Research Faculty Promotion in the Spotlight

On May 21, 2021, faculty across campus gathered virtually for a special workshop that highlighted the research faculty promotion process at Georgia Tech. The main goal of the workshop was to learn best practices and strategies for success within the research faculty promotions process.

The workshop allowed senior Georgia Tech research professionals to share valuable insights about the current research faculty promotion process, including how to determine when to apply, how to prepare successful packages for promotion committee review, how to have conversations with supervisors about the promotion process, and how to map job accomplishments to the promotion criteria shown in the Georgia Tech faculty handbook.

Improving the research faculty promotion process started in March, 2020, when Bonnie Ferri, vice provost for graduate education and faculty development, enlisted the help of Maribeth Coleman, principal research scientist at Georgia Tech, and Jeanne Balsam, secretary of the faculty and principal research associate at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Coleman is affiliated with the Institute of People and Technology (IPaT) and the Interactive Media Technology Center.

According to Coleman, she and Balsam convened a faculty promotion review taskforce committee which recruited a diverse, but highly relevant group of 17 people, including Julia Kubanek who was recently named the vice president for interdisciplinary research at Georgia Tech.

“The purpose of the taskforce was to examine the research faculty promotion process from all angles to seek any and all improvements to the process,” said Coleman. “Improvements could include increasing the number of people applying for promotions, streamlining the process, improving any equity areas, boosting the number of successful promotions, etc.”

The taskforce committee reviewed materials such as the faculty handbook, spoke with recent research faculty promotion candidates, and surveyed people recently appointed to serve on research faculty promotion committees to hear their feedback.

Since Coleman and Balsam previously served together on a Georgia Tech institute-wide promotions committee, they used this earlier networking opportunity as a springboard to survey those previous faculty and administrative committee members to identify issues with the current research faculty promotions process.

This investigative committee work discovered two areas for immediate improvement: enhance existing training and build a better community for research faculty at Georgia Tech.

The taskforce found that while there is some existing research faculty training on campus, the training focuses narrowly on material due dates, improving your resume, examples of resumes, how to interpret the handbook, etc.

“Part of the problem is that research faculty candidates vary wildly in their actual job descriptions. And by necessity, the faculty handbook is quite vague as a result regarding promotion criteria,” said Coleman. “Interpreting the broad promotion requirements isn’t clear for many faculty for their specific job role. Also, there isn’t much infrastructure in their colleges and units for some research faculty to tap into for help guiding them through the promotion process because there are so few research faculty in some departments on campus. As a result, many research faculty have never been promoted because they didn’t understand the process to move their careers forward.”

The taskforce discovered that in addition to offering better training for research faculty, more training for promotion committee review members is needed to better understand the promotions process for non-tenured research faculty. Additional training is also needed for supervisors who may not know how to nurture the career of a research scientist or how to properly evaluate the performance of a research faculty member.

Immediate steps have been taken as a result of the taskforce’s findings. First, a small training program has started to help train faculty members serving on the Institute-wide promotion committee. Second, a package of research faculty promotion materials was presented to the Institute promotion committee to raise awareness of the issue and to clarify—and state the need—to improve the research faculty promotion process as an ongoing initiative. Thirdly, a new workshop has been created to help candidates improve the creation of their promotion candidate materials. This new workshop is meant to be more of a question-and-answer session to make it more interactive and better address specific concerns that participants may ask.

The previous May 2021 research faculty promotion workshop video recording and slides can be viewed here.

Coleman and Balsam said that if anyone at Tech needs assistance to improve their internal department research faculty promotion process, they can contact them directly. Some units may need help such as creating better scoring criteria or a better translation matrix which helps show how someone’s skills and experience map to the desired requirements for promotion. And they are willing to help with some light coaching to advise both candidates and departments about the promotion process, or repeat the new workshop to smaller groups on campus upon request.

“More than 84 people joined the May workshop. I think this high participation among faculty showed there is a real appetite to learn more about the promotion process,” said Coleman.

“We had many people thanking us for holding this workshop. I heard from many faculty members thinking they might not ever get promoted, but now that I’ve attended this workshop, I feel confident I can get promoted.”

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  • Research Faculty Promotion in the Spotlight

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Walter Rich