How to Search and Find Competent External Reviewers for Tenure and Promotion

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How to Search and Find Competent External Reviewers for Tenure and Promotion

In the world of academia, where tenure and promotion decisions can shape careers, the role of external reviewers is pivotal. They provide an unbiased assessment of a faculty member's scholarly contributions. But how do you find these elusive reviewers who can offer valuable insights into your work? Let's embark on a journey to demystify this process, which I like to call the search for competent reviewers in the wild.

The Hunt Begins: Assessing Scholarly Contributions
Whether you're a tenure-track faculty member seeking reviews or a colleague looking to nominate external reviewers, the first step is to assess the ability of potential reviewers to evaluate scholarship effectively. This ability is key, even if you don't have book reviews or other public evidence at your disposal.

  1. Public Evidence: Start your quest by scouring public sources for signs of reviewing competence. Look for solo-authored discursive review articles, or solo-authored articles with substantial literature review sections. These are indicators of someone's ability to place scholarship in a broader context.
  2. Conference Clues: Sometimes, conference discussants offer glimpses of how they analyze new scholarship's contributions. These insights can be valuable in identifying competent reviewers.
  3. Confidential Reviews: Keep in mind that the most telling evidence may be confidential reviews for journals or grant programs. These insights are often hidden from the public eye but can be valuable in assessing reviewing competence.

Leveraging Networks and Mentors
In your quest for competent reviewers, your professional network and mentors can be your most valuable assets. If you have connections to current or former associate editors of journals in your field, they are likely to have insights into who reviews fairly, clearly, and promptly. Your mentors can also provide valuable guidance in this regard.

However, it's crucial to be clear about what you're seeking when you approach these individuals. Ask for information about reviewers who are consistent in stating a manuscript's contribution and who possess the qualities of fairness and clarity. Focus on competence and temperament, not disciplinary politics.

Shaping the Search for Tenure
If you're aiming for tenure, administrators or peer review committees may nominate potential external reviewers. You can influence their selection by clarifying your scholarly community and the journals that represent it. Use narrative statements in your annual reviews to convey this information, and don't hesitate to be explicit with department chairs, school directors, and associate deans.

Provide detailed insights into your scholarly community, examples of relevant journals, and even false cognates to distinguish your field from others. True cognates in other fields can also be a source of potential reviewers.

Managing Conflicts of Interest
When suggesting reviewers, it's vital to address potential conflicts of interest. Make it clear if you have collaborated with any of the scholars you're nominating or if there are other connections, such as sharing an advisor or having graduated from the same institution. Avoid nominating your advisor, regular collaborators, relatives, or committee members.

The search for competent external reviewers is an intricate dance in academia. It relies on assessing evidence of reviewing competence, leveraging your network and mentors, and shaping the search to reflect your scholarly community. By mastering this process, you can ensure that your tenure and promotion reviews are conducted by those with the expertise to provide valuable insights into your work.