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The ticking tenure clock

Pandemic’s effects on nurse educators’ careers

The COVID-19 pandemic threw sand in the gears of the so-called “tenure clocks” for junior faculty and exacerbated disparities for groups already facing challenges to advancement in their academic careers, according to a paper co-authored by Sabrina Pickens, PhD, MSN, GNP-BC, ANP-BC, an assistant professor in Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth’s Department of Research. 

A tenure clock is the amount of time prescribed by an academic institution for a post-doctoral faculty member to earn tenure. During this time, tenure-track faculty are expected to conduct and publish research, serve on committees, grow as educators, and meet other milestones of productivity and advancement. 

“In the past year, a lot of faculty in academia had their research put on hold, and it affected their productivity as far as advancing on the tenure clock,” Pickens explained. 

Some obstacles seemed universal, with labs closing, patients dropping out of studies, and travel restrictions preventing new PhD graduates from beginning fellowships. Impediments proved even greater for many scholars already disadvantaged by racial or gender disparities. 

“Females with young children were greatly impacted because childcare facilities were closed,” Pickens remarked. “They’re working from home and managing their children and their children’s schedules plus trying to maintain productivity for their faculty position.” 

Researching this topic in the midst of the pandemic meant scouring articles, news releases, and the results of small-scale studies, Pickens said. “I really wasn’t grasping how much the pandemic was impacting faculty members working toward tenure until I started reading through all of these articles.” 

The paper, titled “Impact of COVID-19 on Tenure Clocks, the Evaluation of Productivity, and Academic STEMM Career Trajectories,” was commissioned by the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine and published as a chapter in the book “Academic STEMM Labor Market, Productivity, and Institutional Responses.” Lead author Felicia Jefferson, PhD, is an associate professor of biology at Fort Valley State University in Georgia.

Photo courtesy Getty Images.

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Dr. Sabrina Pickens
Dr. Sabrina Pickens