Promotion & tenure tips: The fall season

“Everything will change. The only question is growing up or decaying.”

Nikki Giovanni

I so love the fall season! I love everything about it, college football, cooler weather, fashion week, and the color change of the leaves. The fall season reminds me of the importance of transition. It’s kinda funny because as much as I love the seasonal transitions, professional transitions can be difficult. Regardless of whether it is a welcomed transition or not, i.e., moving to a new position or simply a new institution is tough.

When most of us entered the academy as assistant professors we figured we would simply move through the ranks and spend our full professor years at the institution where we started. As nice as it sounds, there are very few that remain in the same institution. We transition out at different stages of rank – assistant, associate, or full, at different positions – faculty, department chair, dean, provost, president and to different organizations – higher education, national organizations, industry, or government agencies.

The fall season is the time in academia when new positions and opportunities are posted. It is truly primetime for those seeking to transition. If you don’t believe me, check out the multitude of faculty and administrative opportunities available. Or better yet, think about colleagues reaching out to you for nomination letters or letters of recommendation. During the months of August and September, I am typically asked about the perfect time to transition out of a current position to a new sought out position. The questions range from how do I know if this is the right time to what is the right position for me? Well, truth be told, my response is “I am not sure, what are your thoughts?” I then follow up by asking the person to be reflective of their long-term professional goals and present day accomplishments. This is vitally important. Before seeking a new opportunity, you have to be clear as to why you are seekin it. In addition, you should be very clear about what you have to offer to a new position. The two work in concert.

Timing is important in all transitions. Think about it. The leaves fall or change at a specific time. You don’t see leaves changing colors in June right? The same is true for you. If you don’t think tenure/promotion is in the cards or you just flat out don’t want to go through the process at your present location, well, perhaps it is time. There are plenty of people that leave an institution without tenure or promotion to enter another institution to gain it. For those of you looking for leadership positions, that too takes time. I knew a woman that spent the better part of 6 months interviewing before she landed a position that aligned with her leadership goals and prowess.

Here are some additional thoughts:

Consider the transition. Every higher education institution has its unique context. As you begin your search, make sure you consider the context. That means, if you prefer to work at a HBCU then stick with that; if you prefer a R1, stick with it. Transitioning to a new institution can be a steep learning curve by itself, unless you are looking for a serious change, stick with what you love!

  1. Familiarize yourself with the institution. I suggest contacting the department to see if you can give a seminar. Keep in mind they may not be able to pay you, but at least you will get a “feel” for the department, the students, and the faculty.
  2. Look at the institution’s mission. Mission alignment is key to becoming a part of the institution’s community. Either through speaking with people at the institution or through independent research, dig into what the college or university’s mission is, and think about how you can personally relate to that mission. Think about what allegiance to that mission looks and sounds like, and ensure that you want to orient your energy toward trying to carry out that mission for the school.
  3. Network and use your contacts. People often overlook networking, but getting yourself in front of the right people and building relationships with them can be a huge leg up in all aspects of your career. Having useful contacts who can vouch for your skills can be invaluable.
  4. Understand and optimize your skill set. You may have experience using specific systems, student databases, etc. Think about your specific skills and the ways in which you could use them in a new position.

Yes, during the fall, the leaves fall and the branches become bare and vulnerable, but without this transition, we would not be able to see the beautiful scenery underneath and often hidden by the lush foliage. The same is true for us. Thinking about making a transition gives us the opportunity to pull back the curtain –or simply to let the leaves fall so that we can be clear about how we see ourselves in our current position.

Use this fall season to take in your professional beauty. Come to terms with any transition you are considering. Embrace the bareness — seeing exactly who you are and then make your


09/2021: The Fall Season | graphic via

Pamela Leggett-Robinson

Pamela Leggett-Robinson is the CEO and Executive Director for PLR Consulting in Atlanta, GA. PLR Consulting is a boutique Program Development, Management, and Evaluation firm that works with organizations and institutions that seek to address multi-faceted obstacles confronting historically and presently marginalized groups in STEM environments and optimize current STEM...