Although traditionally the role of a researcher or scholar is often narrowly defined, individuals who work across research and creative or professional work as well as creative artists and industry professionals can occupy many different roles. These roles may be broadly categorized as follows:


Individual Artists

Artists who take sole creative responsibility for a work of art, or are responsible for more than one major creative role on a production. This category includes (but is not confined to):

  • Animator
  • Interactive producer
  • Composer
  • Photographer
  • Experimental media artist
  • Installation artist
  • Sound artist
  • Writer/Producer (of an independent film)
  • Producer/Director (of an independent film)
  • Director/Editor (of an independent film)
  • Writer/Director (of an independent film)

The Department recognizes that new categories of artists and art practices are emerging all the time. In general, the expectations for an incoming tenure track faculty member are outlined in their Letter of Appointment. Should a candidate find themselves in the position of being in a field not defined above and require more clarification than their letter of appointment provides, they should, in dialogue with the VMA chair and VMA DPTC, produce a memorandum of understanding (MOU) about the work required for tenure. This MOU must also be approved by the Dean of the School of the Arts and the Provost or whomever is at that time preparing the Letters of Appointment for incoming candidates and included in the candidate’s dossier. Acknowledging the diversity of artistic practices represented in VMA, the expectation of the department is that individual artists should produce a recognizably significant body of work within their metier. A body of work will be considered sufficient for recommendation of promotion and/or tenure if it constitutes an original, meaningful, significant and sustained contribution to the culture at large.

Producing a work as an individual artist will count more than working in a Single Defined Role in Production on a comparable project (i.e., one of similar length or scale). If working in a Single Defined Role on a Production, the expectations outlined in the section below, on “Working in a Single Defined Role in Production,” will apply.

Those Working in a Single Defined Role in Production

Artists who are hired or specifically selected to work on a production are usually hired on the basis of their existing reputation, and thus being chosen is often a form of professional approval. Substantial effort is often expended in applying for work on such productions. Faculty engaged in such work should be careful to document:

  • their specific role(s) in the project
  • the exact length of their involvement with the production. (Some artists work for months on a project, while others may be involved for only a few weeks. The composition, orchestration, and realization of an entire original score, for example, may represent a larger scope of work than the on-location sound recording of a few scenes, or sound-design and foley for an opening title sequence alone. The shorter the length of involvement with the project, the more engagements [or credits] are required).

Artists who make a major creative contribution (but not the sole or overriding contribution) to a project in a single role may not control the distribution of their project and, therefore, may not always be held accountable for festival screenings and reviews. Their work is thus subject to the opinions of independent external evaluators and peers within the College. These positions, defined here as major creative roles in a significant production are as follows:

  • Producer
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
  • Director of Photography
  • Editor (of a film or major television production)
  • Supervising sound designer (on a major production)
  • Production Designer

In the period leading up to tenure while at Emerson (unless specified by appointment letter) and again in the period after tenure leading up to promotion to Professor, candidates should demonstrate sustained artistic involvement in the creation of at least two significant productions with national or international validation plus the production of additional materials engaged in their discipline. Recognizing that not all candidates will have sustained access to the film and television industry after making the transition to academia, alternative options are provided below in “Alternatives to commercial production for creative scholarship.”

Although it is impossible to delineate every possible option for commercial work across the variety of practices represented in the Department of Visual and Media Arts, for clarity we have outlined some definitions of a significant production below.

For a screenwriter, some options of what constitutes a significant production include writing a feature-length screenplay or series pilot and then having that produced by, sold to, or optioned by an established production company or producer with a proven track record. A company or producer is considered to have a proven track record if it has completed two or more productions that have received national or international distribution or screened in an internationally competitive festival that serves as a qualifier for a major award, e.g. the Oscars, BAFTA, or has at least two films that have won major international festival awards and/or are a WGA signatory. In this instance writing the script counts as one role and selling it counts as the second. Additional possibilities for screenwriters that qualify as a significant role in production are: being hired to write a spec script, an adaptation, a treatment, single or multiple episodes of a TV, cable or streaming series; to complete a rewrite or polish as defined by the Writer’s Guild of America; to write or rewrite a series bible. Any job that is delineated by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and all guilds associated with the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds (IAWG) that constitutes major effort on the part of the screenwriter in terms of time and gains the screenwriter significant experience and exposure will be considered as one of the two requirements for tenure. Any question about what qualifies as a company or producer with a proven track record or significant festival or award should be discussed by the candidate with the VMA Chair and School of the Arts Dean. For alternatives to commercial options for external validation and peer review please see “Alternatives to commercial production for creative scholarship” below.

For a producer, some options of what constitutes a significant production include:

  • a project being set up for development with writer and/or director attached with a financing entity (studio, equity company or production company);
  • a script being written on spec with talent attached (director, actor) and financing in place to go into production;
  • a TV series or mini series being set up for development, a pilot being shot for a series or a mini series that goes into production;
  • a film being made with a strong caliber writer/director/cast; and
  • acceptance to an international festive and/or securing distribution for a project.

Given the wide variety of roles a producer can fulfill in fiction, documentary, television and independent film, it is impossible to elaborate here all the possibilities, but whatever the project, its significance should be demonstrated by commitment from individuals or companies with a proven track record for national and/or international production, distribution or exhibition.

For a cinematographer, editor, sound designer, art director or any of the major roles in a production, it would be holding the key position on a feature-length film or nationally syndicated television program that achieves significant exhibition at the national or international level. If a project does not receive commercial distribution but is exhibited at major festivals, and especially if the work of the candidate on the project is awarded at such festivals (e.g. best cinematography), that will be considered sufficient recognition of the quality of the project to count as one of the two required towards tenure.

Industrial accolades are also demonstration of significant achievement, such as being nominated for or winning an Academy Award, Emmy, Golden Globe or other national or international award. Such a nomination for an individual’s work would be an achievement significant enough to fulfill tenure or promotion requirements. Please see the “Review and Distribution” section under Standards as to how to document these achievements and assess their selectivity and prestige.

Alternatives to commercial production for creative scholarship

Other ways for all creative scholarship to be validated besides commercial metrics are through winning awards at major international film festivals, inclusion in biennials, prestigious residencies or grant programs, or the receipt of significant grants for the work. In addition, materials that, if produced in sufficient volume, may support the tenure case include: published articles about the individual’s craft in academic journals or industry magazines; receipt of external creative grants; or service as a jury member of an established competition or festival. If a candidate writes a book with an academic press about their field of expertise, that would be sufficient for tenure. If the candidate: co-authors a book; publishes an essay in a collected edition or peer-reviewed academic or industry journal, any combination of five of these should count as sufficient for tenure. If the candidate delivers a keynote presentation for a national or international conference based on their expertise as a creative artist, this would count as a journal article. Please see the “Review and Distribution” section under Standards as to how to document these achievements in terms of selectivity and prestige.

For individuals working on independent, art world or alternative productions, the expectation is that they occupy the major creative role on the project and complete a feature-length work or the equivalent in time, effort and achievement in a shorter or alternative form.

For artists who exhibit in gallery or museum spaces, a solo exhibition in a nationally recognized gallery or alternative art space, or inclusion in a major museum exhibition, or a major public art commission, or at least three group shows, all properly peer acknowledged, reviewed and evaluated by prestige, visibility and selectivity, will be considered sufficient for tenure. Please see the “Review and Distribution” section under Standards as to how to document these achievements.

Supportive Roles

Professionals who contribute to a work of media art (in many instances in creative ways), but do not exert a major creative influence, often work on a project in a supportive role with delegated responsibilities. Such roles might include, but are not confined to:

  • Web designer
  • Line producer
  • Production manager
  • Sound recordist

Whether engaged in major creative roles or supportive roles, the candidate for promotion or tenure should clearly indicate who their employer is and cite examples of the employer’s producing record, as well as provide information about the distribution of the work itself, reviews, and other forms of recognition and/or evaluation. The Department approves of such work if it confers prestige upon the candidate and, by extension, upon the Department itself. Financial arrangements between faculty members and their employers are not relevant to the review process. Such professionals should show evidence of sustained output in their fields at a national or international level and provide a significant body of work equivalent to two productions a year during their tenure period.

Crossing Categories

Faculty may sometimes work in more than one of the above categories. For instance, someone may be an executive producer on one project and a production manager on another, or an experimental filmmaker might also work as an editor on another project. Candidates who do this must document such activity clearly and must provide a statement as to how such work is strongly related to the faculty member’s principal area of appointment as defined in the Letter of Appointment, bearing in mind the evolving nature of the curriculum and the faculty member’s place within that curriculum.

Candidates must also note how such work is consistent with the Department’s expectations and be in dialogue with the VMA Chair and the VMA DPTC to articulate what a sufficient body of work would be during yearly meetings and the third- and fifth-year reviews. Furthermore, following these discussions with the VMA chair and the VMA DPTC, the candidate should secure a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between themselves and the Dean and Provost to supplement their Letter of Appointment and clearly articulate how their achievements will be counted in their progress towards tenure. This MOU should be included in the candidate’s dossier.

Media Studies, Art History and other Researchers/Scholars

Media Studies and Art History have conventionally defined the activity of scholars and researchers as writing about visual and media arts for scholarly journals and books, with standards for tenure very clear in terms of publications (see Standards section). However, History and Studies colleagues may also contribute significantly to their field in a number of other ways: organizing exhibitions or screenings and/or writing exhibition or screening programs or catalogues; reviewing the work of individual artists in disciplinary relevant journals; organizing symposia and publications based on these symposia; and producing materials (games, surveys, websites, apps) that further their scholarly research. These materials should be evaluated as significant for a studies or history scholar’s appointment, advancement and tenure according to the metrics of peer review, significance to the field and impact listed below. If the expectations for tenure are not clearly outlined in the Letter of Appointment, the candidate will establish the equivalency of these materials in relationship to the common standards through dialogue with the DPTC and department chair and then secure a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the dean and provost no later than the end of their fourth year of tenure track service. This MOU should be included in the candidate’s dossier. Furthermore, if faculty members have co-authored a substantial number of articles, evidence of their contribution should be provided.

Interdisciplinary Artists/Scholars

It has become more common for artists and film professionals to publish peer-reviewed journal articles and/or books on their own work or the work of others. Scholars have also begun to produce theoretically based creative projects such as games, web series, graphic novels, code, etc. A significant book or series of peer-reviewed articles or peer-reviewed book chapters will be sufficient to achieve tenure. Similarly, a significant creative project that relates to a media historian’s scholarship can contribute to a tenure case as the equivalent to one or more essays depending on the size and scope of the project and impact in the field. In keeping with our standards for quality and promise of distinction, the candidate must provide evidence of peer review and significance to the field whether they submit creative or scholarly work.