An eventful month.
My tenure and promotion portfolio was due to the Chair of my department on August 14, 2015. My first child was born earlier that week, and because we became parents through adoption, I had no idea going into this summer that I would be a father by now. How did I manage to complete my tenure portfolio AND become a ‘surprise’ parent all at the same time? By working ahead, of course. This post is about how avoiding procrastination and working with great effort and efficiency when I had the opportunity has helped me survive, and in this case, enjoy, a life-changing event.
My wife and I were notified in mid-summer that a birthmother was considering us as adoptive parents. She thought she was due in mid-September. In reality, the little baby boy was much further along and he made a mid-August arrival. I could not be happier to be a father and I could not be happier with the support my wife and I (both professors, but at different universities) have received with regards to a favorable parenting schedule amidst our course schedules. With that said, if I had not been on top of my game, the timing of these things could have created a nightmarish conundrum.
The road to now.
When I signed my first contract in 2010, I knew that August 2015 would be the deadline for my tenure and promotion portfolio. Despite having a five-year notice, there are components of the portfolio that can only be completed in the weeks leading up to the deadline. I made great progress in each of my five years with regards to collecting artifacts and evidence in support of my case, but reserved the writing of the most important part – the narrative – until summer 2015. At the beginning of the summer, I focused solely on getting manuscripts from my lab out for review. Fellow blogger Matt Venesky and other peers on Twitter consistently Tweeted about their goal for a #SixManuscriptSummer. Sharing their goal, I was determined to reach six manuscript submissions by mid-July, then use the final two weeks of July to write the narrative for my tenure portfolio.
Reaching the manuscript goal on July 13, I entered August with a hefty amount of the work of my students and I out in the peer-review pipeline and had nothing left for the tenure portfolio but to add outside letters of support to the binder. On July 31, I printed the final version of my narrative, and successfully assembled my entire portfolio (minus the letters of support) into a single, four-inch binder. I turned my portfolio in a week early, took a weekend to celebrate that accomplishment, then just a few days later, I became a father for the first time.
I know my story is different from many others. I know there are individuals who will work until the very last minute because they like to work that way or because they are simply too busy to work ahead. I am here to say I am so glad that was not the case for me. Our university requires annual evaluations and ‘check ups’ with regards to progression toward tenure. I suspect some faculty members find this to be overkill and, perhaps, verging on busy work. Looking back on the relative ease with which I was able to complete my portfolio, I can say with confidence that those annual self-evaluations were essential to my success in preparing this binder.
At Millikin, faculty members are required to develop three-year growth plans. The first is written in the middle of the first year of employment. Within the growth plan, we must address how we will achieve competence or excellence in the following areas of evaluation for tenure and promotion: teaching (excellence required), scholarship (competence required), service to the university (competence required), service to the profession (optional, competence required), and professional service to the community (optional, competence required). At the end of each academic year, we must write a self-evaluation, which is then reviewed by the Chair and the Dean, that addresses how well we have met our goals set forth in the growth plan. At the end of year three, we write a new three-year growth plan, and importantly, have a pre-tenure review. For this review, the tenured members of our department and the Dean review a pre-tenure portfolio, which, for the most part, is an abbreviated tenure portfolio. Promotion and tenure portfolios must be a reflection on performance in these areas and I think that waiting five years to write a single document that summarizes those five years would be incredibly overwhelming, even for the most prepared individual. With four years of self-evaluations, two growth plans, a pre-tenure review, and feedback from the Chair and Dean on each of them, I felt great about my ability to make my case for tenure and promotion
The department decision on my case will not be completed until September 15 and the case will not make it through all of the levels of evaluation until February 2016, so I cannot yet tell you if my approach was successful. What I can tell you is that the arrival of an unexpected baby just days before my portfolio was due would have been an extremely stressful occurrence if it were not for regular reflection and self-assessment of my performance in each of the previous years.
For those of you who are at a university that requires similar assessment on an annual basis, I hope my story will help you gain a new appreciation for how this prepares you to make your tenure case. For those of you who are at a university where there are no formal assessments or checkpoints until the real-deal tenure portfolio, I encourage you to consider writing your own self-evaluation each year in preparation for that final portfolio.
With six manuscripts in the pipeline in peer-reviewed journals, all of my research students doing great work, my courses going smoothly, and my tenure portfolio in review, I feel better than I could have imagined about investing a great deal of time in what is already one of the most rewarding activities in my life: parenting.