Graduate students who are interested in a career as a professor, a researcher, and an academic often want to learn how to get a tenure-track position. Tenure is a significant component of how to find a job in academia that you must consider when looking for jobs in this domain. The promise of job security through tenure can make or break an academic’s career trajectory, so it is important to begin thinking of this early. You can start with actually landing a role that is on the tenure track. Many doctoral candidates answer, “Why do you want to do a PhD?” by explaining that they want to further their research and teaching skills through a tenure-track position. Therefore, tenure can be a strong motivator for graduate students in North America and other places.

This article will outline the purpose and benefits of a tenure-track position in college and university careers. We also cover the step-by-step process to acquiring a tenure-track job and what it means to be a tenured professor in today’s higher education institutions.

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10 min read

What Are the Benefits of a Tenure-Track Position? How to Get a Tenure-Track Position: A Step-by-Step Guide What Happens Once You Have a Tenure-Track Position Conclusion FAQs

What Are the Benefits of a Tenure-Track Position?

1.    Permanency. In the world of academia, a tenure-track position is a job that puts you on the path to receiving tenure at a particular college or university. Tenure can ensure permanent employment for professors and was created to promote academic freedom in these spaces without the consequence of termination. Many students finishing graduate school and interested in academia aim for a position that will lead to tenure because it represents stability in a field that is rather tumultuous.

2.    No need to switch to industry. Achieving the milestone of tenure can take years. Some academics never receive tenure at all or move on to other types of careers that can make use of their skillset. Positions such as an adjunct professor or any fixed-term contracts may be temporary and not result in tenure. These positions are typically used by newer professors to gain experience before acquiring a proper tenure-track position. This is why many graduate students are learning how to transition from academia to industry in an attempt to expand their horizons and give themselves as many options as possible. Due to the limited number of positions available and more people receiving high-level graduate degrees overall, the job market in academic settings is generally competitive. Receiving tenure can help you stay in academia and remove the need to switch to any type of industry profession if you do not want to.

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3.    Higher salary and freedom. Tenure-track positions are coveted because receiving tenure also means a higher salary and academic freedom. If you are more interested in research, you will also have more time to dedicate to pursuing your scholarly interests. Depending on the position, you may have more or less of a teaching load. A non-tenure-track position is based primarily in teaching duties, and you are mainly evaluated on this aspect of your role. Research is not as much in the forefront, but as a result, you are contributing less to the department’s output. If you are not in a tenure-track position, there is lower academic freedom, lower earning potential, and lower job security overall when compared to a tenure-track position.

All in all, tenure can be one of the top job satisfaction factors and the ultimate goal for many academic careers. However, there are many steps you must complete before you reach this point, such as acquiring a position that is on the tenure track. Here are some concrete measures you can take to give yourself the best shot at earning a tenure-track position:

How to Get a Tenure-Track Position: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Complete a Doctorate or Master’s Degree

Many prospective graduate students are unsure if this is the best decision for their future. You may also be asking yourself “should you pursue a Master’s or a PhD?”. If you eventually want a tenure-track position, the answer is a resounding yes. Of course, there are many steps to complete before even getting a graduate degree, such as earning an undergraduate degree. You will likely need a doctorate degree, but some disciplines may only require a master’s to be considered for a tenure-track position.

Tenure-track positions usually consist of publishing research in the field and being an active participant in the university’s departmental events. There is no way to do this without a graduate degree, at the bare minimum. Due to the competitiveness of the job market, having as much training in your area of expertise as possible is key. A PhD will allow for the most research and teaching opportunities.

Step 2: Know the Job Market

One way to get started is to know the job market inside and out. Even if you are not currently looking for tenure-track positions, see what is out there to get a sense of what postings exist and what universities may be looking for. It is never too early to become acquainted with how the process works. Doing everything you can to prepare yourself is a great strategy, whether you are looking for tenure-track positions or any other type of position, such as a postdoc. The journey to finding a tenure-track position truly begins with a single search.

There are a multitude of job boards and databases that post academic jobs, such as ARIeS at Harvard University or Yale’s Academic Job Listings. Be sure to find the ones relevant to you and scour them often. Perfect any application documents you may need such as a research resume or cover letter. Brush up on your interview skills to make sure you are ready for what is to come. Attend conferences and expand your network whenever you can, as connections are one of the best ways to find out about available opportunities. Remember to always be flexible when looking for work, as there is a limited number of free positions and there may be some compromises you have to make to successfully secure a job.

Step 3: Acquire a Postdoc Position

After your graduation, completing a postdoctoral fellowship or other research position will never hurt your chances of finding a tenure-track position. Figuring out how to find a postdoc position is a process in and of itself, but it can be crucial to kickstarting your professional career now that you are out of school. A research postdoc in an academic institution can be a great experience to have under your belt when you are eventually applying to tenure-track jobs. This can also be an opportunity to acquire the support of the faculty at the school you are working in. When new academic positions open up, you can be recommended to them internally due to your current affiliation with the university.

Your dedication to furthering research is a great quality to have for acquiring tenure at a college or university. If you feel a postdoctoral commitment is essential for your growth, use your job hunting skills to secure one. Becoming familiar with postdoc interview questions will also prepare you for what is expected of you. A postdoc, especially if it is directly connected to your research interests, is an option worth looking into for those eventually seeking a tenure-track position.

Step 4: Teaching Experience

Teaching experience of all kinds and at all levels will help your chances of getting a tenure-track position. Teaching jobs can be key to learning how to find a job after grad school since many of them require advanced degrees. They can be great opportunities to get official professional experience that will be relevant to positions in higher education. You may also have had teaching assistantships during your graduate studies that could be useful to draw on when searching for additional experiences. There is also no specific time to get teaching experience, although adjunct professor or lecturer positions after your degrees will probably be the closest to the tenure-track position you will eventually be looking for. These may also be limited-term appointments that last for a pre-determined period of time. Teaching experience will help hone your skills and look good on a CV when you are applying for jobs in the future. In addition, your students will have the opportunity to evaluate you. Do everything in your power to ensure that your students are satisfied with your work. You can use the great feedback published in the evaluations to your advantage.

Step 5: Get Your Research Published

The opportunity may present itself at any time during the process, but publishing your research is an absolutely crucial way to get yourself on track for what you will be doing as a tenured professor. There is no specific time to do this, but it is a necessity. Figuring out how to publish as a graduate student and getting started as early as you can will be beneficial to you once you are on your way to a tenure-track position. Submit to academic journals that have peer-reviewed systems to achieve the best results. If you receive an acceptance, it means that other academics in your field see value in your work.

It can a take a while before the article is actually published, so submitting way before you actually need to search for tenure-track positions is necessary. Down the line, this is the evidence of your qualifications for a job in academia. Having work published will start cementing your reputation as an academic and validate your passion for whatever field you are interested in. It is important to note that publishing is probably one of the most essential steps in the journey to receiving tenure. You will likely not be considered for tenure at all if you do not have any publications to your name.

Step 6: Have Strong References

A strong reference can help you acquire any position. This is also the case for academia. Having contacts presently in the field who are aware of and passionate about your research is a great benefit to you. Whether they can be contacted as phone references or write letters of recommendation in a similar format to grad school letters of recommendation, their positive opinion of you will leave a lasting impression on anyone who is hiring. These references will be the most effective if they are within the department you wish to join or are somehow related to it. The important thing is to make sure they can attest to your candidacy for a particular role or faculty.

Step 7: Become a Tenure-Track Professor

Doing all of the above steps will give you the best shot at achieving a tenure-track position, although there are no guarantees. Many schools have both tenure-track and non-tenure-track positions available during any given cycle. While the promise of tenure might be one of the most effective employee motivation strategies, colleges and universities simply cannot offer tenure to everyone for financial or organizational reasons.

If you are looking for a tenure-track position, you will most likely be applying to assistant professor roles that are specifically classified as being on the tenure track. As you begin your post, your main focus is meant to be sharing knowledge with the next generation of students and acting as a mentor to them. These jobs often require a full teaching load and can also lead to being active participants in student organizations. There could be less of a focus on research in the early years. As you move further along in the process, this will likely change if you show an interest in research, rather than teaching. Now that you’re here, it may seem like you’re all set once you have secured a tenure-track position, but this is just the beginning.

What Happens Once You Have a Tenure-Track Position

Your primary goal could be to find a tenure-track position, but that could simply be the launch pad for the rest of your career. There are still some extra steps to take before you officially have tenure, which can be summarized as follows:

Step 8: Become an Associate Professor

As you continue teaching and publishing as an assistant professor for a few years, you will eventually be evaluated for your first tenure review which, if successful, will lead to an associate professor position. This will come with additional benefits and a salary increase. You will be evaluated on a few competencies, such as research excellence, teaching abilities, and administrative service. Achieving tenure is not as simple as it may seem. You are essentially vying for a promotion and need to have the necessary qualifications to do so. This could include presenting the papers you have published and a list of the awards and grants you have received. As for who is reviewing you, it will likely be a mix of departmental committee members, external members, and high-level university staff, such as the dean of the faculty or the provost. As you start your career, continue to perform to the best of your ability to receive the best shot at a tenured position.

Step 9: Pass a Final Tenure Review

To officially receive tenure and protection, you will have to pass through one more tenure review. After your period as an associate professor is over, you will have a final evaluation to see if you are eligible for tenure. Your research and teaching experience from your time as an associate professor will be put under the microscope. It is difficult to discern what specific requirements you must meet to pass, but generally, they will expect more this time around when it comes to your research and teaching abilities. In the past, you would have figured out how to prepare for a thesis defense to justify your research and earn a PhD. This will be along the same lines but will consider your entire career since acquiring the initial tenure-track position rather than just one or two pieces of research. When the board makes a decision about your candidacy, they can award you full tenure. This means that you have a permanent post at the university that can only be terminated for very serious reasons, such as program discontinuation.


Going to graduate school and getting a doctorate degree is a feat to be commended. It is an immense accomplishment and takes a lot of dedication to even receive a tenure-track job in the first place. If a career in academia is in your future, tenure is something you will have to consider. When you were writing your grad school career goals statement, did you mention tenure as a goal? Are you doing everything you can to make that goal a reality? It may be disheartening to learn that tenure-track positions are competitive. As a result, many graduate students seek help from PhD consultants to ensure that they are on the right path to achieving their dreams.

All of this is to say that simply being on the tenure-track is not a guarantee. While a tenure-track position is a good indication that you are on the way to a stable career, the journey does not end there. You must prove yourself throughout the entire duration of your career, remain passionate about teaching, and publish fascinating research to secure a permanent spot in a college or university. The road to tenure is long and takes a lot of effort, but for many academics, it is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


1. What is the difference between tenure-track and non-tenure-track positions?

Faculty members in tenure-track positions are working toward permanent employment in the university by fulfilling research, teaching, and other service obligations. Non-tenure-track members could be part-time professors or hired as adjunct professors. They are less required to contribute to the university’s research output and are not on the way to receiving tenure.

2. How do I find tenure-track jobs in my discipline?

Checking the websites of colleges and universities you are interested in can be a good start, but there are also academic job boards or search engines that will help you out. Having connections that can inform you of any opportunities or asking around yourself may also be helpful.

3. How does tenure affect academic jobs?

A tenure system basically allows for academic freedom for professors at a particular institution without the fear of job termination. This is accumulated through several years of teaching and developing research. Tenure is the goal for many academics, as it guarantees them job security until their retirement.

4. How long does it take a tenure-track professor to achieve full tenure?

The average time to reach tenure is three to seven years as you get promoted from assistant professor to associate professor. Then, you are finally considered a professor with full tenure. This process can be delayed due to circumstances such as extended sick leave, parental leave, or family leave. 

5. What kind of research experience do you need to get a tenure-track position?

Submitting your articles to academic journals or presenting at conferences are both excellent ways to show your research prowess, whether you are in grad school or have already graduated. Having a postdoc position that is focused on research can help if you lack publications. You could also include a research interest statement as part of your application to further explain the goals that you want to achieve and how your research will fill gaps in the current scholarship.

6. What are some of the best ways to network in academia?

Networking is crucial to academia, as knowing professors or other students can lead to worthwhile opportunities for your career. Forming relationships with the tenured professors at your university is a way to make them aware of the research and teaching goals you have. Academics from around the world know each other and have a lot of their own connections that you can benefit from as you start your professional career. Conferences are also a chance to meet leading academics in your field, learn about current research, and ask questions. These individuals may need contributors on various projects, which you can join.

7. Is it possible to lose tenure once you have it?

There are few instances in which a fully tenured professor will lose their employment once they have earned it. Some of these reasons include adequate cause (such as neglect of duties, violation of university policies, loss of medical license, etc.), a financial emergency, termination of the program or department, and health complications that are unable to be accommodated.

8. Where can I go for further help with getting a tenure-track position?

Students or recent graduates often use a grad school advisor for application review or interview prep, but these services can also apply to those looking for employment in academia. Academic consultants can help with any written application documents, such as a statement of intent, cover letter, or CV. They can also conduct realistic interview simulations that will prepare you for when you are looking for tenure-track jobs.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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