I applied for my position at University of Maryland from the guest house at the Kanisa Anglikana Tanzania (Anglican Church of Tanzania). I am not a religious person, but it was inexpensive compared to the one hotel in town where all the wealthy game hunters would stop over for a night. I much preferred learning how to make chapatti from the nuns than listening to the drunken banter of someone who just shot a zebra for sport. My house had spotty power, no internet, and no hot water. The day before the application was due, the power to the entire town was cut off and I had to ride my bike to my friend Rashid's family store. Where I sat atop a pile of bursting bags of sugar and hooked up my dying laptop to the generator as I tried to submit my application. There was no time for last minute edits and agonizing. It was submit now or never.
Joining the faculty in a Plant Science Department felt odd. I am an agroecologist, soil scientist, and biogeochemist. I still don't claim the "plant hat." But, I feel like I have made a home for myself at Maryland in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I have the best students a professor could hope for. I love teaching undergraduates as much as I love mentoring my graduate students.
The journey to tenure has not been easy, just like grad school wasn't easy. Being a woman in science isn't easy period. I am fortunate to have wonderful colleagues (who I now call friends), brilliant students (who are now becoming colleagues), and a host of cheerleaders outside of academia who kept me sane throughout this process.
It is an especially difficult time to be pre-tenure with the looming budget cuts across Universities as COVID-19 strips their rainy day funds and fall enrollments plummet. It is also an incredible time to be an educator. For the first time, my single voice is being echoed by the administration - we can't talk about food systems without talking about food justice. We can't talk about food justice without talking about racist policies.
I have the luxury of being on the other side of the tenure line, which means I can speak out. I can amplify voices that need to be heard. I can help change racist policies within the University system. We educators have a duty to have uncomfortable conversations with others and with ourselves. Hell, isn't that what learning is all about? Turns out we are wrong a LOT of the time. But as long as we do something about it, as long as we try to correct it, understand it, we will end up better off than when we started. Some people say, "Ah, now you have tenure, you can take a deep breath and relax." Rather, I like to think of it as, now I have tenure, I can take a deep breath and start speaking loudly.
- By Kate Tully