Monday, May 30, 2016

My Tenure Dossier

So I feel like I should write about my tenure process while I still remember it with urgency, hence the recent topic trend. While being on the TT and the run up to tenure currently forms the bulk of my experience as a professor, that won't always be true. I know I will eventually be one of those people who say "just work hard, publish, write grants, and tenure will come" to anxious new assistant profs, just like some of my senior colleagues told me. Or probably I won't say it (since it is a supremely unhelpful thing to hear), but I am sure I will think it.

The truth is that because the tenure decision is career determining, it will take over your life until after you are through it. But once you are done, you will realize how much of your efforts were spent in obsessing well beyond the point of usefulness over the relatively small number of things under your direct control vs. the many things that aren't. Kind of like the TT job hunt. Turning in the dossier was both anticlimactic (I just handed in a USB drive and signed my name on a list) and extremely stressful (because now all there is left to do is wait).

At ProdigalU (and probably most other places), a tenure dossier consists of a CV plus personal statement and then detailed descriptions of research, teaching, and service. We also submit appendices containing ProdigalU associated publications (including recent submissions) and every teaching evaluation from ProdigalU. If you are on the TT, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to see a recent successful dossier, preferably from your department. Seeing a complete dossier will primarily show you how it is supposed to look at your institution, but it will also remind you of things you forgot to put in yours on the first pass. Plus you can start early on the things that won't change, like your CV that contains everything you have ever done professionally ever (really!) and the list of your service contributions. I foolishly did not take a look at a tenure dossier until I started setting mine up. This led to many hours of combing through records and/or emails for specific details I wanted to add in that I could have just added to a file contemporaneously if I knew I would want them!

I started working on my dossier in June with 3 months until submission. At the same time, I was still pushing out my final manuscript (submitted manuscripts with manuscript numbers count for more than nothing, but less than a publication here). Since the dossier is literally a summary of everything I did at ProdigalU, it took a really long time to finish, even ignoring the hours spent on making the formatting look nice. It took so long, that I now keep both a "tenure format" CV in addition to a more normal CV so I don't ever have to do this again (like if I hopefully go up for promotion to full in the future!) and have a place to keep a complete list of everything my group and I do professionally.

Here is a partial list of things I forgot some details about and had to look up (usually exact title or exact date): panels I served on, every person whose supervisory committee I served on, every class I guest lectured in, every session I chaired at meetings, every presentation my students gave, every committee I served on. I knew I would have to discuss my research to bring out the novelty, interest, and importance for both experts and non-experts, but there was a lot of other writing as well. I also had to describe all of my collaborations and how they worked, discuss how I decided which journals to publish in along with a brief description of the journal's significance and audience for evaluators who are out of field, describe the contributions of all authors on all of my papers, and discuss my vision for the future of my research and my lab.

The teaching part also took a long time, as in addition to describing my courses and demonstrating my competence and vision for my teaching, I also had to extract out all of the teaching evaluation scores and put them in an easy to understand table for each class, as well as excerpt the comments. The evaluations had to be put into context of my teaching statement (this part was pretty easy). The number crunching was tedious and time consuming. The service part was the easiest--I just had to flesh out my list with a description of what each listed service thing meant, and describe any relevant committees. I spent the least amount of time on this.

There is actually a small amount of strategy here, since we can only count each item as either research, service, or teaching. There are some gray areas. For example, mentoring undergraduate researchers can count as research or teaching (or service, I suppose, but I never thought of putting it there). Guest lecturing in a class can count as teaching or service. There are lots of small things that can be assigned to one section or another. This could have become a timesink for procrastination, but I pretty much just decided where I wanted various items right up front and didn't revisit my choices. I don't think it matters much in the end, and I was able to see that during the process.

I spent the final week obsessively wordsmithing and changing the formatting in various ways over and over again. This was completely non-productive, but honestly, I was beyond burnt out on it, so why not relieve some stress via pretending that my font choice and/or header style was important to the decision? Turning it in was a huge relief, as it isn't like all the other work goes away while working on the dossier.

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