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Faculty Career Stages

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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The purpose of this section is to review the literature related to faculty career stages to set the stage for the following discussion on the challenges and opportunities in incorporating public scholarship at each stage.




The posting below a nice, brief summary of the career stages of many kinds of faculty.  It is from Chapter 14: Public Scholarship Across  Faculty Career Stages, bJaime Lester and David Horton the book, Envisioning Public Scholarship for our Time; Models for Higher Education Researchers, edited by Adrianna Kezar, Yianna Drivalas, and Joseph A. Kitchen. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102.

Copyright © 2018 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Writing High-Impact Practices: Developing Proactive Knowledge in Complex Contexts


Tomorrow’s Academic Careers

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Faculty Career Stages


The purpose of this section is to review the literature related to faculty career stages to set the stage for the following discussion on the challenges and opportunities in incorporating public scholarship at each stage. Although this information might be equally relevant to faculty on tenure track and nontenure faculty, we focus on tenure-track and tenured faculty.

Early Career Faculty

The first stage of faculty careers starts with the first year as an assistant professor and continues until tenure and promotion, six to seven years later (Lumpkin, 2014). The initial stage is characterized by many conflicting demands that are often new experiences (Wright, 2005). New faculty are responsible for teaching between two and four courses per semester and engaging in research activities, depending on their institution’s focus on research or teaching. They also often participate in student advising activities and departmental service and are expected to increase the number and depth of those activities from year to year. During this first stage, early career faculty experience a range of challenges and conflicts as they make progress toward tenure and promotion. Wright (2005) found that having conflicting demands, such as high expectations to teach new courses and engage in intense research activities, often results in burnout and stress. Baldwin (1990) also noted that early career faculty are under the burden of learning about institutional resources, organizational cultures, and department norms, and go through changes in professional identity. Early career faculty are under the stress of starting a new professional position in a new organization and often a new community while navigating independent work as a teacher and researcher usually for the first time.

Midcareer Faculty

Midcareer faculty, those 1 to 10 years after receiving tenure, make one of their most substantial career transitions characterized by a time of reflection and reassessment (Hall, 2002). Midcareer faculty face “a career plateau where professional goals are less clear, even while an array of attractive personal and professional options may be available” (Baldwin, DeZure, Shaw, & Moretto, 2008, p. 48). The literature has further suggested that midcareer faculty experience posttenure blues, a slump, or a letting down (Austin, 2010; Mathews, 2014; Trower, 2011). Increased dissatisfaction can lead to remaining at the associate level for longer periods of time before seeking promotion, reaching retirement, or leaving the profession. 

The reasons for the lack of satisfaction among midcareer faculty are related to several trends in higher education. For example, the changing nature of the professoriate with too few tenured faculty and an increasing number of contingent faculty leads to an increased workload for midcareer tenure-track faculty. Kena and colleagues (2015) note that from fall 1993 to fall 2013 the number of full-time tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty increased by 45%, whereas part-time faculty increased by 104%. As Baldwin and colleagues (2008) found, midcareer faculty encounter higher workloads and expectations across all areas of their work (e.g., obtaining research grants), but especially in leadership, service, and management roles to support the efforts of the department and university. Complicating the issues facing midcareer faculty is the lack of professional development to help individuals navigate the transition, set new goals, and establish new skills. Although a small number of disciplines have created extensive professional development programs for midcareer faculty, these initiatives have not yet been adopted by institutions or departments as a whole. 

Late Career Faculty

Very little research has been conducted on late career faculty, with only recent attention paid to issues associated with retirement. Often defined as those who are 10 years after promotion to associate professor, late career faculty are a large proportion of tenured faculty on many college campuses. Late career faculty include those who do not seek further promotion (lifetime associates) and full professorships. One of the few national surveys on late career faculty found that faculty maintain a high level of productivity through the age of 60 and high degrees of engagement in their institutions, disciplines, and with students (Trower, 2011). The same survey noted that late career faculty have more work-life balance and less stress and tend to delay retirement because of high job satisfaction. O’Meara (2004) found that late career faculty tended to resist posttenure review in part because of a concern that evaluation expectations would be uniform across faculty ranks and inclusive of new higher research activity norms in the university. O’Meara also found that late career faculty were concerned that nonquantifiable activities regarding faculty leadership, such as mentoring, would be negated by posttenure review. 


Austin, A. E. (2010). Supporting faculty members across their careers. In K. J. Gillespie, D. L. Robertson, & Associates (Eds.), A guide to faculty development (2nd ed., pp. 363-378). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Baldwin, R. G. (1990). Faculty vitality beyond the research university: Extending a contextual concept. Journal of Higher Education, 61, 160-180.

Baldwin, R., DeZure, D., Shaw, A., & Moretto, K. (2008). Mapping the terrain of mid-career faculty at a research university: Implications for faculty and academic leaders. Change, 40(5), 46-55.

Hall, D. T. (2002). Careers in and out of organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lumpkin, A. (2014) The role of organizational culture on and career stages of faculty. Educational Forum78, 196-205. doi:10.1080/00131725.2013.878420

Mathews, K. R. (2014). Perspectives on midcareer faculty and advice for supporting them.Cambridge, MA: Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education.

O’Meara, K. A. (2004). Beliefs about post-tenure review: The influence of autonomy, collegiality, career stage, and institutional context. Journal of Higher Education, 75, 178-202.

Trower, C. A. (2011). Senior faculty satisfaction: Perceptions of associate and full professors at seven public research universities. Research Dialogue, 101, 1-15.

Wright, M. (2005). Always at odds? Congruence in faculty beliefs about teaching at a research university. Journal of Higher Education, 76, 331-353.