Coaching for Academics

Dossier Prep Tips

Episode Summary

I share my five tips for preparing your document for tenure and/or promotion.

Episode Notes

The Rollo May quote is from his essay The Courage to Create.

Episode Transcription


Hello, and welcome to coaching for academics.


This podcast is designed to help higher ed professionals pursue meaningful career achievement while enjoying lives of significance and satisfaction. I'm your host, Jess Miller PhD, professor of philosophy, certified clinical ethicist and professional coach.


Hello, it's late July as I'm recording this and it's getting to be time for people to submit their materials for promotion and or tenure in September or October. So I thought I would talk a little bit about tips for actually preparing your dossier for promotion. The tips are based on my own experience, going through two promotions, my experience as a department chair for five years,,and four years of serving as an associate dean for faculty affairs, where I have worked with faculty in doing this very thing and also have sat on the deans level advisory committee for promotion and tenure,.


I have five tips and I'd like to start with the basics. The first tip has to do with the three elements that your application for promotion and or tenure must contain. Number one, your department,'s evaluation criteria, number two, your assigned duties and number three, your performance and accomplishments. I'll take those one at a time.


You, as a faculty member will be evaluated based on certain criteria. Either the criteria will be specific to your unit or department, or if you have sort of an unusual position, you'll have something like a memorandum of understanding that spells out the criteria. It's really important that you review this and that your own application for promotion connects to these criteria as directly and as often as possible If you don't understand something in this document, it's important to ask. You can ask your chair, you can ask a senior colleague or the chair of your peer committee. Second you're assigned to duties. This is going to be what classes you're actually assigned to teach, or what percentage of research you're doing. What percentage of service, if you have administrative duties, think about your entire job as a professor,, and think of the percentages that are assigned to different duties.


Try to make sure that, you know, for each of your assigned duties, what excellent performance would be and try to make sure that your document actually matches your assigned duties. Make sure it's clear at the beginning, how much teaching you're doing, how much administrative work you're doing, what percentage this is of the whole, how much are your research percentages, et cetera. Third, your applicationsfor promotion and tenure will be evaluated by your performance and accomplishments. So it's important to match your performance and your accomplishments to the previous two items, your departmental or personal evaluation criteria and your assigned duties. Everything should sort of fit together, but it's important to see that you're not going to be evaluated by some generic ideal. You should be evaluated quite directly on what your evaluation criteria, state on your assigned duties and on your performances and accomplishments. So since this is the way you're going to be evaluated, it's important that you get straight and that you clarify in your document what these are.


The second suggestion that I would offer for your dossier preparation for tenure or promotion, is to think of it as a creative process. When you put together your dossier, you're not just filling in blanks, checking boxes and making lists, although you're probably doing all those things, but more significantly you are creating something. It's the act of putting everything together. That creates something new Rollo may the existential psychotherapist from the seventies said that creativity is the process of bringing something new into being creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness, what was previously hidden and points to new life. The experience is one of heightened consciousness, ecstasy, okay? It's not ecstatic putting together your dossier, but I love how he says creativity brings to our awareness. What was previously hidden and points to new life, because that is what your dossier should do.


It should bring to your awareness and to everyone who reads it, what you have done and the threads that tie together, all of the different experiences that you have had as a faculty member. So think in terms of creation, not just recording, when you put together your packet, you are like an architect, designing a home. You want it to be very functional and you want it to do what it's supposed to do. You want it to be strong. You want it to withstand heavy weather and also be a good foundation for an addition, maybe your next promotion. And you want it to be beautiful in the kind of narrow sense of being as close to perfect as you can make it as clear as you can make it, and very proportionate to what we talked about in the first segment, your departmental evaluation criteria and your assigned duties.


So if you think of this as a creative process, it may be a little less tedious and it may stimulate you to take a little bit more control over it. In other words, just because there's a blank or an open space, doesn't mean you have to fill it the way that the last person who came up for tenure did, or in any particular way, you can tell your story, even if it's just the order in which you put things, what you put in, what you leave out, et cetera. So thinking of it as a creative process, I hope can stimulate some higher level thinking about what you're creating. When you create this document. Third suggestion for putting together your dossier is a very simple one, but don't make people have to become forensic investigators to figure out what it is that you've done and how it relates to what you were supposed to do.


The people evaluating you are more than likely going to be evaluating more than one dossier and they're time limited just like everyone else. So the clearer and simpler that you can make it for them to find what they need the better. So for example, something like numbering, your publications or bolding your name and the list of authors or setting out peer reviewed journal articles from scholarly, but non peer reviewed articles from book chapters. Just because there are two headings in your tenure promotion document doesn't mean you can't add your own subheadings. You should have page numbers, dates, full bibliographic references. If people are wondering, gee, it says five articles here. I wonder how substantial they are. Well, if you put the page numbers in or make it easy for reviewers to find the articles, then they'll get a quick answer to their question. Oh, Hey, yeah, these were pretty substantial. Don't make your readers have to work to understand what you have done and why it matters.


It easy for them to figure this out by using numbers, headings, bolding, explanatory, text where it makes sense, et cetera. Everyone will. Thank you. My fourth suggestion for putting together your dossier is to pay attention to your audience. And I would break this down into two different sub points. First is it's tempting to focus on the audience in the front row, your peer committee, your chair, but you should also pay attention to the audience in the balcony, your university president, maybe a board of trustees, just as your document should reflect your specific situation, your department's guidelines, your assigned to duties. It should also illustrate a consistency with larger institutional goals. For example, if you work at a public institution, maybe advancing cultural, economic, or civic interests of the state is paramount for your president and board of trustees for a small liberal arts college fostering self determination, and the transformative power of education may be core to that college's mission.


So I recommend that you take a look at your university's mission statement or any recent strategic plan, look for phrases or concepts that you can naturally work into your narrative. Yes, you're focused on the people in the front row. It is very important to get them excited and onboard, but you also have to pay attention to the people at the balcony. And the second sub point here is recognize that just as audience members who are way back in the balcony may find it harder in some ways to see the action on the stage. You should similarly experience decreasing understanding of your work is your document moves through the stages. My Dean likes to warn our faculty to quote expect increasing ignorance. And that's true. So you have to make sure that you are presenting yourself in a way that an educated lay person can understand it's especially important.


Not only that they understand your research, but that they understand why your research is quality and why it is important. Importance has to be looked at in the context, not just of your discipline, but in the, of what matters to these people at the highest levels. No, they're probably not nitpicking every last thing in your dossier, but it really is a good thing for you personally and for your unit. And maybe even for your college that a president or a board of trustees can look at a dossier and, and really understand quickly why you are doing work, that fits comports in some way with the mission and values of the organization. My fifth and final suggestion about putting together your dossier is to make sure your document ends with the semi-colon and out a period. Yes, it is definitely retrospective. And yes, you should spend your time talking about what you do I have done, but it's important to communicate that you are in the middle of a journey.


You have not with this document, tied everything up with a bow. You have some ongoing research projects or at least research topics that are of continuing interest to you. You don't have to see around the next bend that clearly, but someone reading your document should get excited about what's in store for you. I think this is especially true. If you are a junior faculty member going up for tenure and promotion, in that case, it's really important that readers of your document get excited about what you might potentially do in the future. It doesn't mean you have to talk in detail what you're going to do in the future, because that's not the purpose of your packet, but they should get a sense that you have a kind of momentum that this isn't the only research you're going to do, that you have an abiding interest and excitement around your work, your teaching, yes.


Your service. Yes, but also your research. So if you can at least put some nods, some suggestive language make a note of things that you're in the middle of, even if they don't formally count towards your number of publications or number of jury exhibitions, or however you'd be evaluated. I think that is really nice. It's especially nice. If your tenure case is just sort of solid to maybe slightly squishy. I think in those cases, there can be a real worry that the faculty member is just going to do what they need to do to get tenure, and then they may not return to their research after. So it's really important. I think, especially if your case is a little bit weaker that you communicate a forward momentum and that there, the possibility of an interesting research program after tenure is at least alluded to somewhere in your document.


So those are my five suggestions for thinking about your dossier. I talked about how you evaluate applications, that it's a creative process, that it should be clear and that you should pay attention to your audience. And finally think about it as a semi colon and not a period I'm Jess Miller. And I'd like to thank you for listening. Please visit coaching for for transcripts and other resources related to this episode. And for news about my work as a coach and facilitator. And if you enjoyed this episode of coaching for academics, consider subscribing rating or reviewing,


Thank you.