Monday, July 10, 2017

How to get on a journal's editorial board as an assistant professor

My department has a clear checklist of requirements for getting tenure.  One of the checklist sections covers national service, and we need to have been involved in 2 out of 5 of the service categories.  This includes things like NIH study section service, service for a professional society, or editorial service for a journal.  Right now I can already check off 2 of the boxes, but I decided to go for a third, just to make my tenure case a slam dunk.

The one I decided would be the best use of talents and time is working on a journal's editorial board. So the first thing I did was look at the list of journals that had asked me to be a reviewer, and then I thought about which ones I would actually want to serve as an editor.  The next thing to determine was which of these journals actually have editorial boards made up of working scientists (the fancy Nature and Cell journals don't have them; society journals and PLOS journals, for example, do have them).  So then I looked at who was on the editorial boards.  Did any of the journals have assistant professors (this narrowed down this list a lot)?  Is my publication record at least as good as the other assistant professors?  This helped me narrow down the list to a society journal that publishes great papers in my field, has asked me to review multiple times, and has a large editorial board that includes some new-ish PIs.  I scoured their website and there was absolutely no information whatsoever on how their editorial board was chosen.

So I looked through the board members to see if there was anybody from my university or anyone else that I knew.  I found a few people that are loose acquaintances.  I decided to pick the most famous acquaintance and ask for her advice on how to go about getting on the board, noting that I need this type of service for my tenure application and also that I would be thrilled to serve this particular journal.  I actually was expecting that I would have to email a few people before I would find any info or help, but she replied almost immediately.

She told me she didn't actually remember how she got on the editorial board!  But, she asked me to write a three sentence summary of my expertise and send her my CV, and she would try to figure out who might know how this is done.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that less than ten minutes later, she forwarded me an email from the senior editor of the journal saying that he was glad for the suggestion, and that he would be happy to nominate me for the board at the next leadership meeting of the journal.  Then my famous acquaintance THANKED ME for asking her to do this as she has been meaning to do more of this type of thing for junior colleagues.
Morals of the story:  1) You only get what you ask for, and 2) Famous people are sometimes incredibly nice and willing to help you. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

One more tenure catch. Giving external seminars.

In my previous post I described that I was caught off guard by the fact that my department chair and tenure committee were advising me to wait another year before submitting my dossier.  When I spoke with my department chair, she recognized that I was frustrated, and after I left, she contacted the dean, and asked him to review my CV to provide another opinion as a personal favor to her.

The dean concurred with my chair that I should wait a year so that it is a no-brainer decision.  However, the dean also made another comment.  It was something along the lines of, "I don't know that this person would receive tenure without being invited for several external seminars at other universities."  Again, this is something new that has literally never once been mentioned as a deficit in my reviews for the last four years.  I have papers and have been on study sections, so I never really thought about this as a problem.  But hearing this from the dean sent my chair into action, which I'll talk about below. 

First of all, I know that everyone always says, "just contact your network and ask them to set up a seminar for you."  I have in fact done this, and everyone always says, "I'd be thrilled to organize a seminar for you if you're ever in our area, but I don't have available funds to pay for the travel."  Basically this means that if it's free for them, of course they would host something, but without a Nature paper, an Assistant Professor doesn't qualify for their fancy seminar series.  I understand completely.  I'm in exactly the same boat.  I have many friends and people in my field that I would love to host for a seminar here, but they don't meet the level of fame required for our limited number of seminar spots.   

I asked some of my colleagues for advice, and word got around that I needed help with this.  My department chair and several other people in my department have gone out of their way to make phone calls and send emails to their friends around the country.  One of my colleagues said that they emailed everyone that they've written a tenure letter for over the past five years because they should owe them a favor.  I've been overwhelmed by how generous my colleagues have been.  As expected, 99% of the responses from people have been something along the lines of what I wrote above regarding hosting me if I'm ever in town.  At least this gives me some options, and I may choose conferences more strategically with potential seminar locations in mind.  But somehow this networking strategy did in fact work, and within 48 h of emails being sent, I have at least two "invited" external seminars lined up for later this year.  I'm really loving my coworkers right now! 

Am I ready to go up for tenure?

My university has a 6-year tenure clock.  I’m now at year 5, which is when I should be submitting my tenure dossier.  Since I am almost surely going to receive my R01 based on its recent score, I was feeling gung ho about submitting this year, even though I had previously received a 1-year extension just in case I didn’t get the grant. 

Just before Christmas I received an email from our tenure and promotions committee chair who asked what my plans were.  He offered to review my CV and have three other members of the committee give me a pre-review as well.  All four of them said that I need more papers and that I should wait a year.  I was livid!  Every annual review I’ve had up to this point said I was doing great, and that all I needed was the R01.  So how could this have changed?

I went to my department chair to get another opinion.  She agreed that I should wait a year.  Again, I thought, “how can everyone be so cavalier with a year of my life?”  She recognized that I was upset and explained their perspective. 

No one in my department wants to see me be denied tenure.  They want my case to be a slam-dunk.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m just short of one of the published metrics for the recommended minimum number of papers for our college.  I thought this was not a problem since my papers have been high impact.  However, everyone would really like to have me meet the metric so that there is no guesswork involved.  I eventually decided that it wasn’t so unreasonable for me to wait a year now that I understood where they were coming from. 

The other thing that happened is that my chair said that she would look into increasing my salary since I am in fact doing well, and I would potentially be foregoing the salary increase of an associate professor for a year.  I don’t know whether this will actually happen, but that also made waiting a year a little easier to swallow.