Controlled Chaos: Collecting Materials for Administrative Reviews

So you landed the coveted tenure-track position. Although your application was originally one among 200 or more, you rose to the challenge and are on your way. Of course congratulations are in order!!
Imagine the thrill. Coming home after a long day of lecturing to find a letter stating that yet another on-site interview resulted in the job being filled by some other phantom (and apparently superior) candidate. My luck would change in less than an hour at 5pm when I received the Dean’s call offering me my first choice position. To describe my reaction using some extreme understatements, I was elated, overjoyed, excited, and of course relieved. To be sure, I was not, at the moment, overwhelmed. I mean really, this was the moment I had been waiting for throughout the drudgery of job searching. All of the position announcements, carefully crafted cover letters, phone interviews, uncertainty, and anxiety-provoking campus visits had led up to this miraculous news. All of this pure joy lasted approximately 1 hour. Upon hearing the news that we would be moving to Houston for my tenure-track position, my partner and I loaded up in the car and headed out for our celebratory dinner. It was during this dinner that reality hit me. Uh oh- now I have to worry about getting tenure!!
Although my peace was shattered for the moment, I managed to block that out, go to my happy place, and enjoy dinner. But the panic evoked by the thought of meeting tenure requirements loomed overhead. As is my usual approach when such a long-term task plagues my thoughts, I immediately began collecting data, both research-based and anecdotal. In this blog, I aim to share what I learned (and what I made up along the way) with other early career scholars. My hope is that we can generate even more ideas as people begin posting comments in response.
Occupying the role of new Assistant Professor brings with it many distractions, responsibilities, and stressors that can easily temp us to put off tenure planning until year two, three, or (hopefully not) four. However, there are some simple steps that may be worth your while and save you much time, energy, and regret down the road.

Talk to people. Sounds simple right? You talk to people every day as part of your new position, so why not use some of that time strategically? Look for people who just achieved tenure, those about to undergo P&T review, and anyone else you can find. The more information you can garner up front with regard to the expectations at your institution in your department at this point in history, the more you can plan ahead to meet them.

Identify a potential mentor within your department (someone who knows the ropes; someone you can trust to tell you the truth about your work and standing in the dept), then ask s/he to be your mentor.

The minute my cohort stepped on campus in August for faculty orientation, our associate dean immediately began chanting “Become a pack rat!” I took his advice and developed a system for easily and quickly filing away evidence of my teaching, research, and service activities. For example, where is that conference program from your first semester that lists your name and the title of your brilliant presentation? Where did you leave those thank you cards from students that experienced a major paradigm shift in your course? Easy- you filed it neatly away in your “T-R-S bins.” Okay, maybe you did not create the bins your first semester, but now is a good time to start. For a cheap bin solution, I used paper box lids and marked them each with a sharpie in huge letters: Teaching; Research; Service. They reside in an out of the way, but accessible spot in my office. After I speak at the Psi Chi induction ceremony, the program goes directly into my service bin. When it came time to produce my third year review binders, all of the evidence was at my fingertips and ready for me to organize.

Create a word document for recording everything you do (teaching, research, service). When it is time for annual review and P&T, you will not be able to remember all you did in the last 12 months or all you did during the last 5 years.

Always keep your vita updated. What’s that? You just got the email saying your conference paper was accepted? Close that email and edit your vita right now!

Use the third year review (or second or fourth year for some institutions) to your advantage. Truly approach this as your dry run for tenure. Organize and present your materials just as you might plan to do for the official P&T review. If your university, school, or department does not currently conduct the formal pre-tenure reviews, consider asking your friendly neighborhood associate dean for an informal review.

Self-promote. Writing your tenure narrative is far from the moment to display your modesty. Quite the contrary. This is the time to get comfortable with self-promotion and let go of the idea that nice girls and boys don’t highlight their successes.

Based on the feedback I have been able to gather, the tenure narrative is your chance to illustrate not only what you have accomplished as a junior faculty member, but also your ability to reflect on your research, teaching, and service. Your P&T document provides the opportunity to clearly explain how your work connects with the work of others and what you contribute to psychology as a whole. In addition, consider the impact of a solid narrative that succinctly describes how your teaching, research, and service intertwine and complement one another as chapters of your professional story.

Think ahead about possible external reviewers. As you jet set all over the world to conferences on your undoubtedly unlimited travel budget, keep an eye open for associate professors at comparable universities that know your area. Introduce yourself and get to know these people because they may be willing to serve as external reviewers later on. I currently have a colleague in panic mode because she must send out her P&T materials in two months, but never thought to network at conferences to identify possible external reviewers.

Set up multiple ways to get student feedback. Course evaluations often give limited information and are at the end of the term. Get student feedback on assignments, lectures, class activities, quizzes & exams earlier in the semester. Make appropriate adjustments and let students know you take their ideas seriously. Keep these materials for use in your P&T packet.

Don’t be shy! If you work with a student for a year on research or serve as faculty advisor to a club, ask students to write recommendation letters that can be used in your P&T materials.

Research early and often. Hit the ground running and make the most of years 1-3. Given journal lag time from acceptance to publication, these years are extremely important.

Remember- not all service is equal. Ask mentors what types of service are most valued by administrators. Ask those that have served on merit review committees or P&T committees before.

Keep stellar records of any service activities you do such as flyers highlighting the talk you gave to a psychology class at the local high school. Service is one of the most difficult areas when it comes to providing evidence, so keeping good records is even more essential. Get involved with professional organizations like SPSSI to establish professional service.
As P&T review creeps closer and closer for me, I cannot say that preparation such as my T-R-S bins have erased all of my tenure anxieties. However, my own use of the tips outlined above certainly eased many of them. Hopefully, you will find at least one gem of an idea here that you can use to reduce your pre-tenure stress and get you one step closer to the “Associate” title.
[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]