Ten Tips for a Great Professional Development Statement

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A statement of intellectual development is a required part of tenure dossiers at most colleges and universities (Boyce & Aguilera, 2021; Vega & Hengartner, 2021). It’s the most important part of your dossier after your Curriculum Vitae (CV) because it’s the part in which you, the candidate, get to explain the importance of your accomplishments and advocate for your deservedness of tenure.

Tenure and promotion committees will often include members from outside of your discipline, and they rely on your intellectual development statement (among other things) to help them understand such concepts as the relevance of your scholarship and how your particular teaching philosophy is effective in your specific discipline. A poorly-written statement that fails to convey the impact of your scholarship and the effectiveness of your teaching may really disadvantage you. As a faculty developer, I have read many poorly-written statements, so in turn, I made a list of 10 tips for writing a good statement based on the 10 most common mistakes I see for the faculty at my institution. I would like to share it with you, and hope that you too may find it helpful.

1.  Start early. Writing a good intellectual development statement is harder than you think, and you should be prepared to write many drafts. Read some examples before you begin.

2. Start with a short synopsis of your scholarship. Entice your committee with what’s to come. The synopsis should be your elevator speech about your scholarly identity and why your institution should do whatever it takes to keep you.

3. Write a narrative rather than an annotated CV. Describe who you are. Place your scholarship in context and explain how you’ve contributed to your field so far (Klein & Falk-Krzesinski, 2017). Support your explanation with a description of the quality of the journals you’ve published in, the prestigiousness of your grants or the significance of the reviews you received for your books, installations, or performances. Describe what you expect to be known for in the future, how your work has brought you to where you are now, and how are you on your way to becoming a recognized authority in your field.

4. Keep your audience in mind. Your review committee will likely include members who are from outside your discipline. Explain technical terms and write out the names of journals, societies, and classes in full. Try to write a statement that’s accessible and engaging to all audiences (Boyce & Aguilera, 2021).

5. Focus on the future as well as the past. Tenure is a recognition that you have arrived, and that your accomplishments are worthy of this recognition. Your existing accomplishments will be viewed by the committee as evidence for future productivity. However, you should also highlight how you will continue to contribute after tenure (Vega & Hengartner, 2021). Describe how your scholarship program will be sustainable and productive in the long term and how you will take on more leadership roles etc., and refer to your existing accomplishments as supporting evidence of your ability to do this.

6. Use positive language. If your dossier includes previous review reports, a chair’s report, or student or peer evaluations that may provoke scrutiny of your weaknesses, you should address those weaknesses, but use positive language. There is no such thing as failure, just opportunity. Rather than describing things that didn’t work (teaching assignments, rejected manuscripts, unfunded proposals etc.) as failures, talk about how you learned from these experiences and what opportunities they afforded for the improvements you are now making.

7. Talk about your teaching philosophy and how you engage students in your scholarship. Education is your profession; students are important.

8. Don’t assume the committee members will remember everything in your dossier. Help them out; include all the relevant information in your statement as well as evidences to support claims of effective teaching and respected scholarship (e.g. course evaluation summaries or citations of your own work), and organize your statement into sections with subheadings. Don’t make your committee search for information; it may irritate them and you don’t want an irritated review committee.

9. Proof, proof, proof.  Especially if you’re writing in a second language; there should be no mistakes and the grammar should be good. Ask as many people as possible to read your statement when you’ve finished. Ask a colleague or two from outside of your discipline to make sure it’s clear to a wider audience.

10. Toot your own trumpet. Especially do this in the first draft. While there’s a thin line between self-promotion and arrogance most people are too modest. It’s also easier to tone down arrogance than pump up modesty when editing. 

Good luck and remember, your statement may be your only chance to impress your committee, so make the best of it.

Katherine Robertson, PhD, is director of faculty affairs at Duke Kunshan University, China, and was previously an associate professor of biology.

References and further reading:

Boyce, M. & Aguilera, R. J. (2021) Preparing for Tenure at a Research-Intensive University. BMC Proc 15, 14.  https://doi.org/10.1186/s12919-021-00221-8  

Klein, J. T. & Falk-Krzesinski, H. J. (2017) Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Work: Framing Promotion and Tenure Practices and Policies. Research Policy 46, 1055-1061

Vega, L. R. & Hentgartner, C. J. (2021) Preparing for Tenure and Promotion at PUI Institutions. BMC Proc 15, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12919-021-00219-2