Q and A: Obtaining a tenure-track engineering faculty position

Portrait of Anwarul Sifat

While pursuing a doctoral degree in engineering takes years of discipline, research and learning, those who remain dedicated and graduate gain a variety of opportunities. After making new discoveries through research and learning under a doctoral degree mentor, new graduates then need to decide what direction to take their career.

One such option for those interested in a career in academia is conducting research and working at a university through a tenure-track position. Teaching the next generation of engineers while making new discoveries through one of these jobs is exactly what Anwarul Sifat did.

Sifat, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Lamar University in Texas, served as a postdoctoral researcher in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University under Anamitra Pal, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools. Sifat shared his experience starting his tenure-track career with Inner Circle.

What was the process like to become a tenure-track university faculty member after completing your doctoral degree?

The pathway to becoming a tenure-track faculty member after completing a doctoral degree varies based on institutions and fields of study. After completing my doctoral degree from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, I opted to take a postdoctoral research position at ASU under Professor Pal. The research experience I gained from the position was crucial for building an academic curriculum vitae that made my job application stand out for a tenure-track position. 

Were there any specific resources, or was there anything special, during your time at ASU that helped you succeed in getting your current position?

The research opportunities and mentorship at ASU bolstered my chances of getting the job that I am currently in. ASU has a strong research culture that offers a wealth of opportunities to collaborate on projects, apply for grants and publish papers. Also, I had a strong mentor in Professor Pal, and his advice on navigating academia proved invaluable, from conducting research to applying for jobs. All of the above were critical resources for a tenure-track application.

What was the most important thing you wish you’d known about the journey to become a tenure-track faculty member?

Teaching is an essential skillset requirement to becoming a tenure-track faculty member. I did not get the opportunity to teach academics during my doctoral degree program in New Zealand, while the experience is common in the U.S. higher education system. Because tenure-track faculty are expected to excel in teaching and research, it is crucial to start developing teaching skills early on. 

What advice would you give to ASU engineering students interested in becoming tenure-track faculty members?

I followed some basic principles since my doctoral degree studies such as being involved in research, publishing articles in high-quality journals and attending technical webinars and conferences. As a graduate student, I used to talk with my professors about volunteering for opportunities to work on their research projects. There is no better place than working alongside experienced researchers to learn about the craft of good research and academic writing. 

What role do mentors play for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers in efforts to secure a tenure-track position?

A good mentor helps build a mentee’s research, teaching and professional work and provides networking opportunities. I had a chance to work on different projects during my postdoctoral experience. Professor Pal always involved me in his numerous research proposal writing and revision periods. I learned valuable lessons there, which I later used in my research statement, a document required to submit a tenure-track faculty position application. He also shared his journey from his postdoctoral years to securing a tenure-track faculty position at ASU, which was inspirational. 

What are some important resources you’d recommend students interested in tenure-track positions investigate?

An informed approach to academic and professional development is essential for students interested in tenure-track positions. I extensively used social media sites like LinkedIn to track available tenure-track positions in the U.S. Also, some websites like HigherEdJobs and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Job Site were helpful. Many articles published there on academic job searches helped fine-tune my CV for a tenure-track faculty position.