This Is Your Life! Or, The Hardest 12 Pages I’ve Ever Written

via The Bird Machine
via The Bird Machine

Holy Mary, Mother of God. After five full days’ work (and fewer than 20 hours’ sleep between them), I’ve finally finished a complete draft of my tenure dossier. Last month I read Peter Seldin and J. Elizabeth Miller’s The Academic Portfolio to psych myself up for the task. I’d created a dossier in 2008, for my fourth-year review — but this was a whole other (or whole nother, as some people like to say) kind of serious. “Up our out“; that’s how it goes in academe.

Seldin and Miller write: “Professors who prepare an annual review” — which I do — “will probably already have a good deal of the material on hand” — which, again, I do. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an obsessive organizer. “[T]hey probably have a a list of their teaching responsibilities, copies of syllabi, student rating data, samples of books and publications, letters regarding grant proposals, conference proceedings” — of course I do! — “and letters appointing them to committees” (what? people actually do this?!) “When they have that information on hand, preparation of the portfolio will probably take between fifteen and twenty hours.” (30)

Pshaw. Try 60.

60 hours might not seem like much — but I’d been doing lots of “self-reflection” through my annual reports and here, on WIS; collecting citations and reviews of my work; saving committee reports I’ve authored or contributed to; reviewing thousands of student emails for comments about my qualities as a teacher or advisor; culling comments from official student evaluations; maintaining a selection of exemplary student work, etc., since 2002. In other words, I’ve been training for the big game for years, but putting on the uniform was harder than I thought it would be.

This lovely new Washed Out song, which I discovered on Pitchfork while taking a breather on Tuesday, has helped me keep calm and carry on. Golly, that Ernest Greene is good.


And here’s what the dossier process entailed:

  • Table of Contents: Takes some effort, considering you’re likely to have hundreds of individual documents in this thing.
  • Current Academic CV

Easy enough so far. But here’s the quagmire (this is where the “Holy Mary” stuff comes in handy):

  • Personal Statement: “The Personal Statement should be 8-12 pages, single-spaced. The purpose of the Personal Statement is to provide a clear, detailed, and self-reflective overview of the candidate’s contributions in the areas of research, scholarship/professional practice, teaching, and service. The statement provides candidates with an opportunity to make a case for their contribution to the university and the fields of which they are part; discuss key contributions to their program, school, and field; and to outline professional goals, teaching pedagogy, and the core values that have shaped their practice to date. It is a document that reflects on past practices and discusses goals for the future, and, above all, creates a context for the review of the dossier in its entirety. The statement should address the areas of scholarship/professional practice, teaching, and service fully and separately, as well as explain the connections between them. Candidates are encouraged to discuss their plans for the future in the context of the university and the fields of which they are part, indicating future directions and potential outcomes.”

No big deal. I’m just collapsing my entire academic career thus far into 12 pages and, in the process, convincing my employer that what I do is sufficiently valuable for them to want to commit to keeping me on board for life. These were the slowest 12 pages I’ve ever written.

The ever-wonderful Julia Foulkes read my first draft and gave me some great advice:

  • Take the Seldin portfolio stuff with a grain of salt.
  • You’re writing an intellectual autobiography (I have my students do this!). Start with the ideas or questions that initially inspired you to pursue an academic career and that, ideally, still animate you today.
  • Once you lay out these foundational questions or themes in your intro, use them as pillars to structure your Research section, and make sure you explain how they’re woven through your Teaching and Service, too (the latter’s sometimes a bit of a stretch; I’m not quite sure how my interest in library architecture informed my work on the admissions committee, for example.)
  • Focus more on the content of your work than on the mechanics of getting it out there. I tend to be really interested in course design, so I talked a lot, in an earlier draft of my statement, about the coming-into-being of some of my classes without saying much about the course content or objectives. I also initially talked a bit too much about the back-story of my publications, leaving me too little room to fully address their arguments. The ideas — the thread of concerns and questions that are woven throughout all your work, that ties it together, that will sustain you into the future — are what matters!

Those are big ideas. I had to think over this advice for a couple days before I knew how to execute everything. But I think I’ve done it.

And after that comes the fourth section, which itself is quite a heavy lift:

  • Evidence:
      • Include a list of courses taught including course titles, year and semester the course was offered along with a short description of the course, the number of students enrolled, and the level (grad, undergrad, mixed).
      • Syllabi: Samples of syllabi should be chosen to demonstrate the range and development of your pedagogy. These can include examples of assignments, quizzes, exams, portfolios, etc., which should be clearly matched with syllabi.
      • Sample Lessons: e.g., slide presentations and web resources I’ve developed for classes
      • Course evaluations will be provided by your dean’s office.
      • Summary of Advising Duties: List of thesis advisees and thesis titles; List of independent studies/projects advised
      • For traditional disciplines, this means: books, articles, conference papers, reviews — not just lists of them, the actual publications themselves.
      • List of service activities, including committee title, year, committee’s charge, your role
      • List of service to profession: membership in professional organizations, service on professional committees; indicate level and dates of involvement
      • Program development responsibilities
      • Reports authored, other committee “deliverables,” etc.

And after that you sleep. For a long time.

More Bird Machine
More Bird Machine

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