Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No Opportunity for Advancement

Recently I returned briefly to my ancestral home and spent time with various relatives. I’ve described these experiences before. The women cook, the men sit and drink and talk about war and religion. All of the men have been in the military and/or are ministers (some both).

I have also complained before about how my family thinks I am kind of a loser relative to my brother, who is in the military. I was reminded of this again (and again) on my recent visit.

Army Uncle: So, you don’t seem to have been promoted in a while. What is the next rank you could attain if you are ever promoted again?

FSP: Professors only have 3 ranks: Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. I’m a Professor.

Army Uncle: So you have no more opportunities for advancement? You’ve gone as far as you can go with your career? That’s it until you retire?

FSP: I can advance in my career without getting new titles every few years. As a Professor, I'm still doing research and making advancements with that.

Army Uncle: Huh.

I can see how, from the outside, being a Professor (as in, full Professor rank) might seem like a career plateau with no major expectations and no major changes until retirement, and there are surely some professors who coast along from promotion to retirement. Most of us, though, are still interested in our work, pursuing new ideas and research directions, obtaining research funds, advising graduate students and postdocs, and "advancing" in our careers in terms of the discoveries we make and, yes, the recognition we get for doing so.

I am glad that we don't have dozens of promotions and titles, though I am considering inventing some that professors can use in discussions with non-academic family members. For example, I think that given the length of time since my promotion to Professor.


El JoPe Magnifico said...

Oh yes, do invent some new titles... and oddball traditions and responsibilities that accompany said roles! *cackle*

Phiala said...

This might help:
Military-Civilian Grade Comparison.

In my area (USDA), postdocs and brand new PhDs with no experience start at GS-11, permanent scientists with postdoc experience at GS-12, and GS-15 is roughly equivalent to full professor. Just like academia, to move higher you need to go into administration (except in exceptional cases).

I couldn't find an Army chart, but here's an Army-Navy rank comparison.

So... let's see. You are a full professor, more or less equivalent to a GS-15, which is more or less equivalent to a Navy captain, which is more or less equivalent to an Army colonel.

What rank did your relatives achieve? How many made colonel, let alone got promoted past that?

Jay said...

Seems you were cut off in the middle of a sentence. I suspect this recapitulates some of your experiences with your family.

I think we should add stars - you know, a four-star professor, a three-star, and so on. Give you something else to shoot for, since actual science might not be motivating enough, and something to show off back home.

Anonymous said...

Every time I return to my ancestral home, my dad proudly introduces me to one of his acquaintances an mentions my Ph.D. and my current position as a postdoctoral fellow at a very prestigious institution. The response is often, "Ph.D, huh? Don't you have to pay for that? You know what Ph.D. means, don't you. Pile It High and Deep. What's it in?" I reply. Silence follows.

It's just such a different system than "regular job." Non-academics don't get it. One can patiently try to explain, or one can change the subject to the weather.

Anonymous said...

I agree with phiala, except that I'd lay it on a LOT thicker. Why not say you're a general and now you're adding stars, bars, and little widgets to your lab coat. If you win some sort of award from your society, it's equivalent to more decoration from superiors. If you win the lifetime achievement award from your professional organization, that's like winning the congressional medal of honor! :-)

El JoPe Magnifico said...

Bonus points if, when next afforded such an opportunity, you sing "The Major-General's Song" all the way through.

Anonymous said...

@Phiala: That rocks! I'm going to have people refer to me as "Lt. Cmdr. Anthony" from now on. It sounds so much better than "Assistant Professor" (whom am I supposed to be assisting, exactly?).

Anonymous said...

If you supervise a few postdocs (GS11) and grad students (up to GS10, presumably) and you also supervise several TAs responsible for a large lecture course (a few hundred students?) then the military analogy works even better: You oversee the equivalent of a team of junior officers and several hundred grunts.

Moreover, the time that you spent in grad school, postdoc, and junior faculty positions is probably close to the time that it takes to reach Colonel.

As far as the clerical relatives, again, the large lecture course probably compares with a congregation, except that the tuition your students pay probably far exceeds what's going into that collection basket.

Anonymous said...

Hey, my spouse will be very happy to be called a vice admiral. But, how come there's no "white collar equivalent" of an admiral? Maybe a cabinet secretary? a commissioner of a regulatory body?

I think it would be hilarious of you invented stars, and started reporting them to your relatives.

Anonymous said...

I actually kind of like the idea of more ranks. Lieutenant Professor? Rear Professor? Professor General?

If adjuncts had to salute us, that would be the best.

Mister Troll said...

The suggestions for adding ranks beyond full professor are fantastic!

Also the rank comparison should useful... Male posturing can focus on money. *Possibly* you could "win" by mentioning, "Well, I've been awarded x million dollars in grants in the last two years." (It might backfire: military officers can get promoted for expense bloat, so the relatives may in fact have had responsibility for more money.)

Of course I doubt you actually want to play this game -- it might sometimes be worth it. Or just fun.

I'd play up tenure. It's so incredibly baffling and stunning at once. "I've already been promoted to a permanent position. That's right, I can't get fired." Let it sink in.

ScienceWoman said...

I think I'd confess that I'd achieve the maximum promotion possible for a professor.

And then I'd explain, that I could go higher in my career, but that the next step up required a substantial shift in my job (prof --> chair or dean). I'd say that this shift was equivalent from resigning from the military so that I could be secretary of defense.

Let them wonder how much power you really have.

Anonymous said...

If adjuncts had to salute us, that would be the best.

I'm sure the adjuncts would have no problem saluting, as long as they get to pick the hand gesture.

Regarding tenure: I guess that tenured professors are like federal judges then.

More serious note: What are the military ranks of faculty members at the service academies? I know that they have many civilians on the faculty, but they also have faculty in uniform, some of whom are also very active in professional societies. So it would seem like a comparison would be appropriate. If, for instance, FSP is comparable in professional stature to a Lt. Colonel at the Air Force Academy, that would probably put a few relatives in their places.

Anonymous said...

I am curious. At these occasions, do you hang out with the women or with the men?

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Take it British Navy style, and call yourself Vice Professor of the Red.

Naturally, you'll want to consider what flag and pennant you sport.

Anonymous said...

Some universities have ranks beyond full professor. For example, Rutgers has "Professor II". And this is not even counting ranks like "University Professor" or chairs.

I'd play up tenure. It's so incredibly baffling and stunning at once. "I've already been promoted to a permanent position. That's right, I can't get fired." Let it sink in.

I disagree: playing up tenure is a good way to convince non-academic relatives that academia is a big scam. Instead, I'd emphasize that tenure is not so different from, say, being a partner in a big law firm.

I'd emphasize that publishing research is like writing novels. Novelists don't have official ranks or career advancement. Instead, they get judged by how successful or widely admired their books are. If you publish research in prestigious journals, and it is widely cited and has an influence on the field, then you are successful.

The comparison with novelists also highlights another crucial point about academic research. Professors don't work for a boss who tells them what to do. Instead, they run their own projects that are judged by their peers. This is very different from most other sorts of jobs, but writing novels is another example that is closer to most people's experience (or at least what they can easily imagine: everybody knows a novelist has no boss, but nobody thinks a novelist who regularly publishes best sellers is lazy or unsuccessful).

Am I a woman scientist? said...

I guess the only rank beyond a three-star professor would be Chief of Staff... Department head! How cool would that be if you could take your department to war against that whiny English department....

Female Science Professor said...

The women, definitely. The men are scary-boring.

Anonymous said...

I teach at the United States Naval Academy, which differs from the other service academies in the number of civilians we have. We have 60/40 civilians/officers compared to faculty that are almost entirely military. Most of the civilians are tenure-track with the normal titles that leave our relatives confused as well. We're government employees but not on the GS scale. Our salaries are capped at what congress get paid. The officers have normal military ranks. Some of them have PhDs, many just have a masters degree. There are a mix of everything from Navy Lieutenants to Captains (and the USMC equivalents)

What's interesting is the student response to the officers and the civilians. I had a mouthy student say he did't think we deserved as much respect as the officers. I pointed out that I have a more advanced degree and you could tell he hadn't thought about that. The students are really really clueless about the tenure track system. And they often look at my diploma on the wall and ask why I have a degree in philosophy.

As an assistant professor, I got to take a faculty tour down in Norfolk and I was put in O-5 housing which is the equivalent of a Navy Commander. When we toured a ship we were given souvenier caps. The ship's captain said the professor's rank merited caps with the scrambled eggs on the bill. That was kind of cool.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking a sports analogy might work a bit better with this crowd. What about saying it's like you play in the major leagues. A player's ambition is not to finally become a coach, but to play really well.

Anonymous said...

Academia has its ranks too.

First, there are 'chaired'/sponsored positions, like the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Chemistry or the 'John Gideon Searle Professor of Medicinal Chemistry'.

Then you have Department Chair, Assistant to the Dean, Dean, Vice Presidents in charge of Research, yada yada yada...

Besides ranks, there are dozens of accolades, such as number of awards won, Conferences organized, chaired federal grant sessions, invited talks, books written, grants received, patents, ...

Academia grants recognition and freedom to do what you want, rather than a hierarchy. There are MacArthur genious grants, Field Medal, or a Nobel prizes

Anonymous said...

When I was a grad student, my cousin (a freshman in college at the time) asked me if Assistant Professors were real professors. My answer: "Assistant Professors are fully Professors and can fully assist you in getting an F". I'm just glad he asked me and not his professor.

I think there is a general lack of understanding of the various titles in academia which really needs to be rectified - or just replaced. I'd really like to be a Lt. Cmdr.!

Global Girl said...

Why not mention the awards you've won? Or auxilary positions you've held on committees? As a grad student, I can't really advance in titles either, but I've added a project management professional (PMP) certification to my title as well as two leadership positions to show that my career isn't standing still in a resume-obvious kind of way.

Then when I defend I'll be Global Girl, PhD, PMP. Muahahah.

Ms.PhD said...

Hey, look at the bright side. At least he was asking you about your career and encouraging you to do well in it, not asking when you're going to quit and get a real job.

Or was he?

Anonymous said...

Delurking to respond to phiala's first comment about USDA pay scale for scientists. I've dealt with this exact situation and wanted to share my experience.

Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Agriculture Reserach Service (USDA) and other federal agencies REGULARLY depress science pay, particularly for new scientists.

Follow link and scroll down to education requirements and specialized experience.


If you are in a USDA workplace with postdocs, new PhDs, and permanent scientists GS-12 thru GS-15, you are very likely to be covered by the research grade classification, rather than the non-research classification.

Newly minted PhDs in research grade positions are eligible for GS-12s, not GS-11s and below only.

Therefore, you are being paid at least 1 grade less - and are getting hosed.

Bad enough there are so few jobs to go around. Worse is that you'll take the lower pay anyway.

Know what you are getting into.

Anonymous said...

People have mentioned non-US ranking systems. My ranking system is relatively flat outside of administrivia: B, C, D, E. Tenure died sometime in the 80s or 90s. Administration is a track unrelated in prestige to academic performance.

This is due to an egalitarian cultural outlook, a twenty year period of nation wide equality of rank incomes (national bargaining, woo), and government funding pressure keeping the pay scales flat. (All of which I value actually).

I don't think this answers the problem. E--or with some employers E plus above bargaining agreement surplus--is only attained by the amazingly productive in the terminal 10 years of teaching career. So what do you do?

Given that FSP is in a citation heavy field, you could graph your citations per year, and give nominal values to competitive grants and awards secured.

Or you could just say, "Professor, nth year," because we all assume our colleagues with tenure are working to the expected requirements of their field.