Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tenure at MIT: Part 2. How to set junior faculty up for success

One more excerpt from the same article we saw in the previous post -- Unraveling Tenure at MIT -- about that great institution's approach towards its junior faculty, and how that translates into setting them up for success. This is something that our own institutions appear to do grudgingly and sub-optimally; some of you may already know that this is a pet theme of mine -- see here, here, here.

Part of the reason for MIT’s warmth toward tenure candidates is that it is in departments’ interests for them to succeed. For one, the recruitment process requires time and resources, and it’s often costly to support new junior faculty. They require lab space, some need a couple million dollars for lab equipment and help with funding before securing outside grants, and there may also be relocation costs for the faculty and their families. [Bold emphasis added]

“It’s expensive to hire a junior faculty member, amongst anything else, so we want to make sure that the investment in the junior faculty member is repaid, and the repayment is that they stay on as a senior faculty member,” says Sive.

But the departments’ friendliness toward new untenured faculty extend beyond financial reasons. “I tell the junior faculty that they are really the most important faculty at MIT because in twenty years’ time they’re going to be running the Institute... So there is tremendous, tremendous goodwill on the part of the senior faculty to help the junior faculty succeed,” says Sive.

Hudson felt the wholehearted support of the Physics Department. “The department is really amazingly friendly,” he says. “For some reason I think there’s this perception from the outside that because it’s hard to get tenure here that it’s somehow mean, and it is not at all like that.”

The generosity of his senior colleagues went beyond any of his expectations. When Hudson first arrived at MIT, he was assigned lab space in Building 24, but because of construction, there was no room for him to work for the time being. So, a couple of professors offered up their own facilities to him.

“That would never happen anywhere else,” said Hudson brightly. “They gave up their lab to me for like six months! That was like, ‘Welcome to MIT’!”


  1. Wavefunction said...

    This makes the process sound quite welcoming and while I am sure there is truth to this, a friend of mine who is a mechanical engineering professor at MIT also indicated that the review can be quite grueling and unsparing.