Monday, January 24, 2011

Do You Care?

Prof-Like Substance has compiled a handy list of what advisors can and cannot expect of their "trainees" (graduate students, postdocs). Among the items under the CAN'T EXPECT heading is this:

3) Trainees to care about your promotion and tenure.

Well, I can agree with that to some extent. We certainly can't (and shouldn't) expect our students and others to care as much as we do. And, although to some extent the promotion and tenure of the professor does depend on how well their research group functions, ultimately the responsibility of managing a functioning, productive research group is the tenure-track professor's.

BUT:

It is to the benefit of advisees if their advisor gets tenure for a number of reasons, including:

- A tenured advisor has a greater chance of staying around for the completion of graduate degrees and postdoctoral contracts.

- A tenured advisor's letter of reference for advisees might be more respected than a similar letter from a person who was denied tenure.

Those are practical reasons, but the most important one for me relates to my view of what a research group is: A research group is a community, and the various members of that community should help and respect each other. That includes everyone, from the PI to the new undergrad intern. Some have more responsibility than others, but the actions of each individual to some extent affect others.

I am not arguing against the essence of PLS's main point. Trainees can't really be expected to care about our promotion and tenure. I guess I hope that they care, in the sense of caring for the research team in general or even caring about how it affects their own careers in the near- or long-term.

It is time for a poll! Do you care?

Actually, the question is:

Do/did you care whether your advisor gets/got tenure and/or is/was promoted?


That's a lot of / options, but I am trying to be inclusive here. You can answer this question based on your current experience as the trainee of a tenure-track advisor or you can reminisce about how you felt in the past as the trainee of a tenure-track advisor. You can even answer if your advisor had tenure but an important committee member was tenure-track. Or, just so no one feels left out, not even postdocs, you can answer based on how you think you would feel if you were in the situation of having an advisor or mentor who was tenure-track, or if you weren't actually a cat.

Do You Care?
Yes
No
Ambivalent
pollcode.com free polls
And, if you are so moved, you can explain your vote in the comments.

40 comments:

anon 1st year CS grad student said...

I am my advisor's first student. This is computer science, not lab-science, so we don't have large labs of organized hierarchy, rather, more theoretical blackboard led advisor/student sessions. It is his/her second year as a professor, so relatively early to have students as well. If all goes well I am expected to graduate before his/her tenure decision, so my grad career is not literally on the line, but I do see it as incredibly important that he/she gets tenure. In fact, being supportive and to get the right "positioning" on paper by tenure-filing time for him /her is probably the second most important thing to me after my own positioning on the job market.

frankly, if he/she wasn't going to be a shoo-in for tenure, I doubt I would perform well on the job market; and although the converse is less true: he/she would probably not be adversely affected if i crashed and burned, i imagine if i did do particularly well it would only reflect well on him/her.

At the very worst, I see it as a pleasant case of our incentives being closely tied. At best, we have very similar goals and have to work hard together (establish a track of publications that make us stand out as good researchers with a clear direction).

Of course, it is far too early to say or do anything meaningful in my career in these respects (I am after all young and clueless), but I did talk about it with other professors when I was picking graduate school (and advisor) as an undergrad, and they were careful to emphasize how extremely important tenure would be to my advisor in my grad years, and that I should be well aware of this fact.

Materialist said...

My advisor is so tenured he's elevenured, but from what I've seen around me yes, grad students care very much if their advisor gets tenure _if_ they'll be around for the tenure decision. TT seems to be an up or out situation, and having your advisor disappear is a nightmarish scenario.

Anonymous said...

As I am an annoying type of person, I would have gone for non-applicable, as the tenure question is not the same around the world.

Taken as a general question about whether you want your supervisor to do well however, I think the answer is always going to be yes, pretty much for the reasons you outlined.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised by that comment from PLS, especially after all of the outrage from trainees last week when you talked about faculty moving institutions. Having your advisor change institutions is nowhere near as disruptive as having them get fired and drop out of science altogether. (Not that that always happens to people denied tenure, but it does to some, and at the very least they are going to ... change institutions!)

It's like not caring if the company that gives you a paycheck goes bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

I hated my adviser; every morning I hoped she would hear she was denied tenure so that she would leave and I could seamlessly change advisers. Then, by a miracle, one day it happened! And I was free.

Anonymous said...

(current PhD Student). I 100% care if my advisory is promoted or awarded tenure. I think this is only reasonable, given his commitment to my success. Our relationship should be mutually beneficial in terms of professional successes.

What is more difficult... how do I do this as a graduate student? I know there are nomination forms for different awards that exist, but how else can I support these goals in a way that is reasonable? (emphasis reasonable - I won't be scheduling a meeting with the dean to discuss my advisor's CV...)

Anonymous said...

My advisor had tenure when I entered the program, but I certainly cared about the two other, newer professors in our research area. When they got tenure, it solidified the feeling that our group was "here to stay" at our institution. (Not to mention the positive feelings of achievement within our community.)

Anonymous said...

As a prerequisite to this question, I think you first need to ask "Do you Know?" When I was a brand-new graduate student looking for a research group, it never occurred to me to think about whether or not my prospective advisors were tenured. I just didn't know enough about how academia worked.

Thus, it should have come as no surprise that at least some (perhaps all?) of my own graduate students, more than a decade later, did not recognize any of the many signs when I was going up for tenure. But it did come as a surprise to them, even though they were presumably far enough along in their degrees to know about tenure. I have to wonder how they could *not* notice that (a) that's what happens to all assistant professors in their Nth year and (b) everybody who wasn't my grad student knew how much the process was messing with my confidence and sense of well-being. I didn't directly mention it to them since I felt like it was my problem and not theirs, and didn't want them to worry. Apparently, it worked....

Anonymous said...

Of course I cared, and for purely selfish reasons. This seems like a really dumb assertion.

I guess if you think your students don't care about their own self interest then it's true...

Prof-like Substance said...

I'll be interested to see the results of the poll! I completely agree that trainees with career ambitions in academia should care. Also trainees whose time in the lab would overlap with a tenure decision should obviously care, but both of those cases are ones in which it is selfish motivation behind the interest in PI promotion.

I think most trainees do care, and not just for selfish reasons. But as you stated above, I don't believe it is something a PI can expect out of their people.

Anonymous said...

As someone whose advisor left 3 years into my PhD because he did not get tenure, I would say that any advisee who doesn't care is being pretty short-sighted. From a purely selfish perspective (assuming you don't really care about the well-being of your advisor as a person), it's a huge disruption for the student.

Anonymous said...

Do I care if my advisor gets tenure? Yes, very much, because I've seen what happens to students whose advisors don't.

On the other hand, I care much less about promotions etc.

studyzone said...

I was thankfully in a position where both my grad and postdoc PIs were tenured full professors, so no worries there. However, while in grad school, the institute I was at went through a hiring binge. It took the new PIs several years to attract enough grad students to their labs because the students were leery of working for someone without tenure (we had heard all the horror stories at our recruitment from more senior grad students).

Anonymous said...

Of course I care, and I have always cared. (For whatever it's worth, I'm a postdoc.) I think you should be posing the reverse question: To what extent should/do advisors care about their trainees future success *beyond publications for the advisor*? I'm in the unpleasant situation of having for the first time an advisor who has made it pretty clear he's only interested in trainees as far as we produce for him. My PhD was about mutual multilateral support, and this is jarring and disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Follow up from the postdoc who just posted: I should add that realizing how much my advisor only cares about my output for one of his grants makes me MUCH less excited to work on this project than before, and it makes me want to take my ideas and future funding elsewhere or (on other days) drop out of academic science. It's discouraging to feel objectified. With other collaborators, I have the sense that we're building each other up as a team. Feeling like a poorly-paid hourly worker with a future of no importance is very disheartening.

plam said...

It's hard for me to see why one wouldn't care about a potentially disruptive move to another university where one would not typically even be a registered student. Having an advisor getting denied tenure seems like it would be terrible, even purely in terms of self-interest. Why wouldn't I care?

Anonymous said...

Of course I cared (and still do). I even helped my PI, on my own time, with grants that weren't even remotely related to my project just to help advance his career. And I did this for 2 reasons: 1) For the most part, my PI is a decent human being, and treats his students well. 2) And even at those times when I really could not stand him, it was still worth it for me to promote his career for the simple reason that it would benefit my own. When applying for my next position, I will undoubtedly be asked WHO I trained with in addition to where I trained and what I worked on. It helps if the "WHO" is someone established in the field who is recognized for doing great research (and producing outstanding trainees). So for good or ill, trainees have hitched their stars to their advisor's, so they might as well try to help him/her rise.

Pharm Sci Grad said...

I definately cared, as my advisor went up for tenure while I was a young student (pre-quals) so no tenure for PI = new group for me.

Still, even if PI was going up now when it wouldn't directly affect my ability to graduate, I'd still care. One can never escape their PhD advisor, as your names are associated in the literature and on your CV forever.

Still, I probably didn't care on the same scale as PI...

Earth Science so-close-I-can-taste-it-PhD said...

I entered graduate school (earth sciences) without any advisor at all and somehow had 2 quarters of funding to help me find an advisor, which was kind of a blessing and a curse. Halfway through the year, I was working with two different professors, one a full-tenured, big-name professor and the other a tenure-track, joint-in-another-department professor. Everyone swore he would get tenure, as it came up my second year of graduate school. I always felt a little torn during the latter part of my first year/beginning of my second year, as the projects were pretty different, and he was the most approachable of the two that I worked with (other professor is still my advisor). He got tenure in my department but was denied it in the other department (it came out that it was pure, awful politics: he did everything he was supposed to do and more, but someone else had a vendetta against him, which couldn't have made pleasurable working conditions ). He ended up leaving for a consulting firm within a month of being denied (he'd just had a kid and definitely needed both income and no further tenure stress). Anyway, point being: I really cared about his getting tenure, but I also somehow had good enough intuition to hedge my bets a bit.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by how many people seem to care mostly for selfish reasons. Is it that rare to be on friendly terms with your advisor? I thought my advisor was wonderful both as a person and as a scientist, and would have wanted him to succeed whether or not it had any implications for my own career. If my relationship with him had been so strained that I didn't care about whether he got tenure except for its effects on my own career, I would have wanted to go looking for a different advisor.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I cared that my advisor got tenure for the self-serving reasons you said and also because it would have sucked extremely hard for him to have been denied. Now I'll be happy for him if he gets promoted to full professor, but I can't say that I really care all that much. Maybe I would care more if he were a little more prompt in commenting on my manuscripts!

Anonymous said...

I'm a MS student (under a full prof) applying to PhD programs. Thus far I have 2 interviews, one with a full prof and one with an assistant prof. I view the assistant prof as a budding superstar, but that might be a biased opinion because to me, he does pretty much the most interesting research possible. (I have on numerous occasions read something, thought 'oh, I wonder what would happen if you did it this way?' then found he did the work already.) I feel like regardless of whether I end up working with him, I will still care about whether he gets tenure. He does incredibly interesting work and I think that wherever I go, and what ever projects I'm working on, I will still be reading his work and using it to inform my own. Also even if I go with the full prof, the assistant prof did a post-doc with him a few years ago and would still be part of the extended academic family.

Maybe when I become a member of one of these labs (fingers crossed) my main motivation for caring will become more self-centered, but for now, I hope that people who are doing interesting science are given tenure and able to continue doing interesting science. I think it should be an expectation of people to care about their small bubble of science - the PIs of the bubble getting tenure is important for the sub-field to continue and to be vibrant.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I'm not really too bothered either way. It's good when the people you have listed as advisors are well respected in the field but ultimately it is the student who decides a future. Having advisors pretty early in their careers may make it harder to get a good place but it still doesn't deny you the opportunity so I'm on a yes/no.

Anonymous said...

Of course I care, for both friendly and selfish reasons. True, if the faculty of my department hadn't been completely supportive in assuring me that my prospective advisor would get tenure, it would have been a more difficult decision.

On a side note - I'm sure faculty don't want to spend lots of time discussing their tenure process with their students. Perhaps it's stressful, perhaps it's private. After all, we don't need to be privy to everything. My advisor is pretty quiet about it unless I ask specific questions. But I think we (as students) are missing out on an opportunity to learn more about academics (it's not all research) if faculty don't take some time to explain what's going on and how it works. I've picked up a lot from other departments I've been in, but my current department is very quiet - there are students here who have had no experience elsewhere, and therefore have no clue about the tenure process.

Anonymous said...

As a Ph.D. student, yes, of course I cared, because if my advisor hadn't gotten tenure it would have been a big disruption in my career.

But, one thing I wanted to ask about here is that, in my department, an advisor's students are asked to write letters of recommendation for the advisor's tenure decision. I was shocked when I found this out, because it strikes me as a huge conflict of interest. My advisor is great, please don't force me to find a new one! I bowed out of writing a letter for my advisor's tenure decision, because I didn't feel it was appropriate for them to ask (they assured me that my advisor wouldn't hear about it but I worry that wasn't true). Is this really a reasonable or useful thing to ask of students?

Female Science Professor said...

Student letters of reference for advisors, 1

Student letters of reference for advisors, 2

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting those links, FSP; I should remember you writing about student letters of recommendation before because I was the second to last anonymous commenter on the second post. I guess my refusal to write a letter wasn't a black mark for my advisor, and the difficulties I had with her later would probably have happened even if I had written her a very nice letter (or a truthful one).

Anonymous said...

I was also my PIs first student. At the start it was a "community" of three, he, I and a postdoc. We certainly were all in the same boat, and we also cared about the success of the others. This continued as the lab grew--it was a great environment in many ways, not least in that we were all rooting for each other.

I felt the same sense of support and loyalty from my first group of students. That may have diminished some over time, as I got older and my lab larger, but I hope its still true here.

I think self-interest and mutual support can easily coincide in a lab that runs well. Everyone benefits if the team members benefit. A good University runs the same way--a great Cell Biology Department helps rather than hinders the Biochemistry Department, and vice versa. When people start fighting over resources, everyone loses.

Should I expect people to "care"? Perhaps not but I do expect them to act like team players and support one another. If this is not their style, they should choose a lab where the "everyone for themselves"attitude is the lab norm. You don't need to be best friends with either your boss or your colleagues to wish them the best in their own work.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

I was my advisor's first student & i did care, immensely. In part because I didn't want to have to do the advisor switch thing but also because i cared about him as a person (despite often loathing him & things he did/ say). At the end of the day, he was a great scientist and deserved to be recognized for his contributions and achievements.

Anonymous said...

Sure, I would care, if my advisor wasn't tenured yet, rather than being a senior super-distinguished muckety-muck -- but I have said more than once that I am glad he's already so senior that what I do doesn't directly affect his accomplishments. He is far less demanding because of it than the asst profs in our department...and oh do I pity their advisees on weekends.

quietandsmalladventures said...

hell yes i care!! if they don't get tenure, they are likely to be extremely involved in relocation and thus less interested in what's really happening with the research group. a prof on my committee (not my PI) is in that spot right now. he spends all his time working on grants, papers and searching for job opportunities. luckily his group is fairly self-sufficient.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon at 6:12am--I cared if my advisor got tenure because I despised her and thought she was a terrible teacher, mentor, and person in general. I sincerely did *not* want her to get it. Of course, I wasn't willing to sacrifice my own research to achieve that goal, so in effect I did help her eventually get tenure.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am naive, but most advisors I see are pretty good people and mentors, even if not perfect. Are the students who are so focused on themselves the ones who have bad and neglectful advisors? I don't mean to insult students, but it is disappointing to read so many selfish comments.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I didn't choose an adviser until my 7th year of grad school. At that point I was told that I had one more year on my fellowship, and so I took my latest project and shopped around for an adviser willing to sign off on a thesis that consisted of my reworking the project into a thesis (I'd already gotten a patent and a paper out of a different part of the project).

I found a nice professor who was somewhat interested and finished off the throw-away thesis in a year. I did have to do a little work after my defense (adding a proof of NP-hardness for a step that I had not been able to find an optimal algorithm for).

It made no difference to my career whether the faculty member had tenure or not (it happens that he did---was in fact fairly famous).

Anonymous said...

I was my advisor's first student (along with a couple of others) and therefore we started and built the lab together. I think there's a special bond that comes from that experience; since we had very compatible personalities as well, I can safely say that these three people will always count amongst my best friends. Therefore when my advisor got tenure, it felt like something we all shared in, and so yes, I definitely cared!

InterdisciplinaryGradStudent said...

I care that my advisor has tenure, and I believe that I would care about his success if he were up for tenure. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't have worked for him in that case, because as it is he puts an inordinate amount of pressure on us to work 60+ hours a week on research alone. He has openly admitted to us that he's not as far in his career as he would like to be (despite enormous success at obtaining funding), and places much of that stress (and blame) on his students as it is. I would NOT want to experience tenure stress, which I imagine would be that much worse.

Anonymous said...

I work with undergrads, not grad students. But one of my (male) senior thesis students came into my office crying after I was denied tenure. So I'm guessing that he cared.

(What was odd, though, was the students who expected me to go to conference alumni gatherings for the school that denied me tenure. I had other affiliations and responsibilities, and I would have rather stuck hot needles under my fingernails than deal with my original institution ever again...)

Amanda said...

I cared very much about my undergraduate advisor getting tenure. My fellow students and I, in fact, were extra-responsible on his field trips so as not to do anything to jeopardize his chances at tenure.

Am I going to ghost-write a paper or something so that a professor can get tenure? No. But if I think that someone is a good professor, a good scientist, and a good person, of course I care about them getting tenure.

Of course, as a grad student now, my professor has been tenured for about as long as I've been long, so this isn't really an issue anymore.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to this discussion, but I also wanted to say that I cared very much about my advisor's getting tenure. This wasn't for "selfish" reasons... I had already completed my thesis research, and had lined up a job for after graduation. I suppose his promotions could possibly affect my future jobs, but I imagine the effect will be small. I wanted him to get tenure because I think he's a good scientist who deserves it, and because I care about him; he's a really nice guy!

Sachi said...

I've had terrible luck with advisors & tenure. The first one, in my MA program, was up for tenure during my first year there. I didn't know any better, although in retrospect I should have realized that that would be a very difficult situation. I was rooting for him to get tenure, but he was so distant it didn’t matter one whit. He got tenure, but his stress and focus on his tenure review definitely left me with the short end of the stick in terms of getting help with my own work. I ended up doing a second project with someone outside the department in the spring of my second year, and then doing some fancy paperwork wrangling in order to get it qualified so I could graduate. I was already accepted into a PhD program elsewhere at that point, which helped a lot.

My second advisor, in the first year of my PhD program, was assigned by the department at the time of admission. Over half of the students in this program switch from their first-year advisor as they explore areas of interest and learn about department politics and personalities. My first-year advisor was AGAIN up for tenure the year I started the program, and this time he was denied tenure. I was planning to switch advisors anyway, but this of course made it much more difficult - it's one thing to go to a faculty member and say "my research interests match yours – how ‘bout we work together?", but it's a very different thing to say "well our research interests match and I was planning to ask to work with you anyway but my first year advisor got the boot and grad students aren't allowed to be advisorless so I have to find an advisor NOW and you’re my only viable option so how about it?” It was crazy, as an “orphaned grad student” I felt like a leper – no faculty member wanted to touch me with a ten-foot pole, despite my good record and the fact that I had absolutely nothing to do with the first advisor’s leaving. But, as soon as my current advisor signed on, there was an immediate and very noticeable thaw in how people reacted to me.

My current advisor is great – tenured, thankfully, but also just a really nice person and a scholar whose work I’ve admired for some time. And you can bet I’ll be cheering him on like crazy a couple years from now when he’s up for promotion!

(In my defense, I talked to my assigned first-year advisor when I was preparing to enter the PhD program, as well as many of his students and other students in the department, and NO ONE mentioned anything about his lack of tenure at all. The info's not available on the department website either. If no one is talking about these secret-but-well-know-problem-situations, how are students supposed to find out these kinds of things, anyway?)