USFA e-letter: When to go for tenure or promotion – Eleventh in a series

It has come to our attention that junior faculty have been counseled by not to publish results from their PhD thesis, as the various standards require that tenure and promotion candidates provide “compelling evidence that a body of high quality scholarly work has been completed beyond that demonstrated at appointment” (our emphasis).  One reading of this is that publishing thesis results is a waste of time, as the tenure decision is based solely on research started since appointment.

The case can be made that a paper arising from a thesis, co-authored and submitted for publication with a saintly and nurturing supervisor prior to appointment, where the letter of acceptance is received after appointment, should not form part of the case file. However, it is important to publish work from your thesis, and the following examples provide rationales as to why such work should form part of the case file.

For one thing, a publication from a PhD thesis, whether written before or after appointment, demonstrates to Tri-Council and other granting agencies your ability to publish in peer-reviewed venues, and could be important for establishing your research profile.

Secondly, circumstances may have been such there was no time to write up anything for publication between your defense and the start of your appointment. Independently preparing this work for peer-reviewed venues, submitting it, and getting it accepted, may demonstrate independent scholarly work.

Thirdly, your supervisor may not have been contributed much to your actual results. You may have learned your research skills during your MSc experience, and your PhD, from posing the problem to answering it, was done independently, with your supervisor providing guidance, facilities, support, and mentoring, but not necessary contributing to the intellectual property. In such cases, work published from the PhD since appointment should form part of the case file, as the work was completed since appointment.

Finally, a PhD thesis may strike a rich vein of new knowledge that has the potential to generate interesting results for years to come.  Many of the world’s greatest scholars have spent a great career pursuing a problem that began in graduate school.

To sum up, while it remains critical that a junior faculty member demonstrate scholarly independence and momentum, work published from the thesis subsequent to appointment may make valuable contributions to knowledge, and in many cases, it should be possible to have it form part of the case. However, your case file should provide a rationale for including it.