Digest No. 07 - January 2020

Implications of Faculty Members’ Pretenure Emotions for Success in Teaching and Research

Stupnisky, R., N. Hall, and R. Pekrun. 2019. “The Emotions of Pretenure Faculty: Implications for Teaching and Research Success.” Review of Higher Education 42 (4): 1489–1526.


“I think I only submitted one [manuscript] in the first two years and it got rejected. I did not want to write because I did not want to get rejected. I did not want to produce something that sucked [was of poor quality]. So yeah, that fear really had a big impact.” (p. 1502).

The emotions pretenure faculty members experience as part of their journey toward tenure are varied and often extreme. To complicate this even further, pretenure faculty members regulate emotions about research and teaching differently, according to the findings from this mixed methods study. Combining information from over 100 surveyed pretenure faculty members with 11 interviews from this same population, the authors discovered that faculty found more “enjoyment, happiness, pride, satisfaction and relaxation regarding teaching; conversely more frustration, anxiety, worry, fear, envy, shame, loneliness and hopelessness in research” (p. 1490). In addition, the authors suggest that emotion often mediates pretenure faculty members’ approach to their colleagues and to their work and life balance with self-reported success.


The authors of this study center emotion and its regulation as an important component to creating more supportive pretenure programs that spur faculty members toward success. Although emotions are highly subjective and individualized, they play a distinctive role in how pretenure faculty members make meaning of their experiences not only with regard to different aspects of their profession (namely, research and teaching), but with their approach to working with colleagues and issues related to work-life balance. Remaining uninterested in—or in some cases dismissive of—faculty emotion is unrealistic and irresponsible, given its importance in shaping pretenure faculty members’ process toward tenure.

Faculty member participants worked at two public flagship universities in the Midwest. Although this specification “limits the generalizability of results to similar institutions” (p. 1498), many of the emotions faculty members experience are based on their designation as pretenure or on the tenure track. As a result, lessons from this study can be extrapolated and applied to faculty members across many university contexts.

In fall 2014, the authors administered a series of scales to 108 pretenure faculty members and drew a purposeful sample of 11 from this group for interviews. Based on analysis of the quantitative data, the sample for the interviewed faculty was grouped into four categories: high teaching/low research motivations, low teaching/high research motivations, high teaching/high research motivations, and low teaching/low research motivations. From this portion of the study, the authors concluded, “Overall, these results identify a more positive emotional pattern for faculty with respect to teaching than for research” (p. 1505). Findings from this part of the study also informed its quantitative component, which was designed to answer the questions: How do emotions mediate the relationships faculty members have with their peers and self-reported success in research and teaching, respectively, and how do emotions mediate the relationship between faculty members’ experience of work/life balance and self-reported success in research and teaching, respectively?

To answer these questions, the authors surveyed 102 pretenure faculty members, representing a 26.2 percent response rate. Of particular note, the surveyed faculty members “had average contractually-expected efforts of 46.6% teaching, 37.1% research, and 15.9% service” (p. 1503). In addition, these faculty members were mostly female (53 females and 49 males), mostly white (82.4 percent), had an average age of 39, represented at least 12 disciplines, and reported working an average of 50.85 hours per week.

Path models were constructed for the teaching and research domains. Across these models, it was clear that collegiality exerted an effect on emotion that then influenced faculty members’ success in both teaching and research. Interestingly, work/life balance and its influence on emotion as a predictor of success was only notable in the context of research, not teaching.


Having good colleagues is critical to the success of pretenure faculty members. In both research and teaching contexts, collegiality exerted influence on faculty emotions concerning these activities. How do institutional leaders—from presidents to department heads—frame collegiality as a mechanism for supporting faculty members on the road to tenure? What supports are in place to ensure that collegiality is intentional, and not just a byproduct of a handful of extraverted faculty? More than a thought exercise, responsible strategies that effectively curate collegiality appropriate to the experiences of pretenure faculty members should account for power dynamics, politics, and equity issues in addition to the host of cultural nuances each department carries.

Research is challenging for untenured faculty members. Results from this study suggest that faculty members hold more negative emotions about research than teaching. In addition, work-life imbalance issues are often associated with negative emotions that contribute to faculty members’ lack of self-efficacy in the area of research. Metrics for scholarly reach continue to change due to the importance senior faculty members are placing on newer and broader public indicators such as Google Scholar indices, most influential lists, number of Twitter followers, mentions in HuffPost, and so forth. In light of these changing dynamics, institutional leaders should visit and revisit policy manuals, workshops, and annual reviews designed to clarify expectations for promotion and tenure. Not only is clarity important, but the recognition that these changes in metrics of reach might be overwhelming for pretenure faculty members, who—at least in this study—already report working over 50 hours per week.

About the Authors

Robert Stupnisky is an associate professor in the Department of Education, Health, and Behavioral Studies at the University of North Dakota.

Nathan Hall is an associate professor and director of the Learning Sciences graduate program in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University.

Reinhard Pekrun is professor for personality and educational psychology at the University of Munich and professorial fellow at the Australian Catholic University.

Literature Readers May Wish to Consult

Sax, L. J., L. S. Hagedorn, M. Arredondo, and F. A. Dicrisi. 2002. “Faculty Research Productivity: Exploring the Role of Gender and Family-Related Factors.” Research in Higher Education 43 (4): 423–446.

Umbach, P. D., and M. R. Wawrzynski. 2005. “Faculty Do Matter: The Role of College Faculty in Student Learning and Engagement.” Research in Higher Education 46 (2): 153–184.