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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Ezekiel Kimball

Second Advisor

Kate Hudson

Third Advisor

Jennifer Lundquist

Subject Categories

Higher Education


The research on early-career faculty on the tenure track suggests they are surviving amidst low job satisfaction. Scholars found that early-career faculty lack the skills and preparation needed for the job, perceive the tenure process to be vague or unclear, feel isolated or disenchanted with their work, and struggle with time management (Austin, 2002; Austin, Sorcinelli, & McDaniels, 2007; Batille & Brown, 2006; Ponjuan, Conley, & Trower, 2011; Tierney & Bensimon, 1996). Female early-career faculty are susceptible to additional gendered and biased challenges (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007). Missing from the literature are the positive experiences of early-career faculty. The purpose of this study is to describe the professional approaches of six female early-career faculty who work at selective liberal arts colleges and how those approaches are similar or different from four of their peers at a large research university, using theories of intrinsic motivation (Pink, 2009), agency (Bandura, 2001), and positive deviance (Spreitzer & Sonenshein, 2003) to frame the inquiry. A secondary purpose of this study is to describe the strategies to faculty work that deviate positively from the typical early-career faculty behaviors articulated in the existing research. Using a qualitative embedded multi-case study design, data was collected from ten female early-career faculty from three different institutions. Using constant comparative analysis and pattern matching, the theme of tenure as a game emerged, as well as the greater metaphor that participants approach their work like they are playing a challenging, but gratifying, game of chess. There were four major insights that surfaced from the findings. First, female early-career faculty assess their skills to play the game and take subsequent actions to improve their positions within the first few years of their appointments. Second, female early-career faculty seize opportunities to advance quickly by the middle of the probationary period. Third, female early-career faculty incorporate moves that reinforce their passions throughout their appointments. And finally, positive-deviant approaches combined participants’ skills, awareness of opportunity, and passion into a single move at the onset, which ultimately positioned participants for success.