Understanding the Promotion Process

By Nalaka Gooneratne, MD, MSc and Bryan A. Wolf, MD, PhD

Academic faculty with an interest in entrepreneurship are required to successfully navigate a university promotion process in order to retain their position.  This additional layer of complexity can appear daunting, but if managed properly, can be much less stressful.  Core points to consider:

  1.  Understand your career track at the University:  While simple in theory, academic faculty are often faced with multiple conflicting demands on their time and may not have room on their schedule to adequately explore this.  University guidelines are often vague because they need to allow for “room” for the University to make decisions and the specific needs may change over time.  Talking with promotion committee members or faculty who recently completed the process can be very useful avenues to truly understand what will be expected of you—several of these brief 30 minute meetings can turn out to be the most helpful of your career.
  2. Map out your timeline:  It takes time to get a grant funded, or a manuscript published.  Similarly, promotion dossiers often have to be submitted a year or more in advance of the actual due date.  When you work backwards from the promotion dossier due date, and adequately allow for time for publication/grants, that can help you map out a more realistic strategy that minimizes undue stress in the last year of the process.
  3. Your education reputation matters:  We are constantly being evaluated in academic settings by students and other trainees.  Take a moment to read what they say about you and decide if you can improve, or if you need to consider other teaching venues that may be more aligned with your skills.  Find out how many years of teaching data is reviewed—if it is only the last three years before promotion review, then you can use the first few years of your appointment to learn where you teach at your best.
  4. Most universities do not formally credit entrepreneurship in the promotion process:  While we often speak of the importance of creating a culture of innovation, there are relatively few ways to recognize innovation that has commercial ramifications.  Some Universities allow you to include patents on your CV, for example, but they are often not given adequate import.  Instead, it will be the manuscripts and grants you have obtained that led to your commercial product that can best support your promotion. 
  5. Letters of support/recommendation: These provide an important benchmark for some promotion committees.  Some Universities do not allow the promotion committees to solicit letters from faculty with whom you have collaborated on a manuscript or grant.  If this is the case for your institution, keep in mind that including a colleague on a manuscript or grant could thus make them ineligible for this role.

Universities are growing to appreciate the potential benefit in terms of education and impact that can be afforded by nurturing entrepreneurship.  Your challenge is to show the promotion committee how you help them meet those opportunities.  Thinking strategically about your promotion dossier can be personally rewarding because it helps you chart out your path and significantly reduce your stress level.

Nalaka Gooneratne, MD, MSc, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania | ngoonera@mail.med.upenn.edu
Bryan A. Wolf, MD, PhD, is Chief Scientific Officer and Chair of the Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He holds the Edmond F. Notebaert Endowed Chair in Pediatric Research.

This post was adapted from a presentation by Dr. Wolf.

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This image is being used courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania.