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Dear Early Career

Is it beneficial to pause the tenure clock after the arrival of a baby?

Assistant Professor

Dear Assistant Professor,

I am a tenured associate professor in mathematics at the Ohio State University and mother of two young children, and I chose not to pause the tenure clock. However, one of my colleagues in a similar position decided to pause the clock twice on account of the birth of her two children. So, why do some people decide to pause the clock while others do not?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question, and it depends on personal circumstances and the culture of your department, but I’ll share the information that I have gathered on the topic. Ultimately, I hope this article acts as a catalyst for further dialog.

The tenure evaluation process for assistant professors takes place after a fixed period of time that is usually specified when the candidate is hired. During this time, the candidate is expected to produce a portfolio that reflects their productivity and contributions, their “brand” really, as an academic and member of the department. If you stop doing research while taking care of a new baby, it may make it difficult to meet research expectations for tenure. Pausing the clock is a way of “erasing” this inactive period from your CV when you go up for tenure. The idea being that no research is expected during this time.

There are primarily two types of tenure clock stopping policies. Gender-neutral policies offer equal benefits to both new mothers and fathers, while female-only policies are only available to women. For a discussion of the pros and cons of the two different types of policies see 1. Note that pausing the tenure clock is distinct from taking leave. If your university offers paid leave or a semester course release, then take advantage of this.

My first son was born shortly before I was eligible to go up for tenure, and I felt that my file was already in good shape for promotion. I did not want to spend another year worrying about it, and so I chose not to pause the clock. If I had my children at the beginning of my tenure-track position, I may have chosen differently.

My aforementioned female colleague, however, had both of her children in the early years of her assistant professorship. From talking with her, I got the impression that stopping the clock was a necessity. When asked about her decision, she said, “it was imperative that I extend the clock as I did not get much of a break to rebound back health/work wise quickly…. I would encourage others to extend the clock since it ends up being difficult to get back into the swing of research after having a child (although, the time and effort of being a parent never ceases even after the year of giving a birth). And by doing so, this allows the option to become more of a norm for other women without stigmatizing them.”

I strongly encourage you to talk with other parents at your university to hear about their experiences. Be assertive and don’t hesitate to ask for advice about how and what to ask for when discussing your situation with your chair or dean. Did they get a course release? Did they take paid leave? Also, if possible, find someone in your department who already paused the clock and ask them if it was worth it. You may also talk to your human resources department to learn about your university’s offerings to support the birth or adoption of a child.

Deciding to pause the tenure clock or not depends largely on your individual circumstances, including the culture of your department and the timing of the arrival of your baby. Stopping the clock will mean you get tenure later, but you will have more time to bolster your record. On the other hand, if you are confident that your academic file is already in good shape for tenure, then you may decide not to stop the clock. This comes with the benefit of being promoted earlier and having the task of getting your file together for tenure off your plate. For ideas on keeping the momentum going while on parental leave, see this piece by Yumeng Ou 2. Congratulations on the addition to your family, and best of luck in your research endeavors.

References

[1]
Heather Antecol, Kelly Bedard, and Jenna Stearns, Equal but inequitable: Who benefits from gender-neutral tenure clock-stopping policies?, American Economic Review 108 (2018), no. 9, 2420–2441.
[2]
Yumeng Ou, Keep the Momentum Going: Planning for Publishing While on Parental Leave, https://www.ams.org/journals/notices/202110/rnoti-p1758.pdf.

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