Not your UMass colleagues, although local impression management helps. External letter writers are your main constituency. Therefore, cultivate your external reputation and network with potential external letter writers.
Promotion to Full Q&A
To successfully be promoted to full professor, candidates must have a record of achievement sufficient to have gained substantial recognition on and off campus from scholars or professionals in field and show significant potential for continuing professional achievement.
Let it be clear: there is field-specific variation and thus there is no single cookie-cutter approach to evaluation. These answers are intended as a general guide to commonly asked questions. This is not a policy statement, and the suggestions above should not be seen as definitive interpretations of the Red Book or the UMass-MSP Collective Bargaining Agreement. When in doubt about binding policies, contact your department chair/head or your MSP representative.
Frequently Asked Questions
Clearly, all of these areas are important for promotion, but having an excellent research record is the norm for promotion cases at research universities. A research record can also include publishing in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), a legitimate scholarly area. It is more difficult to achieve external recognition from letter writers for primarily internally-facing activities, such as teaching, engagement, and service, but there are exceptions. In some cases, faculty have been promoted who have made a name for themselves through nationally-recognized leadership or teaching who maintained modest but sustained research records. Some examples:
- A chair who led their department to national prominence over a decade, secured a significant endowment for a named academic program, and won a national leadership award.
- A graduate program chair who had transformative accomplishments in expanding and raising the prominence of a graduate program, leadership in national committees around graduate education in that discipline, accompanied by distinguished teaching awards.
With the level of prominence both cases achieved, it was not hard to secure high-placed and strong external letters.
Your published scholarship is the most common way to build academic reputations, but you should also expose your working scholarship to potential letter writers early and often. Share your work via conferences and accept invited talks, which demonstrate that others in your field recognize your research and want to hear about it. Leadership roles at national and international societies/associations help signal that professional colleagues recognize you as a leader in your field. Develop a web presence so that people can access your research easily via, Google Scholar, Scholarworks, Researchgate, etc.
Peer-reviewed research is considered more important than book chapters, edited volumes, textbooks, etc. Quality and impact of journals/book press matters. In some fields, a book or second book is the norm; in other fields, a major grant is the norm; and in others the emphasis is on peer-reviewed articles or in published reviews of or juried art installations or performances.
On average, SBS faculty go up for promotion between their 6th and 10th years as Associates. However, many successfully go up later in their career, and some go up earlier. There is no penalty for going up earlier or later in your career. And there is no impediment to going up again if the first time was not successful. We advise consulting with your DPC and Chair to determine the appropriate time to seek promotion to Professor.
You will be ready to go up for full when you have made an influential impact on your field with (mostly) post-tenure work. National and/or international experts in your field should be able to attest to this and your potential for continued impact.
Starting early in your associate career, have regular conversations with your chair and mentors about how to get to this place, ideally during the annual AFR process. Develop a “big picture” trajectory for what you want to get accomplished before you come up for full. Then break it down backwards into semesters and summers to make it more manageable.
SBS policy states that the Departmental Personnel Committee (DPC) will review the records of faculty who have been associate professors for 6+ years at regular intervals to assess their promotion prospects. The DPC is encouraged to provide feedback through the AFR process to Associate Professors to help them plan their pathway to future promotion.
Frame your research statement to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of your work, the collaborative nature of this type of work and its newness in your field if applicable. Discuss with your chair how to contextualize the interdisciplinarity of your work for external letter writers who will be reviewing your case. Talk through appropriate external letter-writers whose expertise spans the breadth of your work. Peer-reviewed interdisciplinary work appropriate to your field is welcomed in most departments and in the college.
It is normal for careers to ebb and flow. The good thing about being an Associate is that you are no longer subject to the narrowly-defined timeline of tenure track. In most cases there is no need to draw attention to a slower period in your career if your pace has resumed. In many instances, such as book publishing, it is normal to have longer gap periods between publications. The case for promotion can be made on the strength of recent research activity, of a duration sufficiently long to gather the needed outside reputation and make a convincing case for future productivity.
But sometimes candidates do choose to address fallow periods if they feel that it adds important context to their case. If so, talk to your colleagues and mentors about how to frame such pauses in your career, whether it was time spent in the field collecting data, reorienting your research agenda, grant timing, building a family, dealing with illness, etc. The DPC can play an important role in interpreting periods like this if you choose not to do so in your statement, so be sure to have a conversation with the DPC or your chair about strategy if you wish to address any pauses.
There is more focus, though not exclusively, on work done post-‐tenure. For example the Provost’s suggested template for chairs to send to external letter writers says: “While we recognize that scholarly work builds over the life of a career, we are particularly interested in your assessment of the candidate's contributions since promotion to the rank of associate professor with tenure.” That said, the primary criterion is the entire body of work at the time of evaluation; we don’t want assistant professors to slow their research productivity pre-tenure for fear that it won’t count towards promotion to full Professor.
Talk with your chair and mentors about strategic service and strategic teaching assignments. If you accept a service role that requires intensive amounts of time, consider these questions: Does it come with any other accommodation? Can you make it compatible with your research in some way? Can it help to connect you with other scholars in your field (e.g. chairing your colloquia speaker series committee)?
Some national service is particularly good to have on your record, such as serving on grant review panels, award committees, and accepting leadership roles in your discipline’s association.
Turn frequent, low-level service into CV-recognized service. For example, if you are being asked to review a large number of articles for a journal, ask whether there might be a place on their editorial board for your expertise.
Apply for a fellowship research leave or use a sabbatical to give you time to focus exclusively on your research.
Consider teaching a course that enhances your research. This may be a research-based graduate class that produces original data or simply a substantive class that helps you become more familiar with a new field of literature you plan to pursue.
This can be indicated by demonstrating the work you have in the pipeline, such as papers under revision, grants submitted or received, working papers, books prospectuses and new research projects under way.
No, time spent on extended leave for family or medical reasons should not be counted against a faculty member applying for promotion to full professor. Leaves of absence are not always obvious to internal and external reviewers, we recommend noting in your narrative that you took a leave with language like, “The University of Massachusetts offers automatic or optional tenure delays associated with certain types of leaves (such as parental leave, sick leave, leave without pay). The university provides those tenure delays because no research, teaching or service is expected during such leave periods. My time at this university since my promotion to Associate Professor has entailed such delays.”
Promotion does not require a separate vote for the three areas of research, teaching and service and should not use the ratings of excellent, strength or not strength. The highest level of review for promotion cases is at the Provost and Chancellor level, whereas tenure cases are reviewed by the Board of Trustees. Also, research is the primary criterion for promotion to full Professor.
You suggest names and your chair and DPC come up with a final list. In most cases, these are the experts in your field who you probably cite in your own research. Preferably, letter writers are well-known full professors who work at comparable or aspirant institutions. Sometimes there are exceptions, for example, when the research is in a new or cross-disciplinary field, and this can be addressed in the statement and departmental memos.
Ideally, most letter writers will not be close to you. Close is defined as a mentor, advisor, recent coauthor, or a former or current colleague. Generally, five or six letters from non-close letter writers will be solicited.
The letter is a guide only; it is customizable as long as it covers the main points. The template attempts to clarify the meaning of the terms and to provide variation in types of evidence that are possible across fields. It covers a broad array of evaluation areas and can be edited for best fit to your own discipline.