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ADEPT Library - Case Studies -- Patty Shen

Color Coded Key to Decision/Illumination Points in PTAC Cases without Storylines: Procedural and Bias. Insert annotated references as indicated

[Issues: fluctuating productivity, leave of absence in probationary period]

Patty Shen, Ph.D. in Computational and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology, entered a prestigious research university as an assistant professor. She specialized in distributed computing and computation in neural and biological systems within the biomedical engineering group. Her start-up package was higher than average as her field was relatively new and required the purchase of some fairly expensive parallel computing and visualization equipment. Because Shen considered a competing offer, the department engaged in a bidding war to induce her to accept the appointment. Three other assistant professors in closely related areas were hired in the same year with packages not as generous as Shen’s. (reinforce definition of bias as personal preference, rather than meeting institutional objectives related to increasing fraction of female faculty) At the end of Shen’s first year, her chair complimented her on establishing “a good rapport” with her graduate students and for her success in publishing two papers based on her group’s work, with two more in press.

Publishing additional papers in Nature, Neuron, The Journal of Computational Biology, Current Biology, and elsewhere, Shen continued her steady publication record through her next two years. She also took on responsibility for teaching one of the core courses for the undergraduate program and for introducing a key new graduate course in her area, earning above average and excellent evaluation scores from students. Exit interviews of seniors conducted by the chair indicated that all students appreciated Shen’s thorough approach and that many, especially women, found her to be a valuable role model. (add references on mentoring)

In her third year, Shen won an NSF Faculty Early Career Award. In addition, during her probationary period, Shen and two junior colleagues, along with two senior professors, developed a new center in biocognitive processing that was nurtured by the university before attracting a good deal of National Science Foundation funding.

Anticipating the birth of a child during the summer following her third academic year at the university, Shen requested during the prior spring two considerations: to receive an unpaid leave of absence during the subsequent fall term and to be released from teaching duties during the following spring under provisions of the university’s Active Services Modified Duties Procedure. (add references on leave of absence guidelines and family policies) In lieu of teaching responsibilities in the spring, she proposed to design a new elective for upper-division students in her field and to continue working with the center that she helped develop. Her requests were granted, thereby stopping her tenure clock for one year.

During the year of her leave of absence and modified duties, Shen laid out plans for the new course and published two papers that had been in process. Unanticipated post-childbirth medical complications necessitated a long period of medical therapy, and she was unable to devote much time to her research during the time away from teaching as she was also coping with the demands of an infant. A private person, Shen did not share information about her medical condition with her colleagues, excepting her chair and dean whose confidence was requested because Shen needed them to support her need for a particular schedule and for a limited set of service responsibilities. (add discussion on rights to privacy, guidelines and responsibilities – Shen was within bounds)

During the following year, Shen’s official fourth year of service, she returned to teaching and earned speaking invitations at European and Asian seminars. It is in this year (the year after her child is born) that her publication record revealed a demonstrable gap: she had not submitted any publications and none were published in that year. Her own medical problems diminished her ability to mount focused technical efforts in the year following her leave.

By her official fifth year, Shen’s medical problems abated, and she was able to accelerate her research productivity. In this year, she published and prepared more papers than any other professor in her unit and she received excellent evaluations from her undergraduate and graduate students, although she was able to contribute only minimal service efforts to her department given her family schedule. (add references on service) As her tenure clock was stopped for one year, Shen would have come up for tenure in her official fifth year. Because of the earlier gap in her publication, her chair advised her instead to wait until the following year (her official sixth) to come up for promotion and tenure evaluation. Somewhat reluctantly, Shen agreed. (add guidelines from handbook, best practices)

By the time she came up for tenure (in her official sixth year and seven years after entering the university), her rate of publication dramatically increases, and her total record—in terms of the quantity and the quality of scholarly papers, her teaching evaluations and contributions, and her service--resembles those of the other assistant professors coming up for evaluation at the same time. Letters from reviewers indicated that Shen has a strong scholarly reputation and that her work has key significance for her field. One reviewer mentioned Shen’s medical difficulties following childbirth, an admission surprising the committee members who had not been previously informed. (add references on race and ethnicity – cultural differences) Some committee members had noted in earlier, initial committee discussions that Shen seemed to “appear and disappear” on the scene through the years, recalling lengthy periods in which she was not in attendance at faculty meetings and retreats. (add references on gender bias) Her involvement in faculty committees was minimal as well.

Her original cohort had already earned promotion and tenure, but Shen’s stopping of the tenure clock for one year and her decision to wait until her second opportunity delayed her case another year. As a member of her school promotion and tenure committee, how would you respond to concerns raised by another member that Shen has taken too much time to get to the same place as others under evaluation that year, that she may have accelerated her productivity over the past 12-14 months simply to be more competitive in the tenure process, and that she might not be able to sustain such productivity in the future?