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Junior candidates should have (i) a Ph.D. degree (by the time of reporting for duty) in related fields; and (ii) high potential in teaching and research. Junior appointments will usually be made on a contract basis for up to three years initially, leading to longer-term appointments or tenure later subject to review.

Suppose, after three years the employer finds that the candidate didn't perform as expected, and hence the candidate fails to obtain a tenure.

What would be the implication for the candidate as far as his/her career in academia is concerned? How would his/her next potential employers see this?

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  • You might be interested: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/188578/…
    – Allure
    Aug 7, 2023 at 9:46
  • This question about failing to get tenure has been asked several times before.
    – Dawn
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:08
  • Maybe the difference is the 3-year formal review is officially stated. Everywhere I have worked has had a third year formal review. It is basically to check for sufficient progress toward tenure. I don’t know anyone who got tenure at the 3rd year review. I know people who were asked to leave because they were not making progress.
    – Dawn
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:09

3 Answers 3

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"Next potential employers" will likely consider your research and teaching credentials (rather than whether you were not tenured in your 3-year position).

For example: You do not get tenure at Harvard. You apply to places the next tier down. Many of them will be happy to get you (depending on your publications).

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This answer applies to the US, perhaps elsewhere, but I have no explicit knowledge.

A three year conditional contract that doesn't result in tenure at the end is usually followed by another. Tenure will seldom be awarded after the first three year contract but if no progress is made there might not be a second try. After six years a decision is made. If the candidate fails to achieve tenure then, they will usually get a terminal one year contract in which they are expected to find employment elsewhere.

It is possible that someone fails to gain tenure simply because the conditions at the university have changed and they can not commit to a long term hire. Perhaps a couple of older faculty were expected to retire but did not. Letters from department chairs and deans explaining this will help mitigate the damage for the future and could even result in strong recommendations to other places. This is usually rare, but in difficult economic conditions (COVID) it happens.

Depending on the university that fails to grant tenure, the candidate might have a hard time getting employed, especially at one with a more or less equal reputation. But, the US has a lot of colleges and universities and failing to get tenure for research might not have a lot of effect for a teaching college, many of which are excellent.

Some places will offer support for candidates along the way, coaching them in the important aspects at that university.

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The immediate consequence of not getting tenure is probably that the person's contract is not renewed and that person is now unemployed.

What that means for the future career depends on the circumstances. There are some universities that hire three or more persons on tenure track position for every tenured position available. In that case not making it is not great, but not horrible either. There are other universities where one tenure track position is filled for every tenured position and you'd have to do something pretty bad to not get that tenured position. Now not getting that postion is bad. And than there is everything in between.

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  • " Now not getting that postion is bad." why? from the point of view of the (ex-)tenure track person, not getting the "one" position or not getting the "one over n" is the same. A part from the small circle around the tenure position, no one external will know what were the chances to succesfuly complete tenure
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 7, 2023 at 9:59
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    @EarlGrey I fail to see how that's true. Around here people are fairly aware of how competitive the tenure track at different universities are. If you end up not getting tenure at a place that kicks out 2 out of 3 people it definitely looks different than being the first person to be denied tenure in recent history.
    – xLeitix
    Aug 7, 2023 at 11:58
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    @EarlGrey: Being fired from a job tends to make it harder to find other jobs. That may be unfair but it's hardly unique to academia. Aug 8, 2023 at 18:34
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    @NateEldredge Apart from the facts that (apparently) there is way less stigma in being fired from a job than not getting tenure and that not getting tenure is much more likely than being fired, you are most likely right: academia is very unfair. My personal experience is that the non-academia world is much less unfair than this, but if academians feel better knowing this, yes, also the rest of the world is unfair.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 8, 2023 at 19:11
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    No, in the vast majority of cases the immediate consequence is that the person has one year left of their contract and has one year before they will be unemployed. Aug 8, 2023 at 20:54

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