Tips on Getting Tenure—From Those Who’ve Done It

Knowing your school well is key, professors say.

April 12, 2016

It’s tough to be a new accounting professor. As the new kid on the block, you must prove yourself to peers and students, keep abreast of standards, and deal with mounds of paperwork and departmental politics. But nothing compares to the anxiety of that ticking clock: Tenure.

“For a young professor, it’s very stressful,” said Nicholas Mastracchio Jr., CPA, Ph.D., an associate professor of accounting at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USF). Mastracchio knows more about the tenure process than most: He’s gone through it twice, most recently at USF, and, decades earlier in his career, at the University of Albany.

Professors who don’t get approved for tenure by the end of their fifth year or so usually have to make a major career adjustment. Passed-over professors must leave if they are at institutions with an “up or out” approach to tenure. Even if a school lets passed-over professors stay, they often find the situation extremely uncomfortable and many leave voluntarily to try to obtain tenure elsewhere.

Gaining tenure brings with it peer recognition, a new title, a bump in pay, and a chance to breathe once that goal has been reached. But getting there can be grueling. Professors must endure performance reviews that scrutinize numerous activities and achievements: research and publication, usually in academic (and sometimes professional) journals; an affirmation of teaching excellence from peers and students; and college and community service. Requirements for tenure differ at each institution, but most look for all of these components, with various degrees of emphasis.

So how do you prepare for tenure, and ensure you are on the right path? Mastracchio and newly tenured faculty members Nelson Alino, CPA, an associate professor of accounting at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and Jason Haen, CPA, an assistant professor of accounting at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, offer the following tips for success:

Know yourself and your environment. Before you accept a teaching post, make sure you fit into that environment and can handle the expectations needed to gain tenure, particularly since each institution varies. “This process is not easy,” Alino said of gaining tenure. “Make sure you are taking a job you want.”

Find out how heavily each of the three main criteria for tenure—research, teaching, and service—is weighted at your school. Likewise, when it comes to publications, some universities value quality and others value quantity.

To improve their chances of publication, some new professors collaborate with seasoned academics who have already been published—but not all schools favor collaboration. “Here, at least, they like to see some sole authorship to make sure you are not just riding on coattails, but quite honestly, it does help to work with at least one other author until you are comfortable with the research process,” said Haen, who received tenure in February.

Begin the research process early—even before you are hired. Researching and getting published can take years, so don‘t wait to get started. “Identify a subject area that you feel you can succeed in and one that interests the profession. Many times that can be an expansion of your dissertation,” Mastracchio said.

Present at conferences—but prioritize publications. By offering presentations on your research at various conferences, you will gain needed visibility and feedback, which can help you get articles published. However, Mastracchio noted, conferences are no substitute for publications. “They are nice to have on your résumé, but won’t buy you tenure,” he said of conference presentations. “You really need to have those publications.”

This Issues in Accounting Education article provides an overview of teaching and research expectations for faculty at different types of institutions (subscription required).

Get involved. Know what your school is looking for in terms of service—whether it prefers to see you serve on a local committee or a national board, for instance. The easiest way to meet the requirement is through committee work, Haen said: “That is where you get to interact with people outside of accounting and business.” Haen served on various committees at St. Norbert, including on the school’s Honor Board, which he said tied in well to his research on ethics. “University-wide committees have the benefit of allowing you to get to know more people on campus,” he said.

Mastracchio, who has served on the AICPA Auditing Standards Board and Board of Examiners, recommended serving on professional accounting boards at the state or national level.

But don’t overlook less-traditional forms of service: Along with joining numerous university committees, Alino helped start a volunteer tax preparation program for low-income families in his community, which increased his visibility with the press, school, and community.

Keep your teaching evaluation scores high. To keep your teaching evaluations strong, make sure your syllabus is clear and students receive no surprises, and be a fair grader, Mastracchio said. Be confident in class. “Make sure you are teaching accounting because you really love accounting,” Haen said, and make sure that comes through during class to your students, because your enthusiasm will likely help boost your student evaluations.

Alino had another piece of advice. “Be conscious of the group of students you have every semester,” he said. “What works for one group of students may not be what works in the next semester with different students.”

Accounting professor Joe Hoyle’s teaching blog about the 14 qualities of a great teacher also contains excellent advice on how to engage students and improve your teaching.

Be easy to work with. Demonstrate to your fellow faculty members that you are a collegial person. An arrogant attitude could hurt your chances of gaining tenure. Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s advice column in Inside Higher Ed has some helpful suggestions for managing personal interactions (and maintaining your sanity) during the year you’re up for tenure.

“You have to find yourself working well with everyone around you, more than anything,” Alino said. “Once you have that taken care of, the rest is easy.”

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, send email to lead editor Courtney Vien at

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