Note: The information in this post is relevant to those evaluating the scholarship of others (for hiring, promotion, funding, etc) as well as to those having their scholarship evaluated.
Your publication record is one of the most important ways that you will be evaluated throughout your career. A huge concern, especially for women, is how that focus on outputs interacts with leaves of absence from your academic position. The most common type of leave is maternity leave, but the same principles apply to other parental leave, extended sick leave, leave to care for sick or dying relatives, a secondment to a role (or job) that does not involve research, and so on.
The principles can also be applied to periods of part-time work, which may or may not be related to similar circumstances.
Past performance, averages, and prediction of future performance
Past performance is being used to predict future performance. The default assumption is that the period being evaluated is typical of your performance.
When someone looks at your publication record they are seeing how many articles you publish per year, on average. You are usually asked for publications over the past 5 or 6 years to account for peaks and troughs in the pattern of publication.
You are not asking for special treatment
You never raise special circumstances in order to ask for sympathy or special consideration. You are not asking anyone to approve the circumstances of your leave or reduced work load in the evaluation process.
You are indicating special circumstances in order to clarify that your output is atypical for a certain period. You are providing information that enables the evaluators to correct their interpretations to account for that atypicality.
You are often being compared (to specific others, or to a standard), and that comparison needs to be appropriate. You are providing information that enables that comparison.
Any period you were on leave doesn’t count
The period of low output due to a leave is atypical. It has no bearing on your future performance because you were not working during that period. The gap in your record may appear at a different point to the leave, or be obscured, because of the nature of research and publication timelines, but it is legitimate for you not to have done work during the leave and for that to affect your output.
To make your record over 5 years (for example) comparable to the record of someone (real or standardized) who did not have a leave during the period in question, you can do 1 of 2 things:
- Replace the period on leave with an equivalent period before the nominal start date of the 5 years.*
- For an application in 2015, which contains a 1 year leave, you would list publications from 2009-2015 instead of 2010-2015.
- The evaluators can treat your period as shorter.
- Your list of publications from 2010-2015 actually represents 4 years rather than 5. Average output can thus be calculated on the basis of 4 years.
*This is also the logic behind extending the tenure-clock. The time period is not actually being extended. Rather, the period of leave doesn’t count towards the time to tenure because you are not working when you are on leave.
How do you indicate this in your application?
This will depend on the institution. Check the rules. If there are no rules ask someone who is involved in the process for advice. That might be the program officer at a funding agency, an administrator in the dean’s office or the human resources office, your union representative, or someone who has served on the type of evaluation committee that will be evaluating your work.
The question you are asking is “What is the preferred way to present my publications to account for a period of leave during the evaluation period?”
Be brief and factual. Some options you can revise to suit your circumstances:
I was on [maternity] leave for a period of [#] months/years from [start month, year] to [end month, year]. I have included publications from [start date] so that my list reflects [#] years’ output.
I was on [maternity] leave for a period of [#] months/years from [start month, year] to [end month, year]. Therefore, the publications listed represent [#] years output instead of the expected [#] years.
You may prefer to lead with the statement about your publications list and follow it with the justification:
I have included publications from [start date] so that my list reflects [#] years’ output and accounts for the [maternity] leave I took from [dates].
The publications listed represent [#] years output instead of the expected [#] years. I was on [maternity] leave for a period of [#] months/years from [start month, year] to [end month, year].
What about working part-time
The same principles apply. Your publication record is atypical because the expectation is full-time work. You are providing information to enable like-for-like comparison. For example, if you have been working 60% for 5 years, that’s the equivalent of 3 years full-time.
You can either deal with that separately or combine all of the special circumstances in a sentence that opens your narrative. Here’s an example:
“Between 2009 and 2015, I had 2 six-month maternity leaves and 3 years at 0.6 workload. This is equivalent to 4 years FTE and I will refer to the period as 4 years throughout the rest of the application.”
Do the math for them
In general you want to be brief and stick to the facts, leaving the interpretation up to the evaluators. However, you don’t need them to do math every time they see something in your application. Doing the equivalency math and explaining that up front means you can then just present your evidence at the FTE rate. (This is what I did in the last example.) They will be seeing your evidence already transformed into something comparable.
The required format may limit your ability to do this. Stick within the guidelines but do this work where appropriate.
This is not special pleading (see above). You are not asking for sympathy, pity, or anything else. You are asking to be compared favourably to other applicants, or the standard. Clear, factual statements are best. Do not over-explain.
There are no guarantees that the evaluators will treat you fairly. Special pleading isn’t going to change that. Clear presentation of facts is your best bet.