Writing promotion applications (3): Focus on the why & how, not the what
Third 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?
Summer: drivers and process rather than description
The Summer tip is to focus on the why and the how not on the what. This is especially important for Middlesex University and any other universities where the emphasis is very strongly on your career narrative. Your university might still have an approach that is focused primarily on cold hard metrics, but even there this step might be useful to frame your application.
Remember that your application is an argued and coherent case. It is not a set of puzzle pieces that you simply throw at the promotion panel, asking them to somehow put the puzzle together. When writing a case for promotion many academics have the natural tendency to just repeat their CV in a narrative format, turning the bullet points into sentences.
This is what I call the what, it's simply a description, a description of your duties, a description of your roles, a description of your achievements. But it's only the raw material. They are the puzzle pieces, but you are the one who needs to put these puzzle pieces together and link them into an overall career story.
The promotion panel can only see the full picture appearing when all of the puzzle pieces are in place. And remember it's not their job to put the pieces together. Even if they are prepared to do this, they might use them to create a career narrative that doesn't really reflect who you are and really doesn't show the best of you. It's your promotion so you need to put the puzzle together.
Especially when you are applying for promotion to Associate Professor or Full Professor, universities will want to know what you profess. In other words they want a coherent statement of what you see as the core of your academic identity.
Even if your university guidelines don't require this, drawing on your academic identity can turn your application from a fairly sterile list of achievements into a compelling career narrative. It demonstrates that you are an individual, an individual who cares about their profession, rather than a cardboard cut-out rattling off just a list of tick boxes. They want to know who you are, what makes you tick, what you stand for.
When reading your application their hearts should swell with pride for having such a great colleague. They shouldn't be falling asleep wrestling through a tedious records of roles or getting annoyed by baseless bragging without evidence. So really take the framing the why of your application seriously.
Now after taking care of the why, i.e. what drives you as an academic, you should focus on the how. How have you lived these values that are part of your academic identity? How have you achieved the goals you set yourself. Narrate your journey, the choices you've made along the way, and the obstacles you have overcome.
But remember to provide the evidence too, this is where you can use the what. As my colleague Tim Freeman said in his presentation, it is a narrative, it is a story. But it's not fiction! So do provide the evidence. If you're struggling with this, in my book on Writing effective promotion applications I give you plenty of examples on how you can do this for research, for teaching, and for leadership.
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 Fri 3 Nov 2023 15:33
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.