PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer – Thriving on the tenure track in the Netherlands
This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.
These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.
If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better – and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!
What is it like to be on the tenure track in the Netherlands? Generally, the tenure track system is similar to the system in other countries. Perhaps one of the differences with the tenure track system in the United States is that the decision to receive tenure and the decision to be promoted to associate professor are separate in the Netherlands: you can earn tenure as an assistant professor and wait a few years before going up for associate.
The tenure track can be a stressful period of time. Not having a permanent contract, not knowing if you will get to remain at your university, and wanting to be “excellent” all can add pressure on early career researchers. Indeed, the internationalization of research makes the definition of “excellent” even more confusing. While in the past, a researcher could measure themself to those around them, a researcher now is “competing” with all other researchers internationally when it comes to being considered “excellent”.
With that in mind, what can you do to thrive during your years on the tenure track? Here are a few points to consider:
- Understand the requirements: As the tenure track system is relatively new in the Netherlands, sometimes it is entirely clear what the requirements are. While these confusions have been generally cleared up in the past years, you still need to make sure you really know what is expected from you. Do you need to get your University Teaching Qualification during your TT years? Do you need to get a certain level of English proficiency? Are you expected to bring in x amount of money? Is there a tacit expectation for a certain number of publications per year or a certain value of hi-index?
- Know what you stand for: If a member of the tenure and promotion committee or your aunt asks you what you work on, you should be able to answer in a few sentences would your research is about and what it contributes to the world, and you should be able to summarize your main research line in a few words. Try to avoid the error of jumping on whatever project you get invited for and not have a “brand” for yourself as a researchers. As for me, I’m the gal who likes breaking bridges for the sake of science – pleased to meet you.
- Develop good relationships with your colleagues: Cal Newport titled his first book “So good they can’t ignore you”. I’d invite you to be “so kind and useful that they can’t miss you”. Not in a sense that you take on the work for everybody around you, but in the way that you are fully embedded in your research group, that you have good relationships with your colleagues, and that you are a trustworthy member of the team. You also need senior people in your group to strongly support your case for tenure.
- Network at various levels: Develop a strong network: nationally, with industry and government partners, and internationally. Make sure you set up new collaborations, become involved in technical committees (if that is important in your field, as it is in mine), and become known as Dr. You instead of “the former PhD candidate of Dr. Famous Professor”.
- Think in terms of your writing: Scholarship and publications tend to be important in a tenure decision. If that’s the case for you, put your writing at the front and center. Reserve time on your calendar to write. Think about your research in terms of the projects you can do to develop the papers you want to write (and make the contribution to your field you want to make). Arrange thesis projects around topics you are truly interested in for your writing – and you can even leverage your teaching for your writing.
- Lean on your skills: While it is good to develop new skills at any time during your career, find a balance between the techniques you want to learn and what you are good at. Lean towards tasks (especially for leadership and service) that align with your interests and skills.
- Develop checklists for repetitive tasks: For activities that may be repetitive in nature, you can develop checklists or program routines to get these done more quickly. I use email rules to sort emails into folders and reply to mails in different folders during different assigned time slots. I have checklists of everything I do for each course at the beginning of the semester to make sure everything is up and running quickly.
- Find balance between all responsibilities: Research, writing, teaching, applying for grants, traveling to conferences, admin, service, emails, committees, supervising students – professors have a lot on their plate. Try to find a balance between all your responsibilities so that the important things don’t get crowded out by the urgent tasks. I use a weekly template to keep a balance.
- Take good care of yourself: More than anything, don’t let the tenure track hurt you. Don’t let it damage your (mental or physical) health, don’t lose sleep over your emails, and don’t neglect your interests and friends. Find time to eat, move, and sleep, and keep your social life, relationships, hobbies, volunteering activities and more at the center of your leisure time. At the end of the day, the tenure track is just a job like any other – and you will still be you, with or without tenure.