Promotion & tenure tips: Currency in the academy

“When you sit down to write everyday, it becomes easier and easier to tap into that creative space inside your mind.”

Shonda Rhimes

This past month, I visited Costa Rica. What a wonderful experience! Although I had to adhere to the COVID protocols coming and going, I was super happy to know the US currency (the almighty dollar) was accepted everywhere. Talk about a serious stress reliever. As I was in the immigration line to enter Costa Rica, I overheard quite a few conversations (I was actually ear hustling) between travel companions “Do you know if we need to exchange our US currency?” “I hope the dollar is worth something over here?” “What is the currency in Costa Rica?”

I can not imagine visiting a country and not knowing the accepted currency. Let alone finding out they don’t accept the currency you carry. What a complete nightmare! Sounds crazy doesn’t it? The truth is many faculty, especially Black women faculty, operate from this place. What do I mean?

We land a tenure-track position at the institution of our choice. But as we begin to unpack our stuff and get settled in, we begin to notice who and how others are moving through the spaces of tenure and promotion. Still being a bit puzzled, we consult others about how we can move from space to space or in this case rank to rank; untenured to tenured. In other words, what is the currency needed? We are told “you have to be successful in the area of publications.” In your mind (and maybe out loud), you reply, “Ok.”

So let’s step back for a minute. According to a Wall Street definition, currency is actually a medium of exchange for goods and services. In the academy, currency takes the form of knowledge exchange (AKA Publications). Academic currency is the price you pay to remain at your institution — it is the medium of exchange for P&T. BIG FACTS.

Obtaining academic currency is a difficult enterprise for most Black faculty in the academy. So much so, that it is the deciding factor in most P&T portfolios. I would love to push this barrier onto the backs of the institution, but I can’t, not this time. Because the barrier is ourselves. Yep, I said it and wrote it ..OUTLOUD and on paper. So, here are a few tips (that I have used) to gain and build academic currency.

  • Know what it takes. Look at the publication list required by your department, unit, college, etc. for tenure and promotion.
  • Admit that you need help in this area and seek it out. There are so many writing institutes out there that provide structured writing activities to help you meet your goals.
  • Commit to a writing schedule. It may mean waking up at 430 or 530 am to write. I know it sounds absurd but when I was studying for my PM certification, the only time my house was quiet (husband, 4 teenagers, and 1 dog) was at the crack of dawn. I let go of watching TV or chit chatting with friends and went to bed. No one is asking you to lose sleep here — we still need self care. But I am suggesting going to bed to wake up earlier.
  • Baby Steps, Baby steps. Stop trying to write an entire publication in 1 week. Take a week or 2 to write the introduction, then move on to another section.
  • Figure out your style of writing. This is different for everyone. Some people can write the abstract first, then move on to other parts, then circle back to the abstract at the end. Personally, I start with the title, move to an outline, then begin the actual writing process. The thing to remember is that you won’t know your process until you actually start a process.
  • Find Collaborators. This was the best writing technique for me. It works because a) it helps you to stay on track (as long as the people you are writing with have great time management skills) and b) it helps you find your writing strength and prose style.

Regardless of rank, your professional trajectory is heavily connected to your academic currency, that is, the amount of wealth you have acquired in a set amount of time….like it or not. Your homework… set aside a writing schedule or join a writing group in an effort to build your academic currency. Send me a link to your published work. I would love to put it in the NEWS section!


10/15/2022: Currency in the Academy | graphic via

Pamela Leggett-Robinson

Pamela Leggett-Robinson is the CEO and Executive Director for PLR Consulting in Atlanta, GA. PLR Consulting is a boutique Program Development, Management, and Evaluation firm that works with organizations and institutions that seek to address multi-faceted obstacles confronting historically and presently marginalized groups in STEM environments and optimize current STEM...