Friday, July 31, 2009

Musing about preparing to become a full professor

I spoke with a long-time friend the other day about how both of us are thinking ahead to when we apply to be promoted to full professor. He has been a tenured associate professor for far longer than me--I am only two years post-tenure--but we both are thinking about moving up on the administrative ladder, moves that will be easier if we are full professors. I realize that our conversation sets us apart from many of our peers, most of whom eschew administrative roles and stop worrying about moving up in rank once they get tenure.

I get a lot of good-natured ribbing from my friends about my "ambitious nature," but to me, professional life has to include careful planning. This is especially true for me, as I have always chosen a somewhat alternative route--conducting research on LGBT issues, taking on an administrative position before obtaining tenure, moving to new positions that offered more challenges and opportunities, and taking on service obligations to make life better for first generation college students and students of color. I believe strongly that I couldn't make these choices and still succeed if I didn't "work the system" in other ways. So, in preparation for tenure, I participated actively in national conferences and professional organizations, published in some of the more traditional journals, took on outside reader posts for a couple national journals, and built strong, supportive relationships with colleagues in my program and across the US.

Still, the move towards full professor demands something other than "more of the same." As one school I found online states in their promotion document, being promoted to full professor is a recognition that the promise that a candidate showed when awarded tenure has been realized. So, how do I "realize my promise"? Which choices will have the most impact? Which choices should I avoid? And how soon can I apply for promotion? Trying to plan and shape my career around applying for full professor is a challenge that no one has prepared me to engage.

The only real direction you get from colleagues on the promotion and tenure committee has to do with obtaining outside funding, continuing to publish, and the ever-mysterious phrase: "Building national recognition for your work." (I first wrote "building a national reputation," which is what one of the institutions where I worked had in its promotion document, but I have learned over the years that national reputations can be positive OR negative!)

So, how do you get known nationally? Well, here is what I am guessing, based on a review of my peers. National recognition comes with:
  • serving as a leader in professional organizations,
  • being an editor (or editing a special edition) for a professional journal,
  • writing a well-reviewed book (or two),
  • winning national awards,
  • winning large, multi-year federal grants,
  • a little glad-handing and schmoozing with people who can serve as reviewers.

If you are at an R1 like me, the people you schmooze must be nationally known movers and shakers. And, to make it even more annoying, they cannot be the same movers and shakers who reviewed your tenure bid.

One or two of the above can certainly happen to a person without intentional planning, but one cannot accomplish most of these elements without some strategy and organization. And, unless you are some kind of superstar who doesn't really care about a home life, it would be hard to balance them all, so you have to pick and choose. Editing the professional journal or writing a book? Taking on leadership of the national professional organization or pursuing the federal grant opportunity? Which should be the focus now, and which should be saved for later (post promotion)? Which will impress your external (and internal) reviewers?

It is a lot to figure out, especially if you are also carrying around administrative responsibilities. This is one reason that many people who want to pursue administration--especially upper administration--wait until they have been promoted to full professor. Yet, obviously some scholars find a way to balance administrative roles and promotion, sometimes with the assistance of a sabbatical or a new job where they are hired at the full professor level.

I will continue to work my plan and rely on my own instincts about pursuing promotion to full. Perhaps having a plan is half the battle, eh?


Pantagruelle said...

This is a really helpful plan. Thanks for posting! I'm only starting my (second) first-year on the tenure-track (having just moved from a SLAC to a R1), but I'm planning to go up for tenure early and it's never too soon to start thinking about what comes next--and to start building the connections that will facilitate taking those steps when the time comes. It's useful to have these requirements in the back of one's mind all along the various stages of the tenure and promotion process.

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