While helping a client with her application for promotion, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a senior colleague when I applied for a promotion many years ago.
The promotion committee will be looking for a trajectory in your research.
I checked the guidelines for promotion from my client’s institution. Sure enough I see that same wording right there:
You must provide evidence of the capacity to perform at the level to which you are seeking promotion and demonstrate an upward trajectory in performance that would justify promotion
to that level.
(emphasis added; institution not acknowledged to protect the anonymity of my client)
It is normal to start with a draft that is more or less listing all the evidence in relation to the criteria. You list your publications, funding acquired, feedback received from reviewers or readers, citations of your work demonstrating impact, etc.
All of this will “provide evidence of the capacity to perform at the level to which you are seeking promotion”. But does it demonstrate “upward trajectory”?
Leaving the committee to infer the upward trajectory is risky.
There may be a pessimist on the committee. The pessimist will be thinking of people (real or imagined) who were promoted and then didn’t meet expectations. That will colour how they read your application.
There is a difference between the capacity to perform and actually performing at the new level. The pessimistic committee member (if there is one) may fear that, once promoted, you will relax and do less. At best they will infer that your future performance will be about the same as your past performance and that may not be quite enough.
This is why there is a promotion committee. The decision is not made by one person, but agreed by the committee. Sometimes that agreement comes easily. Sometimes it requires a discussion, even a heated discussion.
There is likely also an optimistic committee member. One who will infer that your strong performance will continue and it is enough. Or, who will notice details that suggest a trajectory like a move towards higher impact journals, or that securing funding will enable you to do more than you did in the years without funding, or that you were publishing at a higher rate in the most recent years.
Telling the story for them mitigates the risk.
That optimistic committee member needs concrete evidence to point to during the discussion. Making it easy for them to find that evidence makes it more likely they will make the argument and convince enough committee members of the strength of your case to ensure that the committee as a whole makes a decision in your favour.
The key issue for revision before submission is to get that sense of movement/trajectory in there. It’s not just what you have achieved. The promotions committee needs to see evidence that you will continue to achieve at that level and more.
For example, when you talk about your current funded projects: keep in mind that, in addition to being evidence that you can secure funding, they are also evidence that you are building on your past research to achieve even more in this area. The past research enabled you to build the networks and reputation necessary to secure this funding, which will in turn enable you to collect more data and achieve more in relation to your research goals.
They also need to see the connections between your projects. Even if you didn’t have a strategy when you started, look at what you’ve done and what you are planning to do over the next few years and discern a narrative that holds those things together. If the connections are not obvious in the titles, then point them out.
For example, another client has two complementary trajectories in her research: one is focused on the substantive topic she researchers; the other is focused on methodological strategies. When she applied for a promotion/new position a few years ago, making these explicit enabled her to make a case for even stronger performance in future.
If you aren’t applying for promotion yet
I admit that when that senior colleague told me about the trajectory thing my first thought was “it’s a bit late now”. I really wasn’t sure what to do with the information. And I felt like it would have been better to have been told that a few years before so I could have had a strategy for my publications.
If you are reading this and not in the process of writing a promotion application, then it’s a good time to review things.
- Is there an implicit trajectory to your work to date?
- Would making that explicit help you to prioritize your writing and other research activity?
- Where might that trajectory lead you?