As far as I experienced, research is the most important factor for promotion, as it represents different features of an academician/scholar, which are needed by higher education institutions: teaching at graduate level, supervising academic projects of graduate students, attracting research fund, fame for the university, etc.

Publications is normally the main measure for research of a professor. Thus, one expects to see a proportional relationship between publications (both quality and quantity) and academic rank.

People can be promoted with less publications, probably because of other activities. But, I wonder why there are some academicians whose rank is far behind their publications. For example, I have seen people with 50 papers but are still assistant professor, or over 100 papers but still associate professor. I am referring to the US universities.

What keeps an assistant/associate professor with a strong publication record from appropriate promotion?

  • Some people don't want the extra responsibility that comes with the title.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 12:04
  • 1
    Attempts to easily quantify contribution to advancement of human understanding are usually grotesquely hilarious. Paper counts? Quite a few people write lots of papers and contribute nothing, or, perhaps, a negative. Mercifully, we do not make them give back salaries. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 0:17

4 Answers 4


Remember, a promotion/tenure review package is just that: a package. While you are correct that a record of strong publications is the driving factor, there are still a number of items in the package that could lead to a tenure/promotion denial:

  1. Weak letters of recommendation. You need to get your name out in more ways than just cranking out a lot of papers. This includes presenting talks at other institutions, sitting on program committees, and making sure that prominent people outside your institution write you good letters for your package.

  2. Lots of publications ≠ good publications. You need to be published in reputable, peer-reviewed publications. Some of those professors may list a ton of publications that aren't particularly notable.

  3. Poor record of graduate student supervision. A professor who never has any students, or who hasn't graduated a student in years isn't going to be competitive for promotion.

  4. Poor fundraising. If you're not applying for and getting grants (in many fields), you aren't going to be able to sustain a good research lab. It's tough to keep publishing relevant work without money coming in, although over time you can still build up a fair number of publications (many of which may be mediocre).

  5. Poor teaching record. At some institutions, good teaching is more than just something the admissions office declares in all of its trifolds. If you've had consistently poor teaching evaluations, or if students have complained multiple times to the Dean or department chair, this could hurt your chance at promotion.

  6. Personality. Your department has to make a recommendation to the tenure/promotion committee, and if you're genuinely not liked around your department, they aren't likely to make that recommendation, regardless of how strong your publications are (within reason).

Bottom line: publications are a part of the larger promotion picture in academia.


Note that "over 50 but assistant" and "over 100 but associate" are meaningless for another reason. It's all relative. In a field where any assistant professor can rack up 50 papers, having 50 is not a sign that you should be promoted, leaving aside all the other reasons why paper counts are not useful.

But another point is that in some universities, promotion to full professor is triggered by an application from the candidate (rather than after a fixed period of time like for tenure). So if the professor can't be bothered to apply, they might not. This is not common, but it's not inconceivable, especially if

  • the pay differential at the institution isn't that significant
  • full professors are required to do a lot more service work than associate professors.

There are multiple reasons why someone might not get promoted or receive tenure, even with a strong publication record:

  • Poor fundraising efforts (even if you publish a lot of papers, if you don't bring in enough grants to satisfy the department, you're unlikely to get tenure)
  • Poor relationship with departmental colleagues (if you've burnt a lot of bridges with your more senior colleagues, again, much less likely to get tenure)
  • Administrative/budget actions: a hiring or promotion freeze can kill otherwise promising tenure cases, just because the university won't allow the cases to be heard

The first two tend to be applicant-specific issues; unfortunately, the last is usually school- or university-wide. In such cases, there's not much you can do, but it is at least announced "publicly" within the university.

  • I understand the points you raised about the department concerns, but can't proceeding promotion without tenure? e.g. not-tenured associate/full professor.
    – Googlebot
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 4:37
  • 1
    @All In many institutions, all Associate and Full Professors have tenure. You have to go through the tenure review first, then you become an associate professor. Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 4:39
  • The same issues are going to apply for any promotion. It's rarer not to get a promotion to associate professor, but burn enough bridges and it can happen. Also, if the university isn't promoting anyone, it doesn't really matter.
    – aeismail
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 4:40

The assumption implicit in many of discussions (such at these) about 'promotion' always seem to revolve around the premise that there is some sort of institutional impediment to promotion.

But, there is another reason that never seems to be discussed: perhaps the associate professor isn't promoted because they have no interest in being promoted. Seriously, who cares? I'm an 'Ass Prof' at a school famous for ivy on the walls, and I am quite content to 'stay put'. I have tenure. I work on what I want. That's sort of the point, isn't it? If I get promoted as an outcome of doing what I want, then great. But... to 'want' promotion, such that you might actually engage in activities you're not particular interested in? Why? The only reasons for 'wanting' to become full professor that I've seen in 25+ years of working in academia are (i) money, and/or (ii) ego. I already get paid plenty, and who gives a rats orifice about your title? If someone's academic existence is culminated by having a somewhat more 'important' sounding title, then life must be rather sad for that person.


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