Academic Promotion: what would happen if we were open about it?

So you work really hard, you get some qualifications, a fixed-term post or two, a PhD, publications, numerous job interviews and then you land a role. A role you could see yourself sticking with for a while. Then the workload hits and you are paddling to keep your head above water, all while still learning the idiosyncrasies of your new institution AND developing then teaching courses from scratch. But you are still lucky, right?

Yes, of course you are, you have a job, a purpose, a future career.

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on

We know that an insidious mental health issue with social media is comparison; comparing our worst selves to the highly-doctored versions of others’s ‘best selves’. In academic roles it’s impossible not to compare ourselves to highly-efficient, work-all-hours-of-the-day, fingers-in-every-pie colleagues. “I’ll never be able to do what they do” is a common refrain in my head. Yet, when I think about it, colleagues have said they don’t know how I’ve been working this current pace and level for months. (I should add a disclaimer to the effect that the current mode of higher education aligns with my research, passion and expertise, so when I found myself in a position to help, there really were no options, though I did worry about the future standards I was setting for myself and others.) This type of comparison is still insidious and damaging ; it others colleagues and makes our own career journeys seem like failures.

I’ve been advised by line managers to consider applying for promotion next year. It’s an involved process and I’m not convinced I will have sufficient evidence to make a case, though I am getting mentoring from generous and supportive colleagues.

Yet I’m uncomfortable with it. It’s not just the ‘singing my own praises’ and re-packaging of my work, but the way it feels, somehow, that I shouldn’t talk about it openly.

Thankfully, my institution says it does not have a limit on promotions, nor is it a competitive process. It also has a teaching and learning pathway for promotions, though obviously this still includes some publishing. It does not have very many successful applicants though, certainly not in comparison to the research track. I’ve been astounded to learn really impressive colleagues were not successful.

So what if I were to write and talk openly about my engagement with the promotion process, whether I am successful or not? Would this be of help to colleagues internally and externally?

I know there is risk in doing this, because there is a danger that by making it public anything I do could be seen as selfishly looking for evidence for promotion. “Can we really trust what she is saying?”, well, would it help if I try to be transparent about it?

My next post will address the very conundrum I’m faced with by putting this ‘out there’.