Strategies for a Successful Promotion and Tenure
During the next six years your record of accomplishments will be reviewed to determine whether you have earned promotion to the rank of associate professor with tenure. Normally these reviews will occur during your second, fourth, and sixth years at Penn State. It is your responsibility to establish a research agenda that will grow and demonstrate progress over this period, as well as to develop your teaching abilities and provide service as appropriate to the campus, the college, the university, your profession, and the local community. Excellence is sought in teaching, research, scholarship and creative accomplishment, and service.
As a result of the recruitment process that brought you to Penn State, we believe that you can be successful, and want to help you achieve this success. Throughout the University there are many people and resources available to help you succeed in this process. However, the primary responsibility for determining your strategy for success and locating the assistance you need for your unique career path is yours. This means that you will have to be assertive about seeking guidance and good advice from the many available sources.
General Guidance for Getting and Staying on Track
To help you get started, we have prepared the following list of things you can do to document your professional activities, find out what you need to know about the promotion and tenure (P & T) process, and identify the different types of assistance you will need. Unfortunately, there is no simple road map or “one size fits all” model to follow. Each faculty member will follow a somewhat individualized approach due to different interests, geographical location, campus resources, disciplinary expectations for promotion and tenure, and other factors.
- Document your professional activities from the first day you are on campus. You need documentation to complete the annual Faculty Activity Report (FAR) each spring semester AND for your second-, fourth- and sixth-year reviews. For example, create a teaching portfolio in which you keep copies of all course materials, grading analyses, evaluations by peers and administrators, SRTEs, other forms of student assessment of teaching, evidence of advising effectiveness, examples of student work, teaching innovations, and related materials. This can be used to show the evolution of your teaching abilities and approaches. Similarly, keep records of conferences attended and your role (e.g., organized a session; presented a paper); service activities (e.g., committees and role on the committee); grant applications, publications, and everything else that can document your professional experiences.
- Consider your Director of Academic Affairs (DAA) the key contact person and faculty mentor on your campus. Talk with your DAA about your teaching and research interests and how to balance your interests and needs with those of the campus. Your DAA can tell you about resources available on your campus, such as funds for travel to conferences and assistance with teaching provided by the campus Instructional Development Specialist (IDS). Also, your DAA can provide information about resources available within the University, including other faculty in your discipline.
- Seek opportunities to present and publish your work at professional conferences and in the highest quality journals appropriate for your research. Revise presentations for submission for publication as quickly as possible. Use conferences to develop your professional network outside Penn State (e.g., at the national or international level) to begin to build your reputation outside Penn State.
- Seek and apply for funding opportunities from internal and external sources. Talk with your DAA about university-wide opportunities for research, scholarship and creative activities, and teaching support. Attend workshops on grant writing and discuss your research interest with the University College Manager of Grant Relations.
- Apply to the annual campus competition for Research Development Grants (RDGs). RDGs provide seed money for your research, as well as stipends to support undergraduate research assistants. The quality of the proposals and the contribution of the proposal to the professional development of the faculty member are evaluated by the campus DAA to determine which proposals should be supported.
- Submit proposals to competitions for Schreyer Institute grants to support teaching innovations. Because some grants can require a substantial commitment of time, you should discuss your proposed project with your DAA before submitting a proposal to ensure it is a good strategic move for you.
- Develop your network of colleagues and seek advice from these colleagues. Begin to build your Penn State professional network in your first year. Attend disciplinary meetings at the University level so you can learn about other faculty in the University and at the campuses with similar interests. Make extra efforts to get to know your colleagues on your campus and at other Penn State campuses. Discuss teaching, research, and publication strategies with senior faculty on your campus and other Penn State campuses. Use visits to University Park (UP) and other Penn State campuses as opportunities to meet faculty, learn more about funded research centers, and explore similar research interests. Also, join the Community of Science, a global registry of researchers in all disciplines; membership is free to Penn State faculty (http://www.cos.com).
Ask for guidance from colleagues who have recently gone through the P&T process. These might be faculty members in your discipline on your campus or at other campus locations, or other faculty assigned a role in the mentoring of new faculty. It is important to use the first two years at Penn State to build a solid base for your teaching and research activities.
Use telephone and e-mail to stay in touch with peers and build research relationships. Collaborations with faculty on other campuses have to be developed by a one-to-one contact. Your DAA may be able to assist you in making these contacts, but the development of research collaborations is your responsibility.
- Stay in touch with faculty who served on your dissertation committee. These faculty may be useful as mentors, as well as coauthors if coauthored work is appropriate for your discipline. In some disciplines coauthors may be particularly helpful the first two years after the completion of your doctoral degree while you are developing your research agenda, but this strategy should be discussed with your DAA. However, recognize that you need to develop your own unique identity as a researcher. By the sixth-year review the various levels of promotion and tenure committees will be evaluating your individual reputation in your discipline outside Penn State.
Overview of the Promotion and Tenure Process
Find out from your DAA, senior faculty, Associate Dean for Faculty and Research, and others what the promotion and tenure expectations are in the college. Understand what must be included in a strong dossier organized by the “rainbow-colored dividers.” As a consequence of talking with a wide variety of faculty and administrators and reading the documents identified below, you should have the information needed to understand the Penn State P&T process. With advice and guidance from your DAA, you then should develop a plan for your teaching, research, scholarship and creative activities, and service during both the academic year and the summer to ensure your record in all areas is strong and balanced for the sixth-year P & T review. As you develop this plan, consider the points below.
- The P & T review process has been designed to ensure that faculty members are making satisfactory progress toward promotion and tenure and to provide advice and guidance as needed. However, the three reviews vary in their focus.
- The second-year review evaluates how well the faculty member is settling into and managing the challenges of the tenure track. Evidence of successful teaching, the establishment of an ongoing research agenda moving beyond your dissertation, and involvement in a modest level of service activities such as campus committees is sought. Since this review is conducted in the spring semester of your second year at Penn State, it is understood that it covers a relatively short period of time. The major concern generally is whether the faculty member is progressing in the right direction and doing the right things.
- The fourth-year review is submitted in the fall semester of your fourth year at Penn State and therefore covers a longer period. Reviewers seek evidence that you have established and are developing your own independent research agenda that moves beyond your dissertation work. In addition, a solid record of teaching and service should be documented. Evidence of your efforts to improve teaching, such as pedagogical workshops and teaching innovations, also is sought. The major concern generally is whether the record indicates that the six-year review probably will be successful if the faculty member continues the reported quality and quantity of activities.
- The sixth-year review focuses on the accomplishments of the prior five years. It is submitted in the fall semester of your sixth year. The major concerns are: (1) Has the faculty member demonstrated satisfactory quality and quantity of teaching, research, scholarship and creative accomplishments, and service activities as discussed in the Statement of Expectations and Criteria for Promotion and Tenure of University College? (2) Does the pattern of work support the expectation of future professional growth and continued productivity?
- All three reviews are based on the materials you include in the dossier as directed by the rainbow-colored dividers. Clear and complete documentation of your activities is very important to ensure all levels of review have the information needed to evaluate your record. Careful record keeping each year for your Faculty Activity Report will ensure you have the information needed to create your dossier.
- There are multiple levels of reviews in the P&T process. In the promotion and tenure review in your sixth year there are six levels of review: the campus P&T committee, the campus CEO and DAA joint review, the college P&T committee, and the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses. The Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses forwards the dossier to the University P&T Committee, which makes the final recommendation to the Provost. The final authority for approval or disapproval is the responsibility of the President.
Planning the Next Five Years
Faculty members starting on the tenure track will find it helpful to develop a timetable by semester to plan what they need to do and when for a successful sixth-year P&T review. Plans also help maintain an appropriate balance between the demands of teaching, research and service activities. Planning is particularly critical to keep research on track. The advice below should be considered carefully as you develop your own plan and timetable.
- Understand the specifications and requirement of the promotion and tenure process. Immediately read the policies and mission statements. Talk with your DAA and senior faculty who understand current P & T expectations and processes. Read books such as Advice for New Faculty Members (Robert Boice, Allyn and Bacon Publishers, 2000). It is critical to spend time during your first semester understanding expectations. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
- Know what resources are available to help you be successful. Research the work of your colleagues to find out what they are doing and to identify possible co-authors. Explore the periodicals room of a research library to identify journals for your work. Talk with your campus DAA to identify various sources of financial support for research and travel available at the campus and university levels. It is critical to spend time during your first semester identifying resources. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
- Evaluate the risks of your research strategy and set goals that are realistic for you. For example, writing a book as your only research project for the sixth-year P & T review is a high-risk strategy. It places you in an “all or nothing” situation. If the book is successful and well received, your record will be strong, but you may not be able to rely on the book being published and reviewed in time for the sixth-year P& T review. However, if you have simultaneously published articles in refereed journals, your record can still be strong if the book is not published. Be aware of the riskiness of strategies you are pursuing.
- Use conference presentations and journal reviewer comments to improve your work. Generally each time you present your work publicly you will receive useful comments and helpful criticism. Use these comments to improve your work. Reviewer comments from journals provide helpful guidance to improve your work, even if a manuscript is not accepted.
- Understand the review time for the journal review process in the journals to which you will be submitting articles. For some journals the review time can be up to two years. You must keep working on other projects while you are waiting for a decision on a submitted manuscript. Think of your research projects as positioned at different places on a continuum, starting from a concept for the project and ending with publication. The key to managing a continuous flow of research projects is to have several projects at various stages along this continuum at all times.
- Understand your weaknesses and find ways to manage them. For example, if you know that you do not write well, ask peers to read your drafts to help you improve them. If necessary, hire an editor. If you want to do research in an area in which you are not expert, identify a co-author to provide the expertise you lack. If you need statistical or programming assistance, consider submitting a Research Development Grant (RDG) requesting funds to pay for this assistance.
- Be proactive in gaining an understanding of the standards for teaching expected for faculty members in University College. Find out from your DAA and senior faculty who the good teachers are on your campus and ask to sit in on their classes. Attend workshops on teaching offered on campus or at other Penn State locations. Invite experienced faculty to attend one of your classes and informally provide feedback. Ask for help from the campus Instructional Development Specialist (IDS). Pay careful attention to comments in the peer review letters written for the second- and fourth-year P&T reviews. Develop a teaching portfolio. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
- Always treat your students with respect. Talk with the faculty who are well-respected by both students and other faculty. Find out how they teach with expectations of high-quality student work while respecting and being respected by their students. Seek their advice about how to provide a civil classroom environment in which individuals and diverse perspectives are valued.
- Identify committees that allow you to work on topics you enjoy and value while also serving your campus and the university. Talk with your campus DAA to find service options that can be “two for one” activities. For example, your campus may have a committee that plans brown bag lunch sessions on pedagogical topics. As a member of the committee you will have the opportunity to suggest topics about which you want to know more. In addition, this will provide a strong incentive to attend the sessions.
- Carefully consider the content of the second- and fourth-year review letters. Make a list of the suggestions offered in all of the letters and follow the suggestions to the degree feasible. Keep records of what you have done in following the suggestions so this can be reported in the next review. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
- Enjoy your work!
Five-year Timetable for Promotion and Tenure: One Example
Most new faculty members find it helpful to develop a plan. This hypothetical example is provided to illustrate what a five-year timetable must contain. After you consider this example and the advice received from various sources, you can develop your own plan on the attached blank timetable or another format that you prefer.
The teaching section of the table (blue) reminds you to plan for a number of new teaching preparations, starting with three classes in your first fall semester. In the second semester you may be asked to develop another new course, as well as in fall and spring of the following academic year. Over time you will repeat these classes in varying sequences, but will continue to work on improving the courses. Consequently, it will be useful to talk with your DAA to find out when to plan for new course preparations.
The research section of the table (red) reminds you to plan so that you have several projects at different stages of development in the “research pipeline.” While the illustrative projects shown require about two years to complete and be published, one project is indicated as taking longer. A book project can require four to six years to write and publish. High-quality journals and presses often take longer to complete reviews, so this also must be factored into your planning. Note that research, unlike teaching and service, continues over the summer.
The service section of the table (green) reminds you to plan some service activities each semester during the academic year. These activities will initially be focused on the campus, and then later will expand to division and university activities. The number and types of activities will vary by campus.
Finally, the promotion and tenure reviews are noted in the table (yellow) to remind you to plan for intensive work on your dossier for the second-, fourth-, and sixth-year reviews. Note that the entire period preceding the sixth-year review should be used to identify potential external reviewers based on your attendance at conferences, reading in your field, and talking with others knowledgeable about your research interests. You will need to prepare a list of external reviewers in the spring of your fifth year since requests are sent to external reviewers in May and June.
Documents to Read
You should read the documents listed below to understand the Penn State promotion and tenure process. They explain the criteria for promotion in the University College as well as the college and university procedures for the reviews.
- University College documents:
- Statement of Expectations and Criteria for Promotion and Tenure
- University College Promotion and Tenure Handbook
- University documents:
- Policy HR-23 Promotion and Tenure Procedures and Regulations
- The review process is explained in the Penn State document updated annually entitled:
Administrative Guidelines for HR-23: Promotion and Tenure Procedures and Regulations - PDF