Playing the Long Game: Q&A with Dr. Dowdy on Planning Early for Full Professorship

May 29, 2018

by Daniel L. Gadke, Mississippi State University and Bryn Harris, University of Colorado Denver with Erin Dowdy, University of California Santa Barbara

As early career academics, we are often hyper-focused on tenure and promotion from assistant to associate rank. Once tenure and promotion are obtained, the entire landscape of our academic position may change. With the time constraints often associated on the road to associate rank now gone, the path moving forward may look quite different for many individuals. Some academics may not be concerned with pursuing full, while others may not aspire to the rank. For those interested in the road to full professorship, reaching the associate rank may not even be the half way point. That being said, it is essential for early career scholars interested in full professorship to conceptualize their academic duties from a long-term perspective, setting themselves on a full rank trajectory early in their careers. Fortunately, as early career scholars we have models such as Dr. Erin Dowdy to show us how this is best done. Dr. Dowdy offers sound advice while answering questions on planning early for full professorship, as well as the difference between promotion from assistant to associate and associate to full.

1. What advice would you give yourself as an assistant professor to best align your early career with a full professor trajectory?

My best advice for a career in academia, regardless of rank, is to pursue what you are truly passionate about. In addition, find people that you enjoy working with and be a good collaborator and colleague. I find that working with people you enjoy, and working to solve problems that matter to you, is the best recipe for continued productivity with regards to all aspects of being a professor.

2. What is something that you would have done differently as an early career faculty to prepare yourself for full professorship?

I wish I had dedicated the time early in my career applying for grants, fellowships, and extramural funding opportunities that are only available to early career scholars. These early career grants provide rich opportunities for establishing a funding record, oftentimes accompanied by training or mentorship, that will set you up nicely for the continued funding and research productivity expected of a full professor.

3. What were the biggest differences between going up for associate rank and preparing for full? 

Honestly, it is much less stressful. You already have reached a major milestone obtaining tenure so it feels less like your job is on the line.

4. How did your program of research/teaching/service differ as an assistant professor prepping for associate and an associate prepping for full? 
As an associate professor, I had increased expectations for service and grant funding. I took on additional service activities that I hoped I would enjoy in addition to benefiting the profession (e.g., as Associate Editor for School Psychology Review), my department (e.g., chairing the Admissions Committee), and the University (e.g., serving on the university-wide Graduate Council). I also devoted more time to grant writing and working to establish international connections. There was always the requirement for research productivity, and teaching expectations remained relatively stable.

5. Based on your own experience, what would you consider a reasonable timeline between associate and full? Why? 

I think this likely differs for everyone, but at my university we have a step system where you are expected to go up for review every two years as an associate professor. I think that 6 years between assistant and associate is a great goal, but it likely depends on expectations at your university. I’d recommend consulting with a full professor at your university that you trust.

6. How did you know you were ready to apply for full?
When I was up for review, I consulted with colleagues both at my university and at other universities. I asked them to candidly review my materials as they would for an external review and indicate if they would recommend that I apply for full. I also critically evaluated my productivity in terms of research, service, teaching, and mentorship….and basically, just decided to go for it. As I indicated above, it was a less stressful/high stakes decision so I figured the worst that could happen would be that I would just get to keep my job as an associate professor.

7. Is mentorship as essential as an associate professor as it is to an assistant professor? If no, why? If so, how? How might the mentorship needs of an associate professor differ from an assistant professor?

I still strongly believe in the value of mentorship and collaboration at every level. Now, with more junior colleagues in our department I am enjoying the role of mentoring others – even when I feel like I’m still the junior faculty in need of mentorship. As an associate professor, I started to feel like I was more in a role of collaborator and contributor rather than simply a mentee. But whatever you call it, try to work with people you like and who are willing and able to consult with you and offer you professional advice.

8. What are reasonable expectations/responsibilities to assume as an associate professor still keeping in mind the need to reach full professor rank.

A solid line of research and continued research productivity is highly valued at my university. For me, it was critical to protect a significant amount of time each week to be able to think and write. But beyond work, balance is key. I know that I won’t be happy and feel fulfilled if I don’t take plenty of time to recharge and enjoy time with family and friends. There are likely many different avenues to reaching full, so I would suggest playing your strengths and also realizing that you can continue to have a long career after reaching full professor. Professorship is a marathon, and you need to find ways to enjoy the run along the way.

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