Career progression in UK Chemistry HE

I’ve been working full-time in Higher Education for about two years now, and the precursor scramble of postdocs, contracts, and CV buffing has left imprints of an interest in what makes a person appealing – initially to interview panels, but latterly transferred to the internal promotional power structures of universities.

At last year’s ViCEPHEC16 in Southampton, Jenny Burnham lead a satellite pre-meeting of chemistry teaching fellows (and other early-career teachers), where the focus was career progression (there is some scholarship on this from outwith chemistry, but not much.). As part of the discussion, we were tasked with identifying our own institution’s career progression criteria. A theme emerged of a balance between leadership and scholarship. Based on this and other discussions around career tracks within peer support groups at Strathclyde, I’ve added a third vertex of good practice; neglected though it may be in many institutions, I started my career at Glasgow, loosely under the guidance of Bob Hill, who I believe (though I may be wrong) was prof’d on the basis of just being a damn fine teacher.

Anyway, the three points of the “promotion triangle” I’ve identified are:

  1. Pedagogical research
  2. Influence
  3. Good practice

A university’s promotion criteria will usually favour one or two of these over another, and a mismatch between these and personal strengths can be as frustrating as it is prevalent – for every good practitioner bemoaning the need to publish, there’s a pedagogical researcher being told to stop writing and start teaching. Defining them is also fuzzy:

  • Elements 1 and 2 are related – high-impact publications of research could be taken as influence, but publishing an account of practice would probably not be recognised as an academic, scholarly, (REFable…) work.
  • Element 2 is probably the hardest to pin down – external examination, conference presentations, textbook authorship, institutional education policy – these can all contribute.
  • Element 3 is probably the hardest to evidence, and a lot more has been written, and better than I can, on the tyranny of student awards, and the role of likability in the TEF.

Rather than try to pretend I’m particularly well-read in this area, I instead want to bring some questions out of this: what would it look like to become a professor in these areas? Are there more? Has anyone ever been promoted for administrative excellence? Do you think this paradigm should be de-emphasised or dismantled? Does it work for anyone? Is it still sexist? Have I asked too many questions?

Answers on a tweetcard, discussion needed and valuable!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s