Advice for the PUI theorist at mid-career

Mid-career is the period, typically a few years after tenure, in which theorists at PUI, despite having established solid research records, may find it difficult to maintain the pace of intellectual life they enjoyed pre-tenure. There are many strategies for mid-career faculty to maintain their enthusiasm and productivity, in spite of the many new duties and responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of senior faculty.

What now?

The post tenure period is an opportunity to follow your interests wherever they take you. One need not do just the things that one has done before, and may devote time to projects that are longer term and higher risk. A good way of moving into a new area, for example, is to attend conferences in the new field of interest and seek new collaborators. This strategy will also prevent one from slipping into isolation, which is unlikely to be productive.

Senior faculty have a greater opportunity to take responsibility and have a lasting influence on their institution, to use their experience and have their voice heard. It’s good to be proactive in selecting the service responsibilities you want to undertake – rather than ending up on the parking committee.

Opportunities to do professional and public service:

Mentoring young people can be one of the most satisfying activities for senior faculty because they have the opportunity to see the professional development of their junior colleagues. For example, faculty with a particular interest in teaching issues, or research techniques, may wish to lead a faculty seminar. Mentoring junior faculty also provides intellectual contact that can also help avoid isolation.

There are many institutions that afford faculty the opportunity to visit during a paid sabbatical period and these visits can be a very stimulating way of forging new connections or starting new projects. Some institutions particularly focused on theorists include the KITP, the Aspen Center for Physics, the Perimeter Institute (which has a special program for faculty on sabbatical), the Santa Fe Institute, the ICTP in Trieste, and the Institute for Nuclear Theory at the University of Washington. Fulbright and Humboldt fellowships offer funding that may be used to fund such visits or extend a one-semester sabbatical to a full year. The FaST program enables a faculty member to take up to three students to a national lab. (Also, look at the Anacapa Society list of funding sources for further funding and visit opportunities.)

Some faculty use the post-tenure period to develop a side interest into a full-blown project. Such interests can be very interdisciplinary, making connections beyond the sciences into the arts, humanities and social sciences. PUIs lend themselves to such collaborations because of the close interactions with colleagues in other departments and divisions.

The Anacapa Society hopes to help support faculty throughout their careers and hopes to help mid-career faculty take advantage of some of the many positive opportunities described above, as well as many others.