graph later.

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