A First-Gen Academic's 3-Step Roadmap to Tenure


In 2017, a part-time adjunct instructor commenced teaching at both Glendale Community College and California State University, Los Angeles.

Armed with two degrees and the distinction of being the first in their family to attend and graduate from college, they were acutely aware of the challenges ahead. Despite their academic achievements, securing a stable career remained elusive, reminiscent of the paycheck-to-paycheck struggle of their immigrant father.

A First-Gen Academic's 3-Step Roadmap to Tenure

(Photo : PEXELS / Andrea Piacquadio)

Yearning for a full-time tenure-track position, they faced a steep learning curve about the tenure-track process, compounded by the lack of guidance tailored to first-gen college graduates and children of immigrants like themselves. This dearth of information fueled their imposter syndrome, making them question their qualifications and path.

Many barriers unique to first-generation academics complicate the tenure-track journey. They often lack the insider knowledge and networks that other applicants take for granted. Moreover, the traditional academic route may be unfamiliar, as their roles within immigrant families are often reversed-they guide and support their parents rather than the other way around.

Navigating conference proposals, acceptance, and networking at conferences can be particularly daunting for first-gen academics, especially women of color. It's like walking down a dark hallway, relying solely on intuition, with no map or guiding strategies. Despite their qualifications, the unspoken rules and hidden guidelines of academia can leave them feeling lost.

Transparency is vital in addressing these challenges within the tenure-track process. First-gen academics must be equipped with the knowledge and strategies to navigate this path successfully. Drawing from their experience, they outline a three-step approach to help first-gen academics secure a tenure-track position:

Step 1: Laying the Groundwork

  • Collaborate: Engage with faculty and departments, and partner with instructors at other colleges.
  • Join committees: Participate in campus committees to understand college-wide issues and initiatives.
  • Apply for additional stipends: Pursue funding for projects and engagement in college initiatives.
  • Attend and present at conferences: Stay informed and network within your field.
  • Be curious and ask questions: Seek guidance and information from experienced academics.
  • Attend career services workshops: Utilize resources for a successful job search.
  • Understand your student population: Gain insight by taking on unique challenges or learning experiences.

READ MORE: Women And People Of Color On Tenure Track Increasing, But Promotion Disparities Persist, Says New Report 

Step 2: Strategies While Applying

  • Customize your application: Match your resume and cover letter to the job description and the institution's mission.
  • Revise and seek feedback: Have multiple people review your application materials.
  • Use references strategically: Select references who can speak to different aspects of your work.

Step 3: Strategies for Interviews

  • Research the institution: Understand its mission, strengths, and challenges.
  • Prepare a bullet list: Highlight key points you want to convey during the interview.
  • Strategically answer questions: Use a structured approach to your responses.
  • Use the powerful pause: Take time to think before responding.
  • Focus on "did/doing/will do": Highlight your past, current, and future contributions.
  • Practice your teaching demo: Make it interactive and innovative.

By following these steps and strategies, they were able to secure a tenure-track position, becoming the first Armenian-American tenured instructor in their division. Their hope is that these insights and recommendations will empower other first-gen academics to navigate the tenure-track process successfully, ultimately contributing to a more diverse and inclusive academic landscape.

RELATED ARTICLE: Harvard's Non-Tenured Academic Workers Form Union To Improve Pay, Job Security, And Parental Rights 

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