Promotion Commotion v.2.0

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Inspired by my participation in the HEFCE-supported ‘Responsible metrics’ event, and motivated by my strong belief that promotion documentation should not be confidential and that the related process should be transparent, I will ‘publish’ documentation associated with my three promotion steps at IC. Lecturer to Senior Lecturer was covered in my last blogpost; this post discusses the Senior Lecturer-Reader step.

So, you’ve been promoted to Senior Lecturer. Now what? In the UK higher education system, the next position is the rather mysteriously titled ‘Reader’. According to Wikipedia, Reader indicates “an appointment for a senior academic with a distinguished international reputation in research or scholarship”. Whatever its precise definition, whenever I mention the position of Reader to anyone from outside the UK, it is met with laughter, maybe as it conjures up images of a life spent in smoke-filled, wood-panelled rooms, simply reading and pondering great thoughts. The reality could not be more different, although I must admit I’ve never been to Oxbridge…

In some European universities, Reader is similar to a ‘Professor without a chair’ (cf. the rather oddly and luxuriously titled professor extraordinarius and professor ordinaries), whereas in the US, ‘Reader’ and ‘Professor’ would correspond to Full Professor. In fact, several UK universities (e.g.  Leeds, Oxford, and, I think, Southampton), in what I assume is some sort of bizarre (to me at least) attempt to become more American, have relatively recently dispensed with the Reader grade; in their revised system, those currently holding Readerships retain this title, but with no new Readers being appointed. In these universities, US-inspired academic titles such as Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor are slowly being phased in, with ‘Readerships’ being combined with ‘Professorships’.

reader position
Comparison of academic grades. Source: Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reader_(academic_rank)).

Semantics aside, having been promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2009, not too soon afterwards, in 2012, it was recommended I applied for promotion to Reader. As discussed in the first blog in this series, the promotions criteria at IC fall into four main, inter-related activities: (i) Education; (ii) Research; (iii) Leadership and Management; and (iv) Profession and Practice. Candidates are expected to demonstrate achievements in all these activities, but to different extents, with individual cases judged on their individual merits (i.e. you are not competitively compared to other candidates, inside or outside of your department and/or faculty).

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Source: https://bit.ly/2mnZLk8

The boundaries between grades, at IC at least, are rather fluid, with candidates, in general, expected to do ‘more’ as they progress. In terms of Education, the step from Senior Lecturer to Reader should be based on; (i) significant evidence of contributions  to education within the department that have led to improvements and/or innovation in courses/module design and delivery; (ii) a significant contribution to tutoring and/or welfare of students and/or support for lecturers; and (iii) a thorough evaluation of courses and modules taking into account student learning and the validity of the curriculum.

Progression in terms of Research will involve a growing national and international reputation combined with individuals making an increasing impact on their discipline or profession. Whereas originality is important at the Senior Lecturer level, seminal  research and influence becomes of increasing importance in moving to Reader.

In the area of Leadership and Management, the progression from Lecturer to Professor (and thus Senior Lecturer to Reader) will involve an increasing contribution to departmental/faculty/College management and regular involvement in staff development programmes that help to enhance academic, management and personal effectiveness skills.

Note that, again, I do not refer to ‘Profession and Practise’ as it’s not especially relevant to my discipline (or at least it was not an important criteria in any of my three promotion steps).

It’s worth restating here the following key points: (i) my intention is NOT to show off; especially given most the information in my promotion documentation is available on my website and associated CV; (ii) my intention is NOT to make people think this is the ONLY profile that allows someone to get a certain position at a certain institution; instead, I rather hope it provides a flavour of the process; (iii) I do not here provide copies of my references (of which six were required for the Senior to Reader promotion step), teaching evaluations, or four recent publications (“…which have had the greatest impact since the previous promotion or since appointment at the College, and that show what has been achieved in the interim.”) and their 100-word supporting statements, although I’m happy to provide these on request; and (iv) I provide no additional context related to my promotion application, such as whether I was in receipt of job offers.

Related to this last point, I should and it is perhaps worth coming clean; in 2012, I had been approached by at least three institutions in the UK. I obviously didn’t choose to make a move, as I was enjoying myself at IC, my family were settled in London, and I was not convinced that a move at that point in my career would provide me with much personal or professional benefit. Hence, I stayed put, but I made the department aware of the situation, largely on the recommendation of my Line Leader. Like I said before, such interest is important as it may give you a sense of your ‘market value’, and could shake your present employer from their slumber regarding the ability to fairly recognise your contribution.

Although I want to present my paperwork largely unadorned by commentary, it is perhaps worth mentioning two things: (i) in 2012, unlike in 2009, I had cause to provide additional information under “Personal Circumstances” (p35); first, we had our first daughter, Olive, and second, my Dad passed away, at a relatively young age, due to prostate cancer. It was an unusual year; and (ii) my use of metrics in 2012 was horrid (p25-27). I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand what the numbers meant, largely because my JIF-world orbited between 1.5 and 4, and because we published “strategically” in journals that, although of low-JIF, were read by our industrial sponsors. Prestige is one thing, funding is another. I’d do things different now, and would recommend others do likewise.

So, here it is; the promotion documentation related to my (successful) application for a Reader position at IC. It’s worth noting that the highest grade achieved by Alan Turing was Reader…

Author: Christopher Aiden-Lee Jackson

I am Professor of Basin Analysis @imperialcollege. I ❤️ 🏃🏿, 🚴🏿 and @basinsIC (⛏). I obsess about the tectono-stratigraphic development of sedimentary basins. Why? Because I'm hopeless at everything else.

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