Pre-tenure faculty do an awful lot of worrying about getting tenure, but my general feeling has been that it’s not rocket science. Publish, bring in grant money, don’t completely suck at teaching, and help out the department once in a while, right? At two years in, I’m pretty solid in the last three, but it’s been brought to my attention that the fact I haven’t published any new data yet is a matter of concern.
Now, it obviously varies by field and by lab, but for the kind of work I do the idea that you could walk into an empty space, buy everything you need, hire people, train people, optimize techniques, run experiments, analyze data, prepare a manuscript AND make it all the way through peer review in 2 years is pure fantasy–even if you weren’t also writing grants and teaching undergrads at the same time. So I was pretty surprised to hear so soon that this is something people are talking about. When I pushed for a little more information, I learned that the assumption isn’t that we’re sitting around playing Candy Crush all day, but that I’m “saving” our data for a high-profile paper, and that I should re-think my publishing strategy in order to get something out ASAP.
I’ll be honest, it never occurred to me to have a “publishing strategy.” My plan when I got the keys to the lab was to do the experiments I wanted to do the most, and take it from there. I’m not holding out for a Nature paper, but nor do I want my lab to spend their time doing a couple of crap experiments for the sake of publishing. These first few years are when I truly define myself as an independent scientist, and I want to create a body of work that is both noticed and respected.
I don’t like the feeling that my department is worried about my productivity, but I still feel pretty sure that I’m doing things the right way. I know that by the time I actually turn in my tenure dossier (in 3 years!), we’re definitely going to have a bunch of papers. We just submitted our first to a nice society journal, and have 2 smaller ones that should be good to go by the end of the summer. Things are progressing! But I wonder, should I have had a more concrete “strategy” coming into this gig, or is most folks’ goal just to have a solid packet by the time tenure decisions roll around?