Most tenure-track ecology profs hired around 2015 still hold the same positions in 2021

A few years ago, I reviewed all the data I could find on tenure rates in the US and Canada. The results were broadly reassuring to anyone holding a tenure-track (TT) faculty position in those countries: most TT faculty achieve tenure, either where they were originally hired or else after choosing to move elsewhere. But many of those data are now a decade old or more, and they aren’t specific to ecology. So I decided to procrastinate on real work perform a modest public service and compile some up-to-date, ecology-specific data.

Several years ago, I tried to identify every ecologist hired into a TT asst. professor position in the US or Canada during the 2015-16 job season (or in a few cases in 2014). I did this using public information on department webpages, Google Scholar pages, public social media profiles, etc. Some of those profs just came up for tenure, and others will very soon. So I went back and checked whether ecologists hired into TT asst. professor positions in the US and Canada in 2015-16 still hold those same positions in 2021.*

Obviously, this isn’t actually data on tenure rates. Some of these profs may not have come up for tenure yet, in part because some may have had their tenure clocks extended due to the pandemic or for other reasons. And as that previous link documents, by far the most common reason for leaving a TT faculty position before coming up for tenure is to move to another TT faculty position. So some ecology profs who no longer hold the TT positions into which they were hired in 2015-16 may have, or shortly will, go on to tenure elsewhere. But still, if most TT ecology profs hired in 2015-16 still hold those same positions in 2021, that’s at least consistent with most of them having gotten tenure, or being on track to do so.

And in fact, most TT ecology profs hired in 2015-16 (or in a few cases in 2014) do still hold those same positions in 2021. Specifically, of the 70 positions I haphazardly checked, 57 (81%) are still held by the people hired to fill them back in 2015-16, or in a few cases in 2014. Further, at least 29 of those 57 are now associate profs. Promotion to associate professor ordinarily accompanies (or in some cases precedes) tenure. I say “at least” 29 of 57, because it’s possible that some folks have been promoted, but their department’s website hasn’t yet been updated with this information. 11 positions out of 70 (16%) apparently are no longer held by the person who was hired back in 2015-16 (or in a few cases in 2014). There are 2 positions out of 70 that I’m unsure about.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in the true number being exactly 81%. This isn’t a massive sample; that 81% number has error bars on it. But whatever the true percentage is, it’s clearly high–definitely way above 50%.

There are no obvious patterns in which people still hold the positions into which they were hired in 2015-16. Though the sample size is small, so you wouldn’t expect to detect any patterns unless they were super-strong, and if you did detect such a pattern you’d worry that it was a type M error. FWIW, it’s not that most/all of the positions no longer held by the original hire are at a particular type of institution (R1 university, bachelor’s college, whatever). As best I could tell from public information (such as pronoun use on personal websites), there’s no gender imbalance in who still holds the position into which they were hired in 2015-16. Etc.

One thing I wonder is whether the pandemic prevented some TT ecologists from moving. The pandemic and associated recession tanked the academic job market. You can’t move to another TT job if there aren’t any jobs to move to. And the recession happened right around the time that profs hired in 2015-16 would’ve been most likely to change jobs. So perhaps in the absence of the pandemic, that 81% number would’ve been a bit lower?

These data don’t surprise me at all. Do they surprise you? Looking forward to your comments.

*Stupidly (in retrospect), I didn’t actually record the names of the new hires the first time around, only some other bits of information about them. So revisiting the data involved re-identifying people. Which is why the only information I have is whether or not each TT ecologist hired in 2015-16 still holds the same position. If they don’t, I don’t know who they are (except in one case), so have no information on whether or not they currently hold another faculty position elsewhere, or on why they don’t still hold the position into which they were hired in 2015-16.

2 thoughts on “Most tenure-track ecology profs hired around 2015 still hold the same positions in 2021

  1. The screening at hiring is effective. We are choosing very talented and accomplished people for tenure track positions. I think the default expectation should be success. The sad thing might be how many talented and accomplished people don’t get the opportunity.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what’s going on here. It’s not that you can just slack off once you’re hired, knowing that tenure is already a foregone conclusion! It’s that there’s a competitive market for tenure-track jobs, so that whoever ends up getting the job is likely to be able and willing to do the job well. The other piece is that most universities want their new TT hires to succeed. So they mostly set achievable expectations for tenure, and mostly provide adequate support for their new TT hires to meet those expectations.

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