Oh I get tenure, with a little help from my friends

To continue from my last post, one of the elements that disturbed me about defining scientist as “gets grants, has groundbreaking ideas” is not just that this narrow definition of scientist excludes worthy people, but also that it excludes certain activities of people (like myself) who already consider themselves scientists. While I don’t have the “Major Research University” and the “Heavily dependent on federal grant funding” boxes filled on my “What makes you a scientist?” checklist, I do have most others. I have a tenure-track job in academia. I mentor students, I serve as a peer reviewer, I design and conduct experiments. A narrow view of science discourages people like me from doing things that “don’t count” as real science, such as science outreach, application and translation of basic research, mentoring both formal and informal, being an public intellectual on social media, being an advocate for an ethical higher education. Like this blog.

One of the ways that I work to redefine a narrow view of science is by identifying with a broad range of activities myself, both in times when it doesn’t matter that much, like describing some of my work at a cocktail party, but also times when it really matters, like describing what my activities to the tenure and promotion committee here at Randolph-Macon. This second audience is on my mind a lot lately, as my tenure portfolio is due on February 3, just a few short weeks away. I have been thinking about how to communicate the impact that I have through my online activities to someone who doesn’t use twitter or read many blogs. One way is to list these activities on my cv (Riener cv full Jan 2014), (inspired by the highly accomplished John Hawks). To do so I have to also convey the role that social media and online communication can have in conversations both within a scientific community as well as between scientists and the public.

Inspired by Bradley Voytek’s crowdsourced letter of recommendation for his first tenure track position (his original request), I am hereby requesting you, my gentle readers (except you, Mom and Dad, sorry) to help me in this task. If this blog, my other writing or tweeting, or talks or any other activities have influenced you (in a positive way), I would much appreciate an email to my gmail address: criener, or a DM on twitter, along with a signature that tells the committee a little bit of who you are. I would love to hear from a range of people and roles. While a lot of my teaching and advising here at Randolph-Macon involves deep knowledge of my students, even small touches, or snippets of communication on twitter can end up amounting to something substantial, and I want to tell that story as a part of my own development, impact and future as a teacher-scholar.

Just a word of reassurance to those who are familiar with the tenure process and worried about this as a risky move: At Randolph-Macon teaching effectiveness is weighted most heavily, with scholarship and service tied for second. My teaching has consistently been rated quite well by students as well as carefully evaluated by faculty. While I see online activities and social media as informing and informed by each of the spheres of my professional life, I will include this crowdsourced letter under service. Hopefully many of you can get a sense of the kind of dedicated teacher than I am through my writing, but this letter will not serve as a large piece of evidence of my teaching effectiveness. I have also requested the appropriate confidential letters of recommendation from colleagues at other institutions, so those will be separate.

At the beginning of this new year, I am grateful for the community of kindred spirits I have found online. As an introvert overwhelmed by most conferences, it has been so rewarding to find and help build a community of fellow scientists, teachers, scholars, or just people curious about the same stuff I am. I thank you in advance for this favor, and I hope I will be able to return it in the not too distant future.


About Cedar Riener

College psychology professor, husband, father.
This entry was posted in higherEd, science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Oh I get tenure, with a little help from my friends

  1. EricaK says:

    Best wishes for a successful promotion review! I am delighted that you are including your blogging activities in your promotion request – such work should indeed be counted as an important form of scholarship (i.e., what Boyer called the Scholarship of Integration & Application). I recently included my blogging activities in my promotion bid as well, and the college personnel committee gave it a very favorable review (whew!). Dissemination of scientific findings beyond scholarly journals simply must happen, after all, we do the work, ultimately, in efforts to understand/explain/predict and importantly improve the human condition. If primary source papers aren’t translated into more useable forms and disseminated in easily accessible format, than all that basic research work is really for naught. I’ve discussed this issue in my blog (on the value of giving our work away for free: “Giving Psychology Away: What’s it Worth?”) and have been mulling over writing another post about using such work in promotion cases…I am going to wait until the process is complete before I do that though.

    I do feel that change is in air regarding how scientists’ work is valued, as evidenced by the increasing number of cases like yours and like mine. And that’s a good thing! George Miller made a point in his 1969 address about “giving psychology away” that Psychologists – unlike many other scientists – “serve two masters at once,” by both conducting the research and taking steps towards putting the findings into practice, a challenge not faced by scientists in other disciplines who hand their work off to engineers, who then pick up the mantle of putting the findings into practical practice. Then, as now though, psychologists are put in the position of doing the work of two: scientist and engineer. And we should be credited equally for both acts: the acts of discovery and the acts of application.

    • Cedar Riener says:

      Thanks for a great comment, Erica! Always good to see fellow kindred spirits, and glad your promotion went well. I love that George Miller address, and I think it has struck a chord with more than just us, because I think I heard of the “giving psychology away” idea it a few times before realizing it came from him. Thanks so much for piping up, I may look for an excuse to quote you in my materials 🙂

      • EricaK says:

        Feel free to quote away if you think it might help :). I’d be happy to chat further through email if you’d like, too, though I suspect you are, already, in great shape.

  2. One of the nice things about blogging is that you get to cherry-pick the bits you want to respond to. I noticed that near the end you admitted to being an introvert. It’s not completely obvious, is it, to others? People tend to conflate “friendly” and “helpful” with “extroverted.” Judging by your posts and tweets you are certainly the first two.
    And your credentials justify your self assessment regarding the third.
    It was only fairly recently that I discovered that I, too, was one. Frankly I’d never given it much thought but since I’d pursued a (satisfying) career in education and was generally friendly and approachable most would have judged me an extrovert. An insightful colleague, though, pointed out that since I tend to tire from social exchanges, rather than be energized by then then I was likely not extroverted. Something of a relief, actually, as it helped explain why the bit time spent alone each day is so precious.
    All the best!

    • Cedar Riener says:

      Thanks Maurice, yes agreed. It is interesting to be a teacher, when we have to put on a show of extraversion, but then we find ourselves not among our students and feeling (and acting) quite differently. And blogging is always great for us, since we can interact when we choose, and consider our words.

  3. ktsaxton says:

    Hi I am delighted to write you a piece–can you let me know by when you need it? xxkts

    On Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 9:02 AM, Cedar’s Digest

  4. Margarete says:

    Interesting Read

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