Overview of Academic Advancement for Radiology Clinician Researchers

This overview focuses on advancement processes for Clinician Researchers in the In-Residence and Ladder Rank series, whose primary Creative/Scholarly activities are in research. It introduces key terms and activities required for promotion, with special emphasis on establishing an independent research program. You'll also find tips for avoiding common pitfalls.

Related advancement resources (available in late April):
Criteria for Promotion, Acceleration, and Merit Increase in the Department of Radiology - Provides detailed Radiology Department guidelines
> Strengthening Your Self-Assessment - Includes tips for addressing potential concerns in your file
> Preparing Your File - Includes new procedures as of 2017 and a timeline for the submission process

Introduction to Advancement

Expected faculty activities 
When you are considered for advancement, you will be evaluated individually on your activities as a faculty member. For example, a model faculty member will be:

  1. Engaging in productive research important to your field
  2. Developing and maintaining independence in research 
  3. Establishing a positive reputation in the field
  4. Engaging in regular contact with students, residents, and fellows in a teaching/mentoring role
  5. Engaging in service activities 

Advancement terms

promotion - An advancement in rank. The two key promotions are from Assistant to Associate and from Associate to Full Professor.
merit increase - An advancement in salary step (e.g., Assistant Step 2 to Assistant Step 3). A faculty member is eligible for a normal merit increase every 2 years in the Assistant Professor and Associate Professor ranks and every 3 years in the Professor rank.
4th year appraisal - An evaluation of the faculty member's readiness for promotion from Assistant to Associate at the next review (in 2 years). Typically, the appraisal occurs at the review for a merit increase from Assistant Step 3 to Assistant Step 4, with anticipation that the next step would be promotion to Associate Step 1.
cross-over merit increase - An increase in step within a lower rank instead of promotion to the higher rank. This can occur if the faculty member is deemed not ready for promotion, but likely to be ready in 2 years. For example, advancement to Assistant Step 5 instead of Associate Step 1 is a cross-over merit. Because the salary scales are similar, the effect of this is to advance the salary step while delaying the promotion. When the promotion happens, it is usually to the second step of the new rank, so that the salary progression is maintained.
acceleration - Skipping a Step. Example: advancing directly from Professor Step 3 to Step 5.
advancement to Professor Step 6 - A career review and often considered a promotion.

advancement from Professor Step 9 to Off-Scale - Also a career review, and typically does not happen until the faculty member has four years at Step 9. 

Advancement decisions

In the UC system, the final decision about faculty advancement does not lie within the faculty member's department, but rather with the Committee on Academic Personnel (CAP), a committee composed of faculty members from across the University departments. When you are eligible for an advancement, you will be asked to prepare a file supporting that advancement. Your file is first considered by the Radiology Advancement and Promotions Committee (RADAPC) to determine if the advancement is appropriate based on the departmental guidelines. For promotions, external referee letters will be requested to evaluate your work. The full file, including outside letters and the departmental recommendation, is then submitted to CAP for a decision. It is important to note that CAP may not agree with the departmental recommendation. They may determine that teaching or service are not at a sufficient level, but their most common grounds for denying an advancement are a lack of independent scholarly productivity.

Advancement Criteria

Research

The best way to advance successfully is to establish a focused body of independent work that is clearly yours and is considered important to your field. The significance of your research must be documented by strong evidence such as published papers, grants as PI, and external referee letters that show that your work is respected in your field. Typically, papers are especially persuasive because they directly represent your scholarly contributions. They are also critical: Without papers, it is difficult to get grants and harder for external reviewrs to recognize your contributions. 

  • Published papers: Your goal is to demonstrate scholarly independence. This means you need primary papers where your "ownership" is clear as corresponding author, first author, or senior author with a student or fellow as first author. At the Assistant level, first author papers often carry the most weight. Multiple papers focused in one area are important because they demonstrate a coherent body of research. Many papers on which you are a co-author in a middle author position can be evidence that your skills are important to a larger research program, but they do not demonstrate your scholarly independence.
  • Grants: Although grants as PI are not strictly required, they are good evidence that your work has been critically evaluated and deemed important to your field. Grants are not in themselves a scholarly contribution, however, so they cannot substitute for published papers.
  • Letters from external reviewers: Strong letters are critical because they directly represent the way your work is perceived and valued in your field. Letters are obtained for all promotions. Typically, half of the reviewers are suggested by the candidate and half are selected by the department.

Teaching

In a Professor track, you must teach. Teaching/mentoring comes in several modes, all of which must be documented on the Teaching forms you prepare for your file. All categories of teaching are combined into a single "Teaching Credit" number. The minimum requirement, corresponding to one course per year, is a teaching credit of about 100. Think of this as a bare minimum—more credits are highly desirable. While teaching graduate students and postdocs within the lab may suffice, it is better to do some teaching in established courses (with a UCSD course number), as well. 

For all teaching activities, documented evidence in the form of teaching evaluations is critical. If you are teaching in a course, be sure to arrange with the instructor of record to get copies of your teaching evaluations. For one-on-one teaching or mentoring, letters are important. When you submit your file, include a list of individuals who could write testimonials about your teaching/mentoring abilities. When you are on clinical service, you will receive evaluations from the residents and fellows.

Clinical Service

All clinical faculty participate in radiology coverage with appropriate clinical work for their section/division. Part of any radiologist's role is being a consultant to the clinical services and contributing to their clinical conferences. 

Service

Service can include many activities that involve contributing your time and effort, such as managing a research facility, working on department or university committees, working for scientific organizations, organizing scientific meetings, serving as an editor on a journal, reviewing papers for journals in your field, serving on advisory boards, and providing service to the community.

Pitfalls to Avoid

An unsuccessful promotion submission often fails to meet one of two key criteria: Research independence and strong external letters. 

Pitfall 1: The independence of your research is unclear
The key requirement for promotion is demonstrated scholarly independence. Establishing your independence can be a particular problem if you work within a larger research group. If your work could be interpreted as lacking scholarly independence for any of the reasons below, you should carefully address the issue in the Self-Assessment you prepare for your file (See Strengthening Your Self-Assessment, coming in late April), for tips on addressing potential concerns in your file).

CAP often considers the following as signs of a lack of scholarly independence:

  • Lack of primary papers as first, senior, or corresponding author. Primary papers are the standard measure of independent scholarly work. If you have alternative scholarly work, you need to carefully justify why that work is equivalent to publishing scientific papers. Note that publishing many papers as a collaborating author cannot substitute for primary papers and may even heighten the sense of a lack of primary papers.
  • Lack of concentration of your primary papers. If your primary papers are in several areas, it can be difficult to see a coherent research program that is important to your field. In addition, letters from external reviewers tend to be stronger when they can identify a clear body of work.
  • Previous mentors are a co-author on your primary papers. If a senior scientist, particularly one who served in a mentoring capacity in the early stages of your career, is a co-author on your primary papers (especially in the senior author position), CAP often questions whether there is real independence. In other words, CAP tends to want to see a sharp distinction between work you do in a mentored capacity (as a graduate student, postdoc, etc) and work you do as an independent faculty member.
  • Your funded work is not independent research. It is not uncommon for an individual to be appointed Assistant Professor with funding coming from grants with a senior scientist as PI with the expectation that the individual will provide effort and expertise for that larger research program. This could lead you to be a co-author on many papers but not as first or last author, and CAP does not consider these papers to be evidence of scholarly independence. CAP is looking for an independent research program. This scenario can create a tension between work that you must do to justify your funding, and work you need to do to establish your independent research program and earn promotion in a Professor series. If you recognize this potential tension early on, you can work with the PIs on the grants that support you to plan ways to establish your independence. Specifically, you must publish your own work without the more senior researchers as co-authors.

Pitfall 2: Your external letters are weak

Outside letters are critically important for promotion. They provide key evidence for the independence of your work, the importance of your work, and your role in your field. A weak letter often occurs when an independent reviewer cannot distinguish your work from that of a more senior colleague. For example, if a more senior researcher known to be the leader of a large and productive lab is always the senior author on your papers, the reviewer may praise your work as a key supporting effort in the exceptional work being done in the senior researcher's lab. This will hurt your chances of promotion because it reinforces the perception of a lack of independence in your own work. For this reason, it is important for you to establish a presence in your field based on work that is clearly your own independent research.