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Presenting non-traditional work for academic promotion or tenure

Ask a Candidate | Topics in Higher Education

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on presenting non-traditional work for academic promotion or tenure.

It’s early on in your career on the tenure track, and you hope to create scholarship that has real public impact—the traditional monograph or articles, to you, doesn’t feel like enough. But will the work you do help you reach your goal of promotion inside academia? Here are some tips to help you achieve that goal, while producing the museum exhibit, podcast, or social-media page of your dreams. 

Find out what policies, if any, your department or institution already has on the books.

And do it early—before you invest too much energy in a project that might not be legible to those in charge. 

Plot out ways to connect your non-traditional work to the more traditional categories of research, service, and teaching. 

Maybe your students participate in the podcast you’re producing; maybe you mount an exhibit at a local gallery and invite the neighborhood to an opening, with musical performances; maybe you use archival material you’ve uncovered in more traditional research as the backbone for a website, or a series of articles in newspapers or magazines. Then, in your statements for the tenure file, be prepared to describe how these connections have worked. 

Build external evaluation into the process. 

When you’re working on a plan for non-traditional work, make sure that you plan ahead to include a survey—formal or informal—of users or visitors, so that you can find out what your impact has been. 

Keep good records.

This advice applies to most aspects of the tenure file, but goes double for non-traditional work: try to take notes as you go along. Remind yourself, in a text file that lives in a prominent place on your computer, of the names of people you’ve encountered along the way who might be able to provide supportive commentary on your project’s strengths and impact. Excerpt any helpful comments that you get from users or readers during planned evaluations. Consider other ways to quantitatively or qualitatively measure the impact your work has had, like:

  • Download numbers for a podcast? 
  • Emails from others who’ve used a tool you’ve created? 
  • Numbers of retweets for the viral thread you wrote for Twitter?

If so, save every bit of that evidence, too!

Reach out to professional organizations and colleagues outside of your school who might be able to help

If you are the only person at your institution who does the kind of work you want to do, this step may be even more important. Hearing stories from other people who’ve successfully—or unsuccessfully!—included non-traditional work in their own dossiers can help you plan your course. And professional organizations like the National Council on Public History and the Modern Language Association have been considering the question of how to evaluate non-traditional scholarship for tenure and promotion for years, and may have guidelines available that you can share with your institution. 

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Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.