This post is the first in a series about dealing with failure as an academic. As I write this post, I am beginning my twelfth year as a full-time faculty member. I love being a professor, but the journey thus far has not been free of potholes and detours. I previously shared this story as a Twitter thread, but provide it here to be more easily found by readers later.
A Great Story in the Making
This story begins series which could be seen as one that should conclude the series, has it has all of the hallmarks of a great story. The hero (me) starts off strong, then immediately experiences a struggle. The hero quickly recovers to help advance the story, falls in love, then more struggles. And finally, after some well-narrated soul-searching, the hero ends up where he feels successful. I prefer stories that aren’t linear sequences of events. So, I’ll start with what we could assume would be the ending and go from there:
In 2013, I was denied tenure. Talk about the ultimate in academic failure. I was in my sixth year on the tenure track at Louisiana State University. In October, my department chair asked me to schedule a meeting with me. During that meeting he shared the report from the department’s tenure committee, and the vote was overwhelmingly against me. If you’d like to hear my thoughts about what led to that vote, let’s get a beer sometime. I was being denied tenure. It hit me hard. I felt like a complete failure. I considered looking for jobs in student affairs again, and considered leaving higher ed altogether, but I didn’t want that one failure to define me. My goal had been to teach in a higher ed program since May 2000, and I wasn’t going to let other people keep me from living that goal.
More to Come
In the rest of the posts in this series, I’ll explore the steps I take to help me rebound from academic failure: Reflect, Reevaluate, Determine my Purpose, Connect with Others. Through each of these posts, I’ll offer perspectives of my efforts to rebound, and build resiliency in the face of academic failures. I’ll touch on my tenure process experiences, job searches, and scholarly production. Join me over the next four weeks for a new post in the series each week.