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Communications of the ACM

ACM Careers

Tenure Denial, and How Early-Career Researchers Can Survive It


tenure denied, illustration

Sibrina Collins felt humiliated when she learnt that her application for tenure had been denied. "That was an extremely painful experience," she says. "I was really, really down about it."

The inorganic chemist says that she had received positive two-year performance reviews at the College of Wooster in Ohio, and was shocked by the tenure rejection in her sixth year. But a group of friends whom Collins calls her "personal board of directors" helped to cushion the pain. They told her to "look for the positive" in her tenure review.

And she found some. "The area where I was seeing some really nice results was in my scholarship," she says. "My scholarship focuses on STEM education, and on diversity, pedagogy, and engaging students. So I realized that my next role had to allow me to focus on education and diversity in STEM. I didn't see being denied tenure as a blessing, but having that door closed put me on a path to doing something I really enjoy."

Collins is a rare example of a scientist willing to speak on the record about her tenure denial. Over four months, just seven scientists agreed to speak about their experiences.

Researchers who agreed to speak on the record say that it is crucial that scientists maintain an active professional network, be as visible as possible through attending and speaking at conferences and within their institutions, and remain open to all career paths.

From Nature
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