Tag: professionalization

The Same but Different: US vs UK Higher Education

Four years ago I accepted a job at a university in the UK. When I took the job I didn’t think a whole lot about how working in the UK might differ from my previous academic posts in the US. I’m an American, and though I have British friends who work at UK universities–one of whom warned me “not to be fooled by the fact that we speak the same language”–I was woefully underprepared for just how distinct the two higher education systems are. Brits and Americans do speak the same language, but there are significant differences in their use of terminology. It’s not just that we use different words to mean the same thing, it’s that we use the same words to mean different things. For instance:

Are you alright? 

Let’s start with the simple stuff. If a Brit greets you and asks, “You a’right?” it is the equivalent of an American saying, “Hey, how are you?” However, I spent my first couple weeks in the UK wondering if there was something wrong with how I looked. I would immediately check to see if I was bleeding or if I had spilled coffee on my shirt.

Dissertation vs Thesis

In the US the dissertation is what you write to earn your PhD. In the UK it’s what an undergraduate or master’s level student writes as a capstone assignment. I learned this fact only after a couple of rather confusing conversations with my advisees. To sum it up: A dissertation is a thesis and a thesis is a dissertation.

Course 

In the US what would be called a “course” is called a “module” in the UK. So, for instance, where students select their classes from a course catalogue in the US, they browse a module catalogue in the UK. However, this use of terminology becomes extra confusing because in the UK they use the word course to describe what in the US would be a degree program. In other words, a module is to a course in the UK as a course is to a program in the US.

Lecturer 

When I was hired on in the UK, I was hired as a lecturer. I knew it was a “permanent” position. Yet the fact that in the US a lecturer is usually a contingent or adjunct employee caused confusion for my friends back home. In the UK a lecturer is the first rank on the academic promotion scale. In some ways it is equivalent to being hired as an assistant professor in the US, except that in the UK there is no up-or-out tenure system. Once you pass a cursory probation period you are hired on an open-ended contract. Though rare, technically, you could spend your entire career as a lecturer.

Reader

In the US the term reader is generally used to describe someone who enjoys reading. In the UK it is also a rank on the academic promotion scale. The rank of reader does not have a US equivalent in the sense that there are three rungs on the US promotion ladder, whereas there are four rungs in the UK. The promotion ladder in the UK is lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, professor. A senior lecturer is generally considered to be equivalent to an associate professor. A reader is equivalent to the junior ranks of what would be a full professor.

Professor

Adding to the confusion is that in the UK there are differences in title attached to the differences in rank. In the US all tenure-track and tenured faculty are addressed as “professor.” In the UK, until you reach the rank of professor you are addressed as “doctor” rather than “professor.” My students call me Dr. Harrington, or at least that’s how I ask them to address me. I still get plenty of emails that start out with “Hi” or, more unfortunately, “Miss Harrington.”

Staff 

In the UK the term staff refers to all academic and administrative employees. In the US “staff” usually refers to administrative support and “faculty” denotes the academic personnel. Moreover, rather than working directly for academic faculty who have taken on administrative positions, as they usually do in the US, administrative staff have a career track and promotion hierarchy that sits parallel to the academic track. This then touches on another, broader point about the extent of UK bureaucracy, but that’s a story for another time.

Marking

Marking is what in the US is called grading. This is not a particular source of confusion as marking and grading are more or less synonymous terms in the US as well, but I am including it here because the culture of marking is quite different than it is in the US. It is a much more involved process which includes the practice of moderation in which a colleague reviews a sample of the marked essays and comments on the consistency of the grades and the quality of the feedback.

Scheme 

What in the US would be called a program or plan Brits call a “scheme.” There’s a scheme for almost everything in the UK. There’s a pension scheme, a postgraduate funding scheme, a publication scheme. To an American it manages to make even the most banal plan sound like an underhanded plot. Take for instance the Beacon Scholarship, which my university’s website describes as “a lucrative scheme..open to all undergraduate courses,” or my university’s bicycle scheme. I pictured a bicycle theft ring, but it turned out to be a completely above-board program to purchase a bicycle on a tax-free installment plan.

This catalog is far from exhaustive, and it only scratches the surface of what are much deeper structural and cultural differences. I’m sure that there are many more terms that one could add, but for now, as they say in the UK, I wish you all “Happy Christmas.”

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How Not to Get Cited

by Steve Saideman

Put “do not cite, do not circulate” on your paper.  I received a paper for the upcoming ISA which had that instruction on it.  I yelled at (ok, I mocked) my students last week for doing the same thing.  In the olden days, folks would put “do not cite” on their papers because they wanted to polish them before submitting, that they didn’t want to have errant results widely circulated.  Perhaps there is a fear that if a paper is circulated, it might get scooped.

But  NO!!!!

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Preparing Files for Reappointment and Tenure: Some Sharp Guidance

This is a guest post by James Goldgeier,  Professor of International Relations and former Dean at the School of International Service at American University, building on a twitter thread that addressed tenure and reappointment and the narratives people write that go into their packages.

At many universities, the end of summer marks the beginning of the internal review process for faculty on the tenure track. (Most departments and schools sent condensed faculty files out for external review earlier.)  Some scholars have two reappointment reviews before coming up for tenure, usually in their second and fourth years; others have just one, coming at some point during the third year. Typically, faculty members in their sixth year are reviewed for tenure.

Having served as dean of an international affairs school for six years and as a tenured faculty member in a political science department at another university for many years before that, I have seen a lot of reappointment and tenure files.  And I can tell you, a strong and clear narrative from the candidate makes an enormous difference in the review, particularly as the file works its way up the university process to people less and less familiar with the candidate’s field.

While a file typically contains sections on scholarship, teaching and service, I focus this post on the first.  This section is where candidates define their research for their senior colleagues, the dean, the university committee and the provost (and in the case of tenure files, the external reviewers).  The narrative explains who the main audiences for the work are, the nature of the work (including theory, methods, and empirics) and the contribution of the work to the candidate’s field(s).  If your work is co-authored (and expectations of colleagues regarding single author or co-authored work will vary by field), explain clearly your contribution.

For those candidates up for reappointment on the tenure track, despite the high likelihood of a successful review, do not treat this process as a pro forma exercise.  This is the first time you will be introducing your work to many of your departmental or school colleagues and especially to the higher-ups.  Particularly at places that do a second-year review, much of your work may be in progress rather than already published, and this is especially true for books. What matters most at the time of reappointment is your trajectory: how are you revising the work you did for your dissertation (whether articles or a book and/or articles) and do you have a sense of what your next project(s) will be?  If you’ve had a major journal publication or a book in galleys or published already, great.

In your reappointment review(s), do not be cavalier about your future work.  You want to demonstrate your ambition, but be realistic. Good faculty, dean, and provost reappointment review memos will lay out clear expectations regarding what you should have accomplished by the time of your tenure review; read these carefully!  These memos will likely be put in the tenure file for those reviewers to reread at that later time.  They will look to see what they said they expected, and those expectations will stem in part from what you said you would do.  If you said in your reappointment narrative you expected a contract for your second book by the time of tenure review, and they repeat that expectation in their memos, they will expect to see that contract in your tenure file. (More on typical expectations for tenure below.)

A major piece of the tenure file, if not THE major piece, is the external reviews. Most places want senior scholars from peer or aspirational schools, and since most internal readers of the file, especially at the dean, university committee and provost levels, will not be experts in your field, they will take strong cues from those external reviewers.  (And it has to be said: many faculty colleagues will substitute reading the external reviews for reading the actual work.)

Start thinking early in the tenure track about the leading figures in your field who can serve this external review role.  Most universities will only exclude reviewers who have obvious conflicts of interest: family members, co-authors, members of your dissertation committee, departmental colleagues.  Your goal early in the tenure track is to get out to conferences and get your work known. Being on a panel with a senior scholar (and writing a good conference paper and presenting it well!) can pay off later.  I’ve had junior faculty from other universities seek me out for coffee at conferences; I see it as win-win: I learn what interesting young scholars are doing, and they’ve got me primed to do a letter later.

If reviewers know of your work, they will already have some idea of its impact.  Reviewers are also more likely to accept the task if they know of your work because they won’t be starting from scratch. Remember, they are getting multiple requests each summer, so they have lots of incentive to say no.  And an external reviewer who is in your field and has never heard of you but accepts the task out of a sense of duty is a wild card.  Whenever I read an external letter that begins with, “I had never heard of candidate X or read her work until now,” I am usually holding my breath for what follows.

The list of external reviewers is usually drawn both from the list you provide and a list that senior colleagues in your department/school put forward.  Many colleagues will offer informal advice to you as you put together your list.  And most universities will allow you to name senior scholars in the field whom you believe are unable to be objective; use this opportunity sparingly and be able to provide a serious reason.  Don’t provide a long list of people you are scared of; you really want to make sure your department takes seriously your belief that scholar X would for ideological or methodological reasons be a poor choice.

For both reappointment and tenure narratives, you will need to provide measures for scholarly impact. Typically, citations are the most helpful, but make sure you list any awards, grants (these are increasingly important at many places), reviews of your work, journal impact factors, and, for book writers, standing of the publisher.  In fields with low journal impact factors, add other metrics to show the quality of the venue. If your work appears on the syllabi of scholars at leading institutions, provide that too if you have space.

While faculty colleagues may talk in terms of “meeting the bar,” many internal reviewers, including your dean and provost, will likely view tenure not as a bar to hurdle, but a point at which to judge both past performance and future trajectory.  No dean or provost wants to tenure someone whose best work is behind them.  At most top research universities, expectations are based on the quality and impact of the completed first project (usually the dissertation manuscript or papers) and what the reviewers can see of the second. You want enough progress on the second for colleagues and higher-ups to have great confidence in future impact. Are there peer-reviewed articles out yet for the second project or at least book chapters and maybe an advance contract (not necessary but can be a helpful signal) if the second project is a book? (And if something lands or you win an award during the review process, add it in!)  The university is making a bet on your future contributions to the field and thus to the quality of the university faculty, so help them see how excited they should be about granting you tenure.

If your work has policy relevance or broader public impact, include it.  Public engagement cannot substitute for the lack of academic impact, but the dean and provost in particular will see this type of work as a positive addition. Through our Carnegie Corporation of New York-funded Bridging the Gap project and work done by fellow grantees in this area, I hope we will be able to develop better metrics for policy relevance and public engagement that candidates will be able to include down the road.  We’re working on it!

Always keep in mind throughout the process: you are your best advocate.  Through your narrative, you are defining who you are as a scholar and why your department or school is lucky to have you.  Your goal is not just to have a successful review but to make them start worrying about how they will retain you.

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Perhaps Our Incentives Are Not as Perverse as Believed: Are Citation Counts the Devil?

I have regularly seen stuff online or in academic publications complaining about professionalization and what it has meant for Political Science.  The basic idea is that things were great before people became focused on stuff like citation counts, which has led to all kinds of perverse incentives.  The main complaint, it seems, is that scholars will try to game citations and this will force them into bad habits and away from good work, like thinking big thoughts (grand theory).

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