I “made” Professor 10 years today (August 1st 2008). It is a milestone of sorts and made me check, now that time has past, whether it is what I expected, what I wanted and whether I still smile as I walk into work. (I encourage you to do this with your career right now).
What is a Professor?
This is a timely question, as there is always “debate” and “chatter” in clinical and academic circles about why someone is a Professor, how and why they have been recognised in this particular way. As in all walks of professional life, there are occasionally a few raised eyebrows.
The answer is in the title – to “profess” something of merit to colleagues or indeed any pertinent audience. This should not be confused with professing something “interesting”, but rather contribute something valuable, based on rigorous objective enquiry and without agenda (other than to nudge us all forward a little in our thinking, or an agenda that you disclose openly). Also for “colleagues”, read the global community of those with your professional interests – in my case foot health and understanding human movement.
Rather than sharing our first thoughts or new fancy, what is “professed” should be the result of considered, systematic and rigorous scholarly study. That sounds very boring but it is the fundamental quality assurance required to underpin advancement of knowledge and practice in any profession. Ditch these principles at your peril and expect charlatans at your door tomorrow.
The trouble is, it’s a slow process. But that is the nature of the currency we deal in: knowledge is not created at speed. Ideas can happen in an instant, but knowledge to explain ideas, validate them and safely apply them takes time. So, when you are next at a conference, check the speaker and their evidence – are they talking about ideas or what the science and evidence shows? where is their proof? Beware the speaker bearing 100 slides and spouting ideas at two a minute.
The role of Professor is also about being public facing and to have completed work (not just had ideas) that have been accepted, valued and built upon by international knowledge leaders in the field. These consequences of our “professing” validates the substantive contribution to professional knowledge that lies at the heart of becoming a professor.
How to get promoted to Professor.
To demonstrate that someone is deserving of the title, they are asked to show performance in several areas of academic work (FYI, to evidence that we merit the title on an ongoing basis we (at Salford at least) are reviewed every year on these criteria):
- Knowledge is created and imparted to suitable audiences through high quality peer reviewed publications.
- Audiences (researchers, clinicians, teachers, the public, policy makers) can be shown to have changed what they do because of your publications and the new knowledge created.
- Knowledge is the result of novel research that consistently attracts funding through competitive processes whereby your peers (competitors?) judge your ideas and your ability to research them with rigour.
- You have built a team of people and activity that fuels the ideas that creates new knowledge over a sustained period of time.
In case you are wondering… you don’t get to ask your friends to judge whether you are worthy- a much wider community of scholars are asked. Firstly, your vice chancellor and a team of existing senior Professors look at applications. If it looks remotely plausible then up to 5 external reviews might be requested, to get an independent and varied perspective on your work against the criteria above. Then, these reviews are digested, appraised and debated. Then, a decision is made. You hope for smoke from the chimney…..
And if you are successful, remember (as with any promotion): no one should seek to be a professor as an end point, but rather see it as seeking an opportunity to start a new journey on a different trajectory.
So, as I checked myself today at this milestone, it turns out: it is better than I expected, it is exactly what I wanted and I do smile as I walk into work.
Have a great anniversary whatever it might be.