Promotions and Academic Scholarship, Part I

Todd P Chang
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Todd P Chang

DIvisional Director for Research & Scholarship, Associate Fellowship Director, Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Todd is the Director of Technology for the INSPIRE Network with David Kessler & Marc Auerbach. Todd was formerly the Faculty Advisor and Head Site Administrator for the website's predecessor, pemfellows.com. He lives in Pasadena, CA, with his partner and 2 ridiculous cats that are probably sitting on his head as you read this.
Todd P Chang
Connect

For many of us who went through medical school, perhaps graduate school, and landed an academic faculty position, there has always been pressure to succeed academically.  Some of us are now happy with good jobs and careers that center only on direct patient care, whereas there are others who still wanted something a little more.  Particularly for those folks who complete PEM fellowships, the allure of going forward academically is always there, shining like a light at the end of the tunnel.  And boy, it’s a long tunnel.

Once fellowship graduation is over, it is a difficult landscape to navigate.  For the first time, there are no set years within a program, and no definitive timeline except that which is set by your Division Chief.  And even then, the timeline seems flexible and your guidance on what to pursue academically can seem difficult.  Family needs increase.  Finally, you are making a salary that allows you to begin planning and saving.

One item still lurks in the background, and that is the idea of academic promotion.  The promotion from assistant professor (which is a fair number of graduates’ starting academic rank) to associate professor may seem far away, but averages around 7 years in a tenure program.  Do we need to push as hard, and how do we do it?

Most programs across the U.S. and Canada do not use tenure professorships for the vast majority of academic PEM physicians.  This means that there are no strict timelines and guidelines for promotion because of our disproportionate clinical requirements compared to, say, a professor of 19th century English Literature.  While not having the tenure time bomb can be relaxing, it also means we have less guidance and sometimes less mentorship about promotion and academic scholarship.

For those of us in the Clinician-Investigator realm, it’s not too difficult.  Tenured folks have a set goal for publications and grant funding, roughly 2 – 3 first or senior author papers a year averaged out, and extramural funding takes care of the initial requirements for scholarly promotion.  Ideally we would have 50% or more of our time spent on research to start, then gradually increase up.  Here’s an example of Duke University’s medical faculty promotion guidelines.    Notice that for non-tenure research faculty, the number of publications is fixed and obvious.

For those of us in the non-Investigator realm, though, it’s not quite as easy.  What if we want to excel in service, either government or university or even private sector-based?  What if we want to be more involved in the medical school?  There is clearly a bias in academia towards funded basic sciences research, and it is often unclear how to best go about proving our scholarly worth.  Peer-reviewed publications will always be a milestone, but what counts for the non-Investigator?  Almost every faculty affairs person will tell us, no, there is no set number for publications.  And although it’s nice to know, it can be a bit unmooring.

This mini-blog begins a 6-part series in my own traversing through the promotion process from assistant to associate professor.  Even I’m learning new things that my mentors didn’t know, and policies and procedures keep changing.  Although each academic faculty is unique, it’s good to know there are others going through the unusual struggle that very few people outside of academia know about.  Stay tuned!

 

Todd P Chang

Todd P Chang

Todd is the Director of Technology for the INSPIRE Network with David Kessler & Marc Auerbach. Todd was formerly the Faculty Advisor and Head Site Administrator for the website's predecessor, pemfellows.com. He lives in Pasadena, CA, with his partner and 2 ridiculous cats that are probably sitting on his head as you read this.