Writing promotion applications (2): Start early
Second of six posts on writing effective promotion applications
In 2022 Middlesex University revamped its promotion guidelines, moving to a narrative CV approach which centres around five key contributions: generation of knowledge, societal impact, success of learners, life of the university, and development of individuals. That year I worked with more than a dozen academics on their applications, many of whom were successful.
In June 2023, I organised an information session for academics planning to apply in the 2023 round. Three successful applicants presented their reflections, with another three providing their recorded presentations on our Professional Development Gateway (for MDX academics only). I had a packed house, evidencing the strong interest in the topic.
At this session I provided an introductory presentation that captured several key lessons drawn from my own experiences in applying for promotion, my recently published book Writing effective promotion applications and my support of Middlesex academics in the process. This series of blogposts draws on this presentation.
My presentation was quite generic and might therefore be useful for academics at other universities preparing for promotion too. Remember though: always consult your own university’s guidelines. The process, criteria and expectations for promotion differ not just by country, but also by university.
All posts in this series
- Writing promotion applications (1): Why is promotion so important for academics?
- Writing promotion applications (2): Start early
- Writing promotion applications (3): Focus on the why & how, not the what
- Writing promotion applications (4): Focus on impact
- Writing promotion applications (5): Write for the reader
- Writing promotion applications (6): What if you are rejected?
Spring: start early!
The Spring tip is to start as early as you can. In fact, I would argue that your preparation for promotion starts the very day that you start your academic career. In your application you will need to evidence your performance in research, in teaching, in external engagement, in leadership, in collegiality, and in any other aspects that your university requires. Collecting this evidence throughout your career makes it much easier to write up your application.
In my book on Writing effective promotion applications I've suggested creating a "good stuff" folder and putting it on the desktop of your computer. That doesn't have to be complicated. Just create a folder for your promotion application today and then just drop every tiny bit of good news and achievement in it.
Are you getting a nice email from a student or a colleague? Just take a screenshot and drop it in there. Nominated for an award? Put it in there, even if you weren't selected in the end. Is your work cited by a famous academic in the field? Again, take a screen take a screenshot and drop it in there. Someone said something really nice about one of your journal articles? Again, just drop it in there.
Don't worry about nice formatting or systematic reporting. Your first aim is simply to capture your material in the quickest way possible. If you have a half an hour to spare occasionally in between meetings or when your brain is fried, you can go through your file and just clean it up a bit. Some achievements might go directly to your CV, others could be collated under a specific heading such as evidence of research or teaching impact, or evidence of your academic reputation.
The good stuff file will serve you well because it will serve at least three purposes.
- First, it will give you something to start for the first draft of your promotion application. There is nothing worse than having just a blank sheet of paper and a daunting list of promotion criteria in front of you.
- Second, it will ensure that you don't forget the many many small things that in themselves are maybe not that consequential, but combined can make a very strong case. All of us think that we will remember things when the time comes. We rarely do.
- Third, it makes you feel good about yourself for two reasons. First you are working on your promotion a little bit every day week or month, and second you document your achievements. You can look back on them on dark days. It's always great to look through your good stuff file to cheer yourself up.
When you get to the year in which you're going to apply for promotion, read all the guidelines and support materials carefully before you start drafting your application. As a colleague said in his presentation, read them again and again and again, until you can’t bear to look at that anymore. You really need to be very very familiar with them.
If you are lucky your university or your colleagues will provide you with examples of successful applications. These can be very helpful to get a feel for how to write. But remember: not every successful application is equally good. Moreover, there are typically additional materials such as references and/or your Head's or Dean's letter of support that are not publicly available. These may have swayed the decision for an application that wasn't outstanding.
You can even start drafting an application a few years before you're planning to apply. There is no need to wait until the year you are applying. Starting a few years earlier allows you to identify any gaps in your records and means you can start working proactively on improving your record in these areas.
Writing up a good case for promotion takes time. Draft the first application with plenty of time to share it with your mentor for early feedback. It also provides you with time to collect additional evidence, step back to reflect and look at it with fresh eyes, and then to improve an improve and to polish. In fact, we all know how to do this for journal articles so why not do this for one of the most important documents you will ever write for your academic career!
So how much time does it take? I would say a few weeks full-time at least. It took me about 6 weeks to put my first application for Associate Professor together, although partly that was because in Australian universities the case typically runs to 20 pages. I was promoted internally to Associate Professor and Full Professor and as I said before I was rejected the first time around for both. So, I've had to spend several months of my research time on this.
At the time, I cursed the many hours I've had to spend on my promotion applications. However ultimately, I'm grateful that I was forced to put in this work, it really made me think about my academic career and where I wanted to go. It led directly to a major change in how I represented my research programs and how I argued my contribution to the discipline.
It also made me much more aware of the metrics that are used to evaluate academic performance, and this came in very handy later in my role as Associate Dean Research at the University of Melbourne and then in my role as research mentor and staff development lead at Middlesex University.
So however difficult it might seem: try to see your work on your promotion application not just as a chore to comply with silly rules, or to battle with organizational politics. Instead, try and see it as an investment in yourself to help you really articulate what it is you're proud of and how you would like to spend the next 5, 10, or 15 years of your academic career.
And finally, don't forget that you can actually reuse your carefully crafted promotion statements in lots of other settings too. You can use them for funding applications to evidence your academic record, applications for academic awards or fellowships, your yearly performance appraisals, applying for external promotion, your social media profiles or even blogposts about Effective promotion applications :-).
Other academic promotion series
- Part 1: Internal vs. external promotion
- Part 2: Seven reasons why external promotion is easier
- Part 3: Seven advantages of internal promotion
- Part 4: Tips for promotion applications
- Academic promotion tips (1) - Understand the process
- Academic promotion tips (2) - Treat your application as a journal submission
- Academic promotion tips (3) - Evidence your impact in Research & Engagement
- Academic promotion tips (4) - Evidence your impact in Teaching & Learning
- Academic promotion tips (5) - Evidence your impact in Leadership & Service
- Academic promotion tips (6) - Craft your career narrative
- Research Impact 101
- Improve your Research Profile (1): Why is it so important?
- How to get promoted in academia?
- Open Syllabus Explorer: evidencing research-based teaching?
- Presenting your case for tenure or promotion?
- Be proactive, resilient & realistic!
- Finding a Unicorn? Research funding in Business & Management research
- CYGNA: climbing up the academic career ladder
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Copyright © 2023 Anne-Wil Harzing. All rights reserved. Page last modified on Wed 30 Aug 2023 11:23
Anne-Wil Harzing is Professor of International Management at Middlesex University, London and visiting professor of International Management at Tilburg University. She is a Fellow of the Academy of International Business, a select group of distinguished AIB members who are recognized for their outstanding contributions to the scholarly development of the field of international business. In addition to her academic duties, she also maintains the Journal Quality List and is the driving force behind the popular Publish or Perish software program.