Saturday, October 18, 2014

Am I Full Professor Material?

Thursday, I turned in my promotion file.

Here's the deal: at most universities, you have to go up for tenure. "Up and out," they say. Every school has its own standards: some require a book, or even a book plus progress on the next one. Some, more teaching-focused, want lots of good teaching, course development, plus more campus service than you might think is humanly possible. Some schools (primarily religion-affiliated ones, I think) want a heavy dose of community service in there -- making connections between campus and community. My school falls somewhere in the middle of all this, and people work the teaching-research-service balance in various ways across the campus. But in any case, you have about five and a half or six years to prove you're doing the kind of job they want to see. And you don't have a choice. You can't just say, "Oh, I'll take the lower salary or whatever and will go up when I'm ready." It's up or out.

Going up for full professor is a mite different, in that, at most schools, you never have to do it. And if/when you do it, you can do it on your schedule. And if you don't get it, you can try again the next year. And the next. But the file itself takes about a month and a half to put together, so you don't want to do it until you're reasonably confident that you'll pass. Most people at my school do it five years after tenure. So, last year when it was my first opportunity to go up... I declined.

I just wasn't sure. I mean, I had done some pretty good stuff with teaching. My service was okay -- nothing spectacular, but I wasn't shirking. But I still only had the one book to my name, and only one post-tenure article forthcoming and another in the pipeline. The second book was a stack of documents, some scribbles, a couple of conference papers, and a title (though a damn good title, I must say). How to count the first book was the toughest thing to gauge: I had sent off the manuscript literally two days before submitting my tenure file. As anyone who has published a book knows, there is a lot of work after that point -- even after you get the contract, there are months of revisions, then copy edits, then page proofs and an index... but still, it was just one book. And I just didn't think it was enough.

Here's the thing, though. I was judging my record based on the paths of the faculty at the university that I got my Ph.D. from. These were my models. And if you earned a Ph.D., you were at a research institution. But very few of our post-Ph.D. jobs are at such institutions. And sometimes we forget that our jobs are different. You can't crank out an article every year plus a well-reviewed university-press book every six or seven while teaching three or four courses a semester. You can't get to the archives every summer if you don't have research funds. And that's okay. You are doing different work. No less valuable.

So, the point of this story is that this year -- in fact, just two days ago -- I turned in my file for promotion to full professor. It has a couple more articles in it than it would have a year ago. It has a major service commitment. And it has a well thought-out book proposal. But my senior colleagues looked at my record and asked me why I didn't go up last year. The answer is that there will always be a significant part of me that doesn't feel like full professor material. But I'm trying to let that go.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Well congrats on putting all that together! Good for you!

Janice said...

Thinking good thoughts for you. I'm glad to hear that you have such a supportive set of colleagues as you go up!

Susan said...

It's so important what you say about different kinds of work. And I've come to see the promotion to full as the end of a long apprenticeship, where you have matured in all areas of your work. Good luck! Fingers crossed for you.

Flavia said...

I hear you on this. As glad as I am not to have been held to the crazy publishing standards of my grad institution when I went up for tenure, it's hard to let go of the norms one absorbs as a grad student at a very different kind of school.

I've definitely had those same thoughts about going up for full, and the "strategy," if any, involved in deciding when to do it--esp. as I look ahead and wonder if I have any more institutional moves in me.

Mark Jackson said...

"But the file itself takes about a month and a half to put together..."

I've heard people say the same thing about the tenure file. I never understood this. I just spent a few hours getting my narrative just right, and then about 15 minutes brainstorming on what supporting documents to include. After that, all that was left was to select "print" a bunch of times.

If someone told me I *had* to spend more than a couple of days putting together my file, I wouldn't know what to do.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Ha! I think Mark's comment (trollish though it may be), when contrasted with the rest of the comments and the OP, illustrates nicely the gender divide in academia. And maybe why women get paid and promoted less.

Mark Jackson said...

Why is the comment trollish? It's my honest view. I literally don't know how I could spend more than 8 hours putting together such a file. I've gotten tenure twice, and a full professor promotion once, and I genuinely have no idea how I could spend more than 2 days preparing one of those files.

NB: I'm talking only about the file preparation; doing the actual publishing and service takes a lot of time, of course.

john_burke100 said...

Off topic: I sent you a link to an interesting article about early (ca. 1020 CE) music notation, apparently the oldest lineal ancestor of modern notation.