Schrödinger’s Cat and the Tenure Vote

13 September 2013, 0855 EDT

As I post this today, senior faculty in my department are voting on my tenure case. I don’t really know how to describe what I’m feeling at the moment.  It’s a combination of zen-like calm that I’m finally at this juncture in my career and a feeling of total and utter panic at the small-but-ever-present chance that things could go wrong. The odd thing: it’s not that I’m oscillating between these two states -I feel both at the same time. In a very real way, I’m Schrödinger’s cat: although I can’t be both tenured and denied at this university – at this very moment – I’m both.

How did it come to this?  I’m still shocked I made it to this juncture – I’m really not that smart.  For crying out loud – I still sometimes have to Google the difference between “affect” and “effect” before sending papers out for review.  However, I’ve been blessed in this process with two things: (1) a significant other who wouldn’t put up with my bullshit and (2) a grad program that trained me well.  Regardless of whether I’m voted up for tenure or denied at the end of today,[1] these two things put me into the position of getting a PhD and getting a tenure-track job.  Without this outside support, there is no question: I would not be Schrödinger’s cat today.

First, the significant other: I’d like to say that a favorable tenure outcome would mean that I’ve somehow “done it” or “made it.”  I haven’t.  At many times – even post-tenure track job – I’ve debated whether I was cut out this.  When I got my first job, I actually was so worried that I wouldn’t ever get any research accepted that I looked into the requirements for high school teaching.  At many, many times over the last few years, my spouse has had to call me out on my feelings of inadequacy.  He’s also been the most ardent supporter of female academics and work-life balance I’ve ever been around.[2]  Support systems are important and I hope everyone in this profession finds one that works for them.

Second, I’ll make one caveat to the no longer debatable fact that prestige matters in the discipline: prestige of grad school matters, but so does actually having people that care about you as a person.  Sometimes, these things go together.  Sometimes, however, they do not.  By almost pure luck, I attended a grad program that trained me to think like a political scientist but also helped me become a professional – and just an all-around better person.  I was also lucky to find jobs at universities with great mentors who have helped me through the sporadic rough-patches in my early years in this profession.  These places provided me with fantastic opportunities for feedback, coauthorship, engaging lunch conversations, and the occasional let’s-all-leave-work-early-and-get-a-beer.  I’m excited to “pay it forward” with my grad students and junior faculty members.

I’m not sure of how others felt when they were up for tenure but, at least for me, it seems like a great opportunity to reflect on how I got here.  And, so, right now, I’m simultaneously tenured and denied.  I’m also tremendously grateful to have had the opportunity to be either.

[1] And, of course, the process is not over at the end of today.  It’s a really long process, with lots of bursts of activity followed by long pauses.

[2] I’d like to take this opportunity to publically apologize for my various political science- related offenses against my significant other, including: (1) being gone on part of a Mother’s Day, three whole birthdays, two Valentine’s Days and various weekends for conferences/job talks, (2) dragging him to ICPSR twice (one time where I arranged for us to stay in an extended stay hotel with one bed, 2 toddlers, and questionable electricity for a month), and (3) constantly bringing work home with me and unloading about the publication process.  Regardless of today’s decision, I’m sorry – it probably won’t change at all– but please know that I’m so appreciative of the continued support.