Dr. Taryn Ozuna Allen

Scholar’s Corner: When Life Happens on the Tenure Track

LKC sol

Dr. Taryn Ozuna Allen

February 14, 2019

The NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) strives to support the research and share stories of colleagues who are engaged in scholastic work, especially those who focus on Latinx/a/o educational issues. This year, the LKC co-chairs are highlighting the strength, resiliency, and tenacious nature of mujeres in the field who deliberately and wholeheartedly embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars (#LatinaMamiScholar). We would love to feature your story on the NASPA LKC Scholars Corner!   


If you would like to share with our communidad, please contact LKC Research and Scholarship co-chairs Claudia García-Louis ([email protected]) and/or Tracy Arámbula Ballysingh ([email protected]).


Dr. Taryn Ozuna Allen is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington. Her research interests focus on the educational experiences of traditionally under-represented student populations, particularly Latino students, as they access, transition, and persist in higher educatiton. Learn more about Dr. Allen at https://mentis.uta.edu/explore/profile/taryn-ozuna. You can contact her at [email protected]  


When Life Happens on the Tenure Track 

I was introduced to the field of education at a young age since my mom was a high school teacher. Each year, my two younger siblings and I attended functions at her school, organized school paper work, and helped prepare her classroom. Growing up in my home, we had learning stations, reading time, and family field trips. These early experiences emphasized the importance of working hard, doing your best, respecting teachers and administrators, and finding topics to explore independently. These values laid the groundwork for my doctoral ambitions.

My decision to pursue a terminal degree came after almost three years as a student affairs administrator at Baylor University. I enjoyed reading research and using its implications with my students, so I began researching doctoral programs and seeking counsel from campus mentors.  Dr. Liz Palacios, Dean of Students and another mami scholar, graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and she inspired me to consider UT Austin’s doctoral program. During my visit, I met with Drs. Victor Saenz and Richard Reddick, learned about the classes and graduate research opportunities, and concluded the higher education administration program would be a good fit for me.

I started the doctoral program at UT Austin unsure if I would pursue the professoriate. I was unfamiliar with the expectations of tenure-track faculty, and since my background was in student affairs, I missed working with undergraduate students and supporting their engagement and development. Even still, I was energized by conducting research and contributing to a scholarly community. After graduation, I secured a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). I thought this experience would be the perfect opportunity to learn about academia.

My one-year appointment at UTA moved quickly. As soon as I started the position, I was applying for a new position for the following year. Although I learned I did enjoy faculty life, I was open to applying to all positions because time was ticking. It was a stressful time, but my prayer was that God would open the right door for me. About halfway through my postdoc, a tenure-track faculty position opened up in my department, and I applied. It was the only job offer I received, so my career path seemed pretty clear.

Since I intentionally delayed major milestones while in graduate school, life finally started to happen when I began my position as a tenure-track assistant professor:

Year 1 - Engaged.

Year 2 - Married.

Year 3 - Pregnant.

Year 4 - Baby and House.

While exciting, these life events (marriage, baby, house) required an incredible amount of work! It has not been easy, but I have learned a few things along the way.

First, I learned being a mother and scholar are forever intertwined. I was at a grant meeting when I felt my son move for the first time. Similarly, I have introduced my family to academia by explaining the tenure process and defining academic jargon. Like most working moms, including my own, every day is an ebb and flow of work life and home life. To help myself remain fully present at work and home, I try to work each week according to my semester writing plan. Each Sunday night I review my schedule and fill it in with tasks. This approach encourages a sense of accomplishment and creates freedom in spending quality family time.

I have also learned to intently focus on my tenure requirements: 1-3 peer-reviewed publications per year. As previously mentioned, every semester needs a research and writing plan, and my plans have focused on submitting peer-reviewed publications and grant applications. Early on, I met with colleagues and my department chair to share my work and projects. These plans also focused my work despite leadership changes (three department chairs, three deans, three provosts) and served as a starting point for conversations when asked to do more with limited time. I adapted my plans with each new life event, but they continued to ground and prioritize my efforts in meeting and exceeding expectations.

Finally, being a #latinamamischolar means accepting my new normal, as Dr. Marybeth Gasman wrote a few months ago. My new normal means attending one or two conferences per year, rather than four or five in one semester. My new normal also means analyzing data when my son naps and singing “Baby Shark” in the car. Ultimately, it means being content in knowing I have done my best as a mami scholar. My “best” will have good days and bad days, but it does not discount my labor.

The challenge with work/life balance as a #latinamamischolar is that there is always more work to do, and doing more is perceived as better. Here is what has helped me while on the tenure track:

  1. Taking care of myself - I have always enjoyed dancing, but I recently found my favorite Zumba class. It can be somewhat of a drive to get there, but I plan my schedule around attending this class because it so much fun. I love the choreography. I love the music. I love the people. I am a happier and more energized person after each class.
  2. Planning my semester – My campus mentor, Dr. Maria Martinez-Cosio, taught me “every semester needs a plan” in my first year on the tenure track. She took the time to sit down with me to draft my first writing goals, and she told me about the Faculty Success Program through the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity. Thanks to Maria and the NCFDD my approach to research and writing was forever improved.
  3. Connecting with other mami scholars – Last year we had our first #latinamamischolar meeting at ASHE in Tampa, Florida. Dras. Claudia Garcia-Louis (@cgarcialouis), Susana Hernandez (@susana_phd), Tracy A. Ballysingh (@taballysingh), and Courtney Luedke (@DrCLLuedke), and I (@tarynozuna) allocated conference time to meet with other mami scholars. We shared our experiences, networked, and discussed opportunities for collaboration or support. We hope you will reach out to share your own experiences or tips for success!
  4. Talking/texting with friends and family – I find great strength in the love of my family and friends. We share updates on our day, celebrate accomplishments, and offer support and prayers through life’s struggles. Plus, we all appreciate a good meme or funny gif.
  5. Taking breaks – As Dra. Nancy Acevedo-Gil mentioned in her LKC Blog, being a #latinamamischolar can be overwhelming and exhausting. Further, it does not include other identities important to our culture (i.e., wife, daughter, sister, cousin, friend). With everything going on in life, I include daily breaks, such as going outside, reading a book, or having quiet time. Taking a breather helps me re-focus and recharge.

These are just a few of my suggestions, and you will have to find out what works for you in this beautiful struggle. As you continue on your own journey as a #latinamamischolar, just remember that yes, the days are long, but the years are short.

You are strong enough.

You are smart enough.

You are not alone.

You got this!

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