Academic Roles

Academic Basics
Academic Roles
Tenure & Promotion
Planning Your Career

Core Academic Roles 

There are several core academic roles.  In all institutions 1) research, 2) teaching and 3) service are key criteria for promotion and tenure.  In many institutions, 4) obtaining external grant funding is considered a key aspect of research achievement.  Some institutions also value 5) administrative work as a criterion for promotion and tenure – especially after tenure.  A recent publication in social work indicates that research and scholarship are generally weighted much more heavily than is teaching in reviews of promotion and tenure, with service a distant third.  That said, institutions very widely on the differential emphasis they place on these core criteria.

Teaching always includes core classroom teaching as rated by student evaluations and most commonly by peer observations and observations by administrators such as sequence chairs.  Field advising is often (but not always) excluded from teaching.  This may be because tutorial forms of teaching are difficult fro non-professionals to understand.  It may also be that field advising is done more or less intensively in different social work programs.  Institutions vary in the consideration they place on other forms of teaching such as in-service trainings and staff training.

Research always includes empirical research projects but (often) also includes many other forms of scholarship.  Published books, published journal articles and conference paper presentations are typically considered as core scholarly works.  In many cases institutions create hierarchies to differentially weight the value of different forms of publications and presentations toward promotion and tenure.  Typically single author peer-reviewed journal articles are given highest weight.  The journal in which they are published may also influence the weighting process - journals of larger circulation or greater impact factor on the discipline are considered more desirable than those in journals of smaller circulation.  Some institutions also highly regarded interdisciplinary publications; others do not.  Books are more highly valued when published by academic presses that include an academic peer review process.  In most cases single authored publications are weighted more than are multi-author publications.  First author status (that is, being the first named author in a list) generally holds highest regard; impact decreases for each consecutive author where there are many authors to a single article.  Some institutions weight publications by quantitative impact factors or ratings of the number of times an article is cited in the Social Science Citation Index which is a catalog of reference lists from published articles.

Conference paper publications and workshops are typically valued less than publications.  This is because of their ephemeral nature and the lack of means to gain systematic feedback about them.  While book reviews and a peer review (also called “juried”) vetting process of published articles allow for wide feedback from within one's profession or discipline, conference paper publications do not afford a systematic method for assessment.   Still, they offer visibility within the profession.

Numbers of publications expected for tenure very widely among institutions.  Many institutions argue for between 12 and 30 publications at time of tenure.  Some institutions require a book for tenure; others do not.  Expectations around numbers of publications will only be rough estimates; in no cases should the simple attainment of any number of publications be viewed as a ticket to tenure.  Some institutions will also value publications in journals with high impact factor (a quantitative measure of how often a journal is cited by other authors).  Other institutions do not differentially value journals by impact factor.  Some institutions value cross-disciplinary publication.  For example, a social worker might publish about social services to elders in The Gerontologist journal.  In some institutions this might be differentially valued, in others it might not.  Still, it is important for all academics to publish and present in their own profession to increase the visibility and prestige of their institution and to develop one's own recognition within their own profession.  So social workers should publish in social work journals and present in social work conferences, though they may also publish outside the profession.

Service relates to committee work, citizenship as well as service to the community and service to one's discipline or profession.  Almost all faculty are expected to do student advising and participate on several institutional committees.  Some institutions value community or professional service, while others do not.  Service is generally an expected part of promotion to full professor rank, where one's impact on the discipline or profession may be evident in leadership roles beyond the academic institution.

Obtaining Grants is often merged with research, but is a pivotal part of retaining a job at many research intensive institutions.  Informally, obtaining grants equal to at least one's salary (often including overhead) or ideally more than one's salary is increasingly a rough benchmark.  Of course, this may be a bit erratic - a big grant for three years and only small grants for the next, etc.  Many recent job descriptions highlight grant funded research potential explicitly.

Administration is valued in some institutions.  This includes leadership work beyond ordinary committee service such as faculty hiring, sharing a sequence, or leading a reaccreditation process.


Clinical or other direct practice may be viewed as a second job if you are paid for it.  This may mean it is not viewed as part of one’s academic work, even if your teach practice.  Always be clear on such expectations - best in writing.  Sometimes only pro bono work is considered service; in other institutions it is not viewed as vital to an academic career.

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text by James Drisko © June 7, 2008 - last updated 8/14/12