higherEd, science

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.