Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Figure Out the Publication Expectations for Tenure: Four Strategies That Work

Imagine this: Your first year on the tenure-track, you sit down with your department chair and ask him what the expectations for tenure are. He hands you a written document that indicates that you have to publish six articles in specific journals, and that you must be first author on at least four. He provides you with a list of acceptable journals and makes it clear that this is the hurdle you have to cross for tenure. You meet with other senior colleagues in your department and across the university, and everyone agrees on the research component of the tenure expectations. You know exactly what you need to do and the only thing left to figure out is how to do it.

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This situation, for better or for worse, is remarkably uncommon. Most new faculty are never told exactly what they need for tenure. Senior colleagues are reluctant to give an exact number of how many articles you need to publish, whether you need articles in addition to a book, which journals are considered important, and whether or not book reviews, conference presentations, and book chapters in edited volumes count for anything. Your senior colleagues are most likely to tell you that the tenure expectations are individualized and that a wide variety of portfolios can make an excellent tenure case. Some mentors will advise you to focus on the book, whereas others will tell you to get out a couple of articles first.

As a new faculty member at a research institution, I found this very frustrating. I thought to myself: why can’t they just tell me what I need to do so that I can do it? If you are in this sort of situation, where you are not clear on what the expectations are, one thing is certain: it is in your interest to find out anyway. How do you do that?

It turns out that there are a number of ways for you to figure out what a solid tenure case would look like. You just need to approach this as you would any other research project: ask around, investigate, and look at a variety of cases. Here are four strategies for you to figure out what your research portfolio should look like.

Ask around at your institution.

In your first semester, you should meet with your department chair and with your faculty mentor. Ask both of them to give you advice on what the publication expectations are. They might be vague, but they will communicate something to you. You also can ask other colleagues around the institution, especially if you can find people who have served on the College and University Promotion and Tenure committees.

Look at the CVs of people recently promoted in your department.

If there is anyone who has been promoted in the past five years in your department, you should look at their CV and figure out what they needed to get tenure. You may even be able to ask them to share their tenure materials with you so that you can see exactly how they put their case together.

Look at the CVs of people recently promoted at other comparable institutions.

Most departments post their faculty members’ CVs online. And, since promotion and tenure require updating the CV, many recently tenured faculty have updated CVs online. Look at several CVs of people who were recently tenured in your field and figure out what they had that allowed them to make a compelling tenure case.

Develop your own expectations, and share them with your senior colleagues.

After you have compiled all of this information, use it to make explicit expectations for yourself. Suppose, after these conversations, you determine that you would need a book published at a university press, two single-authored articles in top tier peer-reviewed journals, one co-authored peer-reviewed articles, and at least six conference presentations. Take this information back to your department chair and your mentor and ask them if that would make a reasonable tenure case in your department. Tell them that you have set these goals for yourself, and that you would like their feedback on your goals. Their responses should be enlightening.

This last step is very important. Senior faculty are often reluctant to tell you exactly what you need because they don’t want to be wrong, but also because they do not want you to limit your options. If, however, you decide for yourself what your goals are and make it clear that you want their feedback, they likely will be willing to provide it.

The quest for tenure can be stressful, and the lack of clear expectations make it more so. Figuring out what the expectations are yourself can be one step towards achieving clarity for yourself, and, in the process, to relieving some of the stress.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

So, You Want to Start an Academic Blog? Four Tips to Know Before You Start

You’ve heard of blogging and the blogosphere. You’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog yourself. But, you haven’t done so yet. Why?

I am sure there are countless reasons why an academic would not want to blog. But, let’s suppose for a moment that you do. How do you actually go about becoming an academic blogger?

To get started, there are four things you need to know: 1) The technicalities of starting a blog; 2) What your blog should be about; 3) How a blog differs from academic writing; and 4) How to get an audience for your blog.

Tip #1: How to start a blog

This step is actually quite simple. Just go to blogger.com or wordpress.com and sign up. There are other services available as well and you can even pay to get your own domain name.

Before you go to set up a blog, you want to think about two things. 1) What will your domain name be? 2) What will the name of your blog be? These sound quite simple. And, if you are famous, they are. Just use your famous name as the blog and domain name.

If you are not famous, however, you might want to think about coming up with a domain name and a name for your blog that immediately let the reader know what your blog will be about. Some examples of informative domain names are: http://everydaysociologyblog.com and http://science-professor.blogspot.com/. These domain names that make it clear what the blog is about. Domain names should be descriptive and easy to remember.

Tip #2: Your blog needs to be interesting or useful

If you are blogging just so that you and your mother can keep tabs on your daily life, then you can put whatever you want into your blog. If, however, you want to create content that people actually seek out and read, you will have to write on something that is either interesting or useful. Notice that your blog does not have to be both interesting and useful, but it should be one or the other. A blog on programming in SAS might not be very interesting, but could well be useful to many a neophyte.

So, think about your expertise and figure out what you want to write about that is useful and/or interesting. Your blogging could be about your research interests, but also could be about teaching, climbing the academic ladder, using software, gardening, or whatever strikes your fancy. I do recommend, however, that your blog have a central theme to attract a consistent readership.

Tip #3: Academic Prose Does Not Belong in a Blog, but Images Do

Effective blogging requires writing as clearly as possible, much clearer than is expected in academic writing.

Here are some basic tips: Use short sentences. Keep paragraphs to a few lines. Don’t use jargon. Write as if you were explaining things to someone you really want to understand you.
In addition to style, you also want to think about format and content.

Use Subheadings.

In blogs, it is also best to use subheadings to make your posts easy to scan. When people read things on the Internet, they are unlikely to read every word. If they do read a whole post, they are likely to scan it first to see if it is worth reading. Making your blog post easy to scan makes it more likely that people will read it.

Use Images.

Include an image in each post. Pictures make your blog more attractive, and people are more likely to read a post with an image. You can access free images from the Creative Commons at flickr.com. Just make sure you provide the proper attribution when you use these images.

Pay attention to the titles of your posts.

Give each post a short, descriptive title. Titles that start with "How To" or provide a list of tips are among the most popular titles for blog entries. People like to know what they might learn before reading a blog post. A good title goes a long way.

Tip #4: How to Get Readers to Your Blog

To attract readers, first figure out who your audience is. Is it other academics? Political activists? Homeowners? Schoolteachers? Parents? Having a good idea as to who your audience is will make it easier to find readers. Once who know who your audience is, you can figure out where best to seek them out.

Use social media.

Advertise your posts on twitter, facebook, and any other social media you use. If you don’t use any, it is a good idea to at least sign up for twitter and have your posts automatically tweeted when you post them. Really, if you are going to blog, you might as well go ahead and sign up for Facebook if you haven’t done so already.

Use a subscription service.

People subscribe to blogs using a variety of services. Make sure that you include email and feeder subscription links on your blog page. If you use a service such as blogger or wordpress, these “widgets” are easy to find and implement. One caution: Don’t use too many widgets to clog up your page. Just use those that are most important.

Get in on the conversation.

Comment on other blogs and include your url in your comments. If there are other bloggers out there who write on the same topic as you, say hello to them and let them know you’d like to be included in the conversation.

Guest Post.

Write guest posts for more well-known blogs. If there are blogs in your field with a higher readership than yours, you may send a polite inquiry to the blog owner asking if you might write a guest post. When you do this, be sure to tell them why you are asking them, and briefly describe what your guest post would be about. Some of the bigger blogs have specific submission instructions. Follow those instructions.

There also are web courses and other programs that can help you get started. One great example is A-List Bloggers:

Ready, Set, Blog!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Five Spelling Errors that Damage Your Credibility

When you send an academic paper or grant proposal out for review, the selection process is very competitive. In 2010, for example, the National Endowment for the Humanities received 1,405 applications, and made 99 awards: only seven percent of all submissions were funded. Many top disciplinary journals have even lower acceptance rates. These low rates of acceptance mean that reviewers are looking for any reason they can find to disqualify your paper or proposal. For this reason, you always want to put your best foot forward.


Some of the most common mistakes academics make are also the easiest to fix. One example involves spelling errors that spell-check will not find. Most academics know well enough that they need to run spell-check before submitting a paper. And, they also know that even though jargon such as neoliberalization or mestizaje might not pass muster in spell check, they are acceptable words in academic writing. Instead, the mistakes I see time and time again in academic writing are those that spell-check will not pick up because they are legitimate words; they just are not being used in the proper way.

Here are five of the most common mistakes I see in academic writing.

Mistake #1: Lead/led

Proper usage: Some people may be led to believe that pencils are made of lead.
“Led” is the past tense of the verb “to lead.” “Lead” is the substance we used to put in pencils.

Mistake #2: Pour/pore or Pouring/poring

Proper usage: While I was poring over my book, my daughter began to pour coffee on it.
“To pour” means to spill a liquid on something. “To pore” means to read intensively.

Mistake #3: Lose/loose

Proper usage: You might lose your pants if they are too loose.
“To lose” is a verb that refers to something that you no longer can find. “Loose” means something is not tight.

Mistake #4: Eek/eke

Proper usage: Having to eke out a living as a farm worker might make me scream “eek!”
“To eke” is a verb usually used to refer to stretching out scant resources. “Eek” is something you scream.

Mistake #5: Compliment/complement

Proper usage: She complimented me on how well my pants complemented my shirt.
“To compliment” means to give praise. “To complement” refers to something matching something else.

These are the five mistakes I see most frequently. Avoiding them will enhance your credibility. What are some mistakes you see?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don’t Want to Write Today? Five Solutions You Can Use

I always schedule my writing for the morning. But, some mornings, I just can’t focus. I open up my laptop, turn off the Internet, open up a Word document, but the words don’t flow.

Does this ever happen to you? If it does, what should you do?

Should you push through and write anyway? Or should you do something else instead? There is no right answer to this, but there are a variety of things you can do when you are having trouble moving forward in your writing.

Solution #1: Write anyway.

Give yourself a time or word-count goal. I often say I'll write for only fifteen minutes. Those fifteen minutes often turn into thirty or forty minutes. Just the act of writing becomes comfortable and you will find yourself on a roll. If a time limit is too harsh, try writing 500 words. Either way, you will have written more than you would have had you turned the Internet back on and given up.

Solution #2: Change your writing task.

Sometimes I get to my laptop, and my task-list tells me I need to write two paragraphs on agency and resistance, but I don’t feel like doing that. That’s fine. If this happens to you, go down your task list and pick another task you’d rather do.

If you find that whenever it is time to do this particular task you don’t feel like writing, pay attention to this pattern and try and figure out what is going on. Maybe there is some deeper reason for why you don’t want to do that task. Maybe you don’t feel capable or perhaps you are ready to move on to a different theory or method. It will be easier to figure this out once you take notice of your patterns.

Solution #3: Change your writing time for the day.

If your calendar tells you to write at 10am and to go to the library at 1pm, and you don’t feel like writing at 10am, try swapping one task in the calendar for another. Make sure that you don’t just knock writing out of your calendar, though!

Take note of this when you do this, as it may be the case that simply changing the time you plan to write could provide a quick fix for you. If every time you plan to write at 3pm, you don’t, it might be time to rethink when you are scheduling your writing time.

Solution #4: Use a pen and paper.

Sometimes the laptop is just not very conducive to productivity. When this happens, going low-tech can be the best option. Put away the laptop, and pull out some old-fashioned pen and paper and feel the ideas flow.

Many writers find that certain kinds of writing, such as outlining an initial draft, are easiest to accomplish using just a pen and paper. Using a pen and paper is one sure way to avoid a blank screen.

Solution #5: Skip your writing appointment.

Even though I believe strongly in the idea that you should write every day, every so often, I decide not to write. If you are writing consistently each day and one day you just don’t feel like it, it is perfectly acceptable to make a conscious decision not to write that day.

Of course, you don’t want to get in a pattern where you are making a conscious decision not to write every single day. However, it could be the case that you just need a break. It might also be the case that five days of writing a week is not sustainable for you, but four days is. If you notice that you are skipping your writing appointment every single Friday, it might be time to move or cancel that Friday writing appointment.

Resistance to writing is very common. Sometimes the resistance is at a deep level and you need to work hard to figure out how to move through it. Other times, a few simple tricks such as those listed here can help you keep your writing appointment for the day.

When in doubt about the importance of writing every day, remember Brian Clark’s Ten Steps to Becoming a Better Writer - the first of which is “Write.”

Whatever tricks you use, I wish you the best in your writing.