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Monday, July 12, 2010

Can you ever be denied Full Prof? Can you ever really fail a PhD defense.?

  1. Is it possible for someone to be denied Full Prof? Yes, but it is rare.
  2. Is it possible for someone to fail a PhD defense? Yes, but it is rare.
These questions are similar. Why might either happen?
  1. I suspect that the most common reason for someone to be denied Full Prof is that they went up without the Chairman's or the Departments approval. That is, they insisted on going up. I really cannot see a reason for a professor to do this except some sort of bad logic which I will discuss later.
  2. I suspect that the most common reason for someone to fail a PhD defense is that they insisted on defending even though the advisor didn't think they were ready. While the advisor should have stopped it there may be other reasons (e.g., a job offer to the student has been made so he really needs the PhD NOW, or some deadline is coming up) that came into play. Could also be bad logic which I will discuss later.
  3. Could also be because of politics. I've heard of this happening but never really saw a case I could verify myself. One problem: Everyone who is ever denied Tenure or Full Prof says that it was political. Hence its hard to tell when it really is.
BAD LOGIC:
  1. A prof might think Everyone who I've ever seen go up for Full Prof has gotten it, so all I need to do is go up for it.
  2. A student may think Everyone who I've ever seen defend their thesis has passed so all I need to do is get a defense scheduled. I have seen the following: nobody fails a defense for several years because the adviser don't put you up until you defend. Then the mentality sets in that all you need to do is defend and you'll pass. Then someone pushes this and ends up failing. THEN people are scared for the next few years, until its forgotten. That is why someone fails a PhD defense every 6 years or so.


WHY DENY SOMEONE FULL PROF? If you deny someone TENURE they LEAVE. Hence something is accomplished. But if you deny someone Full Prof they are still there, just annoyed. Hence it seems like a really bad idea to deny someone Full Prof.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE A FULL PROF? Salary increase? My school is now not giving raises. You get to write letters for more people. Is this really a good thing? You get to be on more committees. Is this really a good thing? You get more respect? This is questionable. People stop asking So, are you a full prof yet? This is a good thing.

HOW BAD IS IT: In both cases you can re-do. That is, you can come up for full prof later and you can fix your thesis and defend later. Even so, it can be a trauma.

FYI: I passed my PhD defense first try in May of 1985. I got Assistant prof in 1985, Associate Prof (Tenure) in 1991, and Full Prof in 1998.

16 comments:

  1. About 20 years ago my father was denied full prof by the president of his university, after being approved by the committee, dean, and provost. The president also rejected all other promotions in that department that year (three others, I think) because the Board of Regents was reviewing the department with the expectation of eliminating it. Ultimately the department survived but Dad decided not to go up again. The department essentially worked around the issue by having him do the same advising and other departmental service (e.g. committee work) as the full professors, and made him emeritus when he retired.

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  2. The average American gets in a car accident every six years. Maybe if people defended successfully or candidates stopped driving, road safety would improve.

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  3. At some universities, departments and chairs routinely approve everyone for sake of "collegiality" and expect a college or university level committee to impose standards. I know of two cases at my university where someone was denied promotion to full prof one year and got it the next (having done nothing in the year in between), simply because they managed to pack some friends onto the university-level committee.

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  4. I think the US system (especially in TCS) of hiring without tenure and then the two step process to full professorship is not optimal. The continental European system is much better -- where one obtains an entry-level position (Maitre de conference in France) after finishing ones Phd, and then apply for a full professorship at a different University after writing a habilitation. Thus, there is no expectation of getting a full-professorship at the first university and once you get a full-professorship then it is permanent. To some extent this two step process is followed in math and sciences in the US -- where the immediate post-phd job is a postdoc position -- and in lieu of a formal habilitation the candidate is expected to write up his or her papers from the phd dissertation and publish them. The tenure process in the sciences is easier and quicker, precisely because the universities hire researchers who are already firmly established. TCS is moving in that direction -- with a lot more postdoc openings these days -- but we are not there yet.

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  5. I think the US system (especially in TCS) of hiring without tenure and then the two step process to full professorship is not optimal. The continental European system is much better -- where one obtains an entry-level position (Maitre de conference in France) after finishing ones Phd, and then apply for a full professorship at a different University after writing a habilitation. Thus, there is no expectation of getting a full-professorship at the first university and once you get a full-professorship then it is permanent. To some extent this two step process is followed in math and sciences in the US -- where the immediate post-phd job is a postdoc position -- and in lieu of a formal habilitation the candidate is expected to write up his or her papers from the phd dissertation and publish them. The tenure process in the sciences is easier and quicker, precisely because the universities hire researchers who are already firmly established. TCS is moving in that direction -- with a lot more postdoc openings these days -- but we are not there yet.

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  6. @LastAnon: Why is that system better? You do not give any reasons. It doesn't sound like you understand the US system. A postdoc is expected to do much more than publish results from his or her dissertation.

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  7. I don't understand the arguments about the superiority of French tenure system over US one. It seemed to me like the author doesn't know the American system at all.

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  8. There is a difference between being denied promotion to full professor and simply never being put up for it. Unlike tenure there is no particular time-line for it. One does not have the right at many institutions to demand such a promotion. It is up to the department to decide to go forward. There is a term "career associate professor" for someone in this mode.

    Denial happens when a case is brought forward when someone seems "ready" for it to the evaluating committee within the department. If the case goes forward and letters from experts are solicited then there still can be reasons for the case to be denied, but it is typically a measure that the department in question did not assess things well in going for letters in the first place.

    The point is that, like a PhD defense, someone is usually testing the waters first. However, in the case of PhD defenses it is usually a candidate's right to request a defense even if the advisor recommends against it.

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  9. When I was an undergrad I was on a university tribunal for a PhD student in a department with internal conflicts. The student who was an 'orphan" whose advisor had left the university, failed their initial PhD defense. University rules required an external examiner's report be read at the start of the proceedings and it was very negative. However, it was from someone outside with connections to a different faction in the department. By university rules this failure was viewed as an "adjournment" so that any subsequent defense started with full info about the previous one. The student failed a second (and supposedly last) time. They appealed.

    We had enough concerns about the letter and the procedures that we granted a new defense, fully expecting a third failure. (We put some constraints in place to avoid either faction controlling things.) Surprisingly to us, the student passed.

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  10. Can a blog that purports to be about a very interesting research area ever lose its readers by becoming too irrelevant?

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  11. I agree with the anonymous about the "career associate professor": there are a substantial number of departments with people who are at the associate level for 10, 15, 20 years, with very little chance of promotion. This may not happen in Bill's department, but in others it is quite common.

    Sometimes, these are cases where the faculty became less productive after tenure, sometimes the school became more demanding and research oriented, and some schools are just a little tough about this and punish even slight decreases in research intensity. My school is among the latter, though I am not (yet) affected, and many of our people would have been promoted years ago in similarly or even higher ranked departments elsewhere.

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  12. • Failing a PhD defense is significantly more embarrassing for the advisor than for the student, and is likely to lower the perceived quality of that advisor's future PhD students.

    • Denying a full-professor promotion is significantly more embarrassing for the department than for the candidate, and is likely to lower the perceived quality of that department's future promotion cases.

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  13. Are you sure there is no raise upon becoming a full prof? Freezing salaries is one thing, but typically you get an automatic salary increase when your title changes.

    Other than that, there seems no real reason to become full prof other than the expectation that this is what you should do next (and thus the (perceived?) embarrassment if you do not make it to full prof).

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  14. Failing a PhD defense is significantly more embarrassing for the advisor than for the student, and is likely to lower the perceived quality of that advisor's future PhD students.

    Doesn't failing a PhD defense basically end the academic career of the student?????????

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  15. Anon two posts back- good point,
    I do not know if there is NO raise
    during a hiring freeze. AND I will add that I think being a full prof helps with retirement benefits and such.

    Anon one post back- failing a PhD defense is not so bad if you the committee gives you reasons, you FIX them, and pass later. If the problems are more substantial then
    you may have to spend MUCH more time OR quit the program (or worse-end up doing both).

    GASARCH

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  16. I am writing anonymously, so as to make it more difficult to infer what cases I am talking about.

    I know of at least one case where a very well-known and productive academic (whom many of you would recognize -- and no, it's not me) was turned down for promotion by the upper levels of administration over what I hope was merely a misunderstanding of some aspects of this applicant's record. This denial was subsequently overturned on appeal. I know of several other cases where strong cases for promotion seem to have just squeaked through after intense scrutiny at higher levels. These promotion cases involve more than one department, all of which enjoy good reputations both within the institution and nation-wide. And I know of other cases where these same departments had promotion cases denied, in spite of strong support from the department. (And of course there were other cases that were voted down at the department level, so it is not the case that the department is giving candidates a "pass" to preserve collegiality, and relying on the upper levels to enforce standards.)

    At this institution, promotion to full professor is NOT AT ALL automatic. In fact, I find it somewhat surprising to find so much acceptance of the contrary position. I am aware of some cases at other institutions, which make me believe that the situation here is not atypical.

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