The dilemma of academic promotion

Last month I wrote about the idea of talking opening about engaging with the academic promotion process at my institution.

There are so many of tools of HE management, like yearly reviews and promotions, which I can see have good intentions; to capture and reward work which is ‘good’. Yet, like asking students to sit exams which test them at how good they are at sitting exams, it does feel like I am being tested with how good I am at talking about my work, rather than doing it. This feels like a strange use of energy when I see the purpose of my role is to meet the needs of my colleagues and students which are so acute going into this next academic year.

A part of the teaching and learning promotion pathway at my institution is having external impact; changing the way others work.

At a time when my to-do list is overwhelming and my caring responsibilities are bordering on negligence, the idea of pursuing commitments to work externally is, well, what’s a bigger word than overwhelming?

My external network has been a lifeline to me through years of professional isolation, my PhD and unemployment. Since Covid-19, it has provided me with connections to people and ideas which have made me be able to address challenges in my own institution, and so much more. I have connections to people who I respect immensely and inspire me. When the external networks have spilled over into ‘real life’, it has always been joyful and rewarding.

But I feel I have taken from my external network more than I have contributed.

Frequently I have to take a step back from involved Twitter conversations. I have to make judgements about whether my email, colleagues or students, or child or partner in the room deserve more uninterrupted attention than my phone. I like to take time to think about what I want to say and I don’t work well when switching between multiple tasks. I’m not a natural ‘fit’ with this medium.

My dilemma is this: I owe my network so much, but I need to start asking them (you) for favours. If you asked me to speak in the past, I’m going to be asking you for evidence of the impact of that event. I’ll be putting it out there that I’m available for speaking and keynotes at conferences. There are cruder, more transactional ways of putting it, but I’ll be asking to be considered. This is deeply uncomfortable to me.

I love visiting institutions and having conversations with colleagues. I enjoy speaking with any size group, that’s not the problem. My problem is that I am worried that this will change the nature of my relations with others; does my motivation for making these connections now have something individualistic, even selfish behind it? The only way I can see of trying to subvert this is by being open about it and about this process.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has faced similar dilemmas when applying for promotion.

So, I’m available, I’ll be in touch and, in return, I’ll keep talking about it here. Does that sound like a deal?

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