I was recently interviewed for a TT position, and was asked a question "how to develop yourself into a national or international research leader". It looks quite a big question. I stumbled on it, and so want to seek some ideas or inspiring thoughts to answer this questions effectively.

  • If there was a recipe...
    – vonbrand
    Feb 4, 2020 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


Both my wife and I (in different very fields) have both bumbled around doing our best to achieve this, as well as been guilty in posing the question during recruiting.

The question operates on 2 levels.

First, how do you actually do it. This involves multiple elements:

  1. Tailoring your research area(s)/question(s) to have national/international interest. There are many ways to do this, and the goal is not to trade off your research independence for reputational accolades. However, you do need to be focused in the right areas at the right time, and adjust the messaging of your research (at least) for what are topics of live interest. You can cynically call this "fads in academia", but it is real.

  2. Actively collaborating. Too many junior academics treat others as either immediate-term team members/collaborators, or otherwise as competitors. You need to form a looser circle of collaborative relationships with others who work in your and related fields, where you can spark ideas, not just co-write papers. These then become the people who invite you to give talks, to write chapters for their edited books, refer students to you, etc., and thus your national/international research reputation follows.

  3. Publish and present tactically. Too many of us choose where to submit papers based only on prestige/impact factor (or likelihood of acceptance, hassle factor, and peer review delays...) and attractiveness of the conference location. While these are important, as you mature as an academic, you need to begin to have a portfolio of publications/presentations, which cover top-level research prestige, broader dissemination, outreach to related fields, and (in some fields) public engagement. There are many ways of doing this, but don't just stumble through one paper at a time.

  4. Get grants. Enough said -- though worth mentioning that while the process to apply is often byzantine, random, and can be demoralizing, getting funding liberates your time to be able to do more of the above, and is a good litmus test/forcing device to keep on top of the above -- as enabler -- too. In particular, any time I've reframed my research (item 1 above), it's generally been under the pressure of having to submit a grant proposal!

Second, during recruiting, the posing of this question to you is a bit of a signal and litmus test. It's a signal that we the hiring committee want applicants who will do more than publish x papers per year and fulfill departmental teaching and service requirements. And it's a test not as much of are you there yet -- your CV and letters will indicate that -- but have you started thinking about these issues in a way in line or ahead of your academic cohort.

Therefore, when faced with the question, a good answer would include:

a) A positioning of your research within your field, nationally and globally. Can you articulate how this relates to topics of interest by others? (viz 1)

b) Some evidence of having a research plan for the future. What would you like to do and why? Why is it exciting to other people than just you?

c) Especially if you're too academically young to "have a lab" or equivalent, can you show how networked you are with national and international leaders in your field? Can you show any evidence of developing a followership of juniors (and/or peers)?

And, of course, artfully point to badges of excellence in your research, and of awards/achievements/leading publications you have scored. Not as boasting of your accomplishments, but as demonstrating that you have the platform/runway on which to build -- if you're hired.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for the vote of confidence @jingweimo, but a suggestion to not mark this as the accepted answer quite yet. I'm sure others can chime in with valuable commentary for all of us and they're more likely to do that if no answer is marked as accepted after <1 day.
    – Houska
    Jan 28, 2020 at 20:33
  • Thanks for your answers. I really learned a lot!
    – user105065
    Jan 28, 2020 at 20:36

It depends a bit on your field, of course.

But the general idea is to write a lot of good papers that attract a lot of interest. Produce a lot of good doctoral students. Do a lot of collaboration. Build a large and vibrant circle of such collaborators.

Depending on the field, it might mean attract a lot of grant money to support a lab and/or doctoral students. It might mean presenting at a lot of conferences. It might mean being on a lot of committees (conference, professional organizations, etc.) Contribute enough so that you get invited to contribute.

But the problem is the balkanization of academia. You might be the very top person in some small niche that your maximum circle of collaborators is less than a dozen people. This can be true in math, for example. So, you need to have a somewhat wide set of interests to which you can comment (and attract students, collaborators, money, etc).

Sleeping, not included. Sorry. But you don't have to do it all in one or two years, either.

  • 1
    The OP's question seems a bit strange to me for a hiring committee to ask, as being a national/international research leader seems like the end result of a long climb (highly recognized Ph.D. and postdoc work, exceptional research prior to tenure, even more exceptional research the few years after tenure, etc.) that probably only a small percentage (if any) of the existing faculty have achieved (and anyone actually on track would be a shoo-in for the job), but maybe my interpretation of what "national/international research leader" means is a bit stronger than what the hiring committee means. Jan 29, 2020 at 7:27
  • 1
    @DaveLRenfro, I notice you're from the U.S., so for better or worse, in many fields in your geography, "national leader"="global leader". In my country (Canada), the bar for "national" is much lower just due to size, and ditto "broader than our own country" in Europe, for instance. I've seen (and used...) similar questions in Canada and Europe as shorthand for "how will you be important outside the 4 walls of this university" where "global leader" would of course be ideal, but is not presumed as the goal.
    – Houska
    Jan 29, 2020 at 12:47
  • 2
    @Houska: I actually did think about this, but outside of some very small countries (from an academic standpoint), this still seems to be a strange question to ask unless the search is specifically for someone who is eventually expected to be at least among the top of the university's researchers (i.e. not just one of the many rank-and-file faculty who are good enough to obtain tenure and contribute fairly positively to the department). It's almost as if they're saying "Although you may be better than many of us on the search committee, realize that we're looking for someone MUCH better . . ." Jan 29, 2020 at 14:01
  • @DaveLRenfro, I interpret the question as a round-a-bout way to get some sense of the candidates general sense about academia and the responsibilities of academics. It is a question, I think, about attitude.
    – Buffy
    Jan 29, 2020 at 14:03

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