Writing promotion applications (4): Focus on impact
Fourth 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?
The Autumn tip is to focus on impact. How has what you have done helped stakeholders? It asks the question: "so what"? This question is very much related to the Summer recommendation that said focus on the why and the how instead of the what.
An effective promotion application is more than a simple listing of your publications, the courses you have taught and the leadership and service roles that you have, gladly or not so gladly, fulfilled. That's the stuff of your CV. To apply for promotion, you'll need a comprehensive CV, absolutely. But a CV can only tell your promotion panel so much.
You may have several top journal publications, but what if these articles are methodologically sound, but trivial in terms of their novelty or impact? What if nobody ever read or cited these articles? What if these top publications were achieved once or twice, early in your career with the help of your PhD supervisors, never to be repeated? The promotion panel doesn't know.
You may have taught many courses and many students, and marked many assignments. But what if you send students running for cover to other electives, what if you recycle teaching materials year after year, what if your lectures induce death by PowerPoint? Maybe you cared mostly about teaching and and just showing off your own knowledge, and not enough about facilitating student learning. The promotion panel doesn't know.
You may have been a department head, but what if half of the staff left during your tenure? You may have been departmental seminar coordinator. But what if most of these seminars started late, were chaotic, and attendance dropped during your tenure? You may have been a member of many committees, but what if all you did was sit through these committees in silence? The promotion panel doesn't know.
The promotion panel cannot tell any of this from your CV. So a promotion panel cannot discount these what-ifs if they only have access to your CV and a very dry summary of your duties and publications.
To argue your case for promotion, you need to show your positive impact providing concrete evidence. Everyone can claim that they do high-quality research, are inspirational teachers, and transformational as leaders. So your application needs to focus on how what you have done has actually helped this stakeholders.
Now it's up to you to define who these stakeholders are. They could be other academics, they could be practitioners, they could be policy makers, they could be students, they could be your colleagues, they could be your mentees. But your focus really needs to be about how your work has impacted others, not just on how good you think you are and why you are "owed" promotion.
Also remember that promotion is a future oriented decision, it's not a past oriented one. You're not promoted as a reward for being a loyal servant. Promotions typically reflect the potential of what you can do in the future, they're not a reward for what you have done in the past.
You should absolutely use your past achievements to evidence why you should be promoted. But few universities will promote you unless they feel that these past achievements are somehow indicators of even bigger future achievements.
What you really want to convey to your employer and the promotion panel is that promotion will benefit both you and the institution, because it would allow you to "spread your wings" and to fly even higher.
Most universities do not promote someone to Associate Professor if they do not think they have the ability to become a Full Professor in due time. Most universities will not promote someone to Full Professor if they think this will lead you to rest on your laurels and and not contribute to the university anymore.
A university might fear that you become research inactive. Many professors become more, not less research active after promotion. They are intrinsically interested in research, and they are keen to use their new position to do more. But there also professors who gradually become less and less research active after promotion. Their research motivation might well have been a bit more extrinsic and driven at least partly by their goal of making it to the highest step on the academic career ladder.
As the university doesn't really know which category you will be in, they will really be looking for signals of your likely future research performance. So, you better make sure that these signals are included in your application.
The second worry that your University might have if they promote you to Full Professor is that you start focusing purely on your own - sometimes very niche - research interests and that as a result that you might be less likely to actively engage in teaching or leadership. Remember that many universities rely on professors to do the bulk of academic leadership.
So, they are looking for signals that you will be likely to take on these roles and be effective in them, whether they are formal roles such as Head of Department or a Associate Dean or even Dean, or informal roles through for instance research mentoring or service to the wider profession.
So, in sum, I would say make it very very clear how promotion will be to start over more exciting journey in the future.
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 11:24
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.