Thursday, September 8, 2011

Prepping for RTP

How can we examine faculty life without talking about RTP (retention, tenure, promotion)? While institutions vary in their policies and in their acronyms, there are many similarities that can help new and more seasoned faculty members through the tenure journey.

At my institution, we have RTP. One of the great things (and really annoying things) about my institution is the policy that all tenure-track faculty must submit an annual retention package. This is annoying only because it is a TON of work at the busiest time of the year (August-September). The annual RTP dossier is great for many reasons, it allows you to examine what progress you have made in the past year, it helps you see holes in your faculty work ('oops, I need more publications' or 'uh oh, my service record really dropped this year'), it helps you organize your semester and plan for activities (see previous post"The Tenure Tally"),  it organizes your work so that the tenure dossier should be quite easy to put together.  In fact, my entire filing system has morphed into a version of my annual retention packet.

Whether going up for Full Professor or just starting your first year on the tenure track, here are a few things that have helped me while I complete my annual packet.

BEFORE step 1: Read your institution's policies. Be familiar with the handbook and their expectations. The scoring procedure at my institution detailed how I should break down my dossier. This then lead directly to how I would file my work and organize my documents. Without that knowledge, even the best filing system won't save you time or energy when you need to create your RTP dossier. 

Organized by year, then category & color-coded
1. Organizing throughout the year. All year, I file everything (hard copy and electric files are managed in the same way). I do this by academic year. Then I split up the files into the six categories for retention (the same six will be for tenure). Then (because I am really over-committed to organization), I color-code sub-folders. I keep files out that are in-progress and anything that is complete is filed in the appropriate folder, so by the time the retention dates come up I can simply grab the folder marked "Grant-writing efforts" and copy the items to include in the dossier. All of the "evidence" required for the retention packet is continually placed right where I'll need it come RTP time. When you're busy and overwhelmed, you can easily shove a folder in the right spot--so it may get messy, but it is a very organized type of mess (see picture).

Sticky notes to help organize
2. I focus on colored sticky notes and flags that highlight important parts of documents. This helps me to remember why I think a certain document should go in the dossier or why I placed a document in a certain section. This handy sticky note system was given to me by my father and it works beautifully for the task. The sticky notes last forever (as you can see) and I use primarily green and yellow.

3. Pictures. Why not include some pictures in the dossier? Show the committee that you were registering, that the club you advise hosted an event, that you spoke at the conference. I add all kinds of evidence to help the reviewers move through the dossier easily.

4. Electronic supplements. My institution does not utilize e-dossiers or allow their submission, unfortunately, but if yours does then consider the structure and organization carefully. It should "read" in line with your RTP standards. 

4. Retain copies or electronic scans of everything you submit. Though rare, problems can happen. Take the time to give yourself a back-up option and keep copies or e-copies of everything. I have a dedicated external hard drive for this. The finished version should be a well-organized, clearly structured, dossier that easily mirrors the scoring process for your RTP requirements. This means the committee can find what they need, can score you on your actual work, and you again can see areas that may need to be developed before the next RTP step.

5. Repeat steps 1-4. Each year do these steps. Then, by the time you prepare your Tenure (or Promotion) packet, you have everything right where it should be.

How do you communicate what work you have done and who you are academically?  The trick is to make the dossier speak for you. It should be professional, polished, organized, and efficient--just like you. So take the time out NOW to organize for the future. Plan ahead for materials and procedures so the image you put forward gives you the best chance to attain your faculty goals.

This entire post encourages faculty to work smarter and not harder. Work throughout the year (and throughout your pre-/post-tenure track time) to focus on the next career stage and make informed, focused decisions based on your accomplished tasks.  Best of luck to you wherever you are on the RTP journey!
The finished product! A dossier full of organized "evidence"

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