Promotion & tenure tips: Unwritten

“In a perfect dream, things would be set exactly the way you would want them. But I think it’s more interesting that in real life things aren’t exactly the way you planned.”

Naomi Osaka

We worry so much about everything – what we have done, what we haven’t done, and what we need to do. We worry because we want everything to turn out just RIGHT, whatever that means. The funny thing is that regardless of the amount of worry we offer into a situation, we never know how it is going to turn out. This is because that thing – that future thing is unwritten. Sadly enough the word unwritten gets a bad wrap, especially as we think about it from the standpoint of promotion and tenure. Trying to uncover all the rules – where to publish, which committees to serve or chair, new pedagogies to try, and who to befriend or not is simply exhausting.

Life has so many ups and downs that catch us off guard. There is no possible way we could be prepared for everything written or unwritten. Think about it for just a minute. Have you ever had a script prepared for a situation and you were still caught off guard? You actually went through every single scenario and response that you could think of but — you didn’t think about the one you actually walked into. That’s exactly my point.

As Black women, we are typically placed in the margins, made invisible and our stories – our narratives go unwritten. But just like the unwritten rules surprise us and sometimes cause us to miss a beat or take a breath, so does our “unwrittenness” with our departments, the P&T committees, and the broader community. We cause them to take a breath, to step back, and to re-evaluate who is before them. They never see us coming because in their minds, our greatness as stellar is unwritten. The expectation is simply not there because we are often the first in our departments to go through the P&T process. If we are not the first, it is highly possible that the one or two before us may not have been successful.

I love the shirts and hoodies from Power Black. The words literally make my heart sing. One of my favorites is “Go ahead, Underestimate me..That will be fun”. I love it because it reminds of two points:

  1. When we are unwritten, it allows us to write our own story, navigate the space so that it serves us and our community, and define our success in ways outside the dominant culture.
  2. The only preconceived notion to an unwritten story is that the story is not worthy to be written. Let that sit and think of the power that sentence actually gives you.

The unwritten portions of our professional life bring meaning to our existence of who we are as women, especially Black women. These portions create a beautiful space for us to soar. Soar beyond our imagination and those in our department, college, institution, and perhaps our discipline. The true beauty about being unwritten is that you can write the story yourself.

So as we close out Black History month and march (no pun intended) into Women’s History month, let me remind you, regardless of your P&T journey, it is your journey and your story. Most importantly, it still needs to be written.


02/15/2022: Unwritten | 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...