How to Prepare Your Academic Dossier

My dossier binder

During a recent chat with some friends, I realized that it may be helpful for junior faculty to have some guidance in the gargantuan project of preparing a dossier for an academic review. Putting together a dossier can be a stressful exercise, but it’s also very rewarding. My dossier preparation process was intellectually enlightening, and I really valued the opportunity for reflection. I also valued the opportunity to articulate my goals for future research, teaching, and service. And now, in writing this blog entry, I am enjoying reflecting on my own process. How very meta. Metaspark*.

Keep in mind that I am an assistant professor at a private, liberal arts, teaching university; you must consider your institution, department, etc., as you compose your own dossier. I also am in the middle of my review. I don’t yet know the outcome, but am humbled to have received positive feedback so far. I’m sure as I progress through this review, I will come up with more ways to improve the process for my next review, but I wanted to get this out while it was still fresh. In the spirit of collegiality, I hope my advice is useful and reduces your stress so that you can focus your energy on putting together a great dossier. Here we go:

In Preparation

  • Study your Faculty Evaluation Manual (FEM). Takes notes.
  • Study your university, college, school and departmental mission statements, norms and expectations documents, etc. Take notes.
  • Attend academic review info sessions and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take notes.
  • Ask a senior colleague if you can read their narrative self-assessment. Take notes.
  • Serve as someone’s peer reviewer during an earlier semester. Take notes.
  • Make a calendar of deadlines: When is your dossier due to your peer reviewers? To your dean? To the Faculty Personnel Committee (FPC)? When will you receive the administration’s decision?
  • Make a checklist. What do your peer reviewers need? What does your dean need? What does the FPC need? (My peer reviewers and dean get my full dossier; the FPC receives only some of the documents).

Your Narrative Self-Assessment

  • If your review is conducted during the fall semester, start writing your narrative self-assessment during the summer. If you’re not teaching, or are teaching fewer courses in the summer, you will likely have more time to write.
  • My FEM required me to write about my teaching, scholarship, and service. Within teaching, there were 4 areas I needed to address. I’ve observed that successful reviews are written in a variety of ways. Don’t get bogged down by formatting, headings, etc. just yet; just write it, and organize it however you think best.
  • Cite your Faculty Evaluation Manual (FEM) and Departmental Norms document in your narrative. State specifically how your activities meet and/or exceed the expectations of your university and department.
  • If your FEC sets a page limit, stick to it. You don’t want to annoy your reviewers.
  • Have several different people proofread your narrative: a peer (not your peer reviewer), your colleague at a different institution, your boyfriend/best friend/father. Each person will be able to give you different kinds of feedback. For example, I asked my colleague from my doctoral program to proofread because she knows me as an academic, she knows my research, my teaching and writing style, etc. I asked my BF to read for clarity, grammar, punctuation, etc. Both gave great feedback.

Make a Tenure & Promotion Folder in Your Filing Cabinet

  • Print out every document that is evidence of your effectiveness in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service. Make as many copies as you need (I had to make 3). This will save you time later because you won’t be scrambling to find these items and then trying to print and collate them all at the last minute. Evidence may include:
    • job cover letter (to demonstrate that you’ve accomplished some of the goals you set forth in your cover letter)
    • articles (published or in the review pipeline)
    • book proposals (accepted or in the pipeline)
    • grant applications
    • all syllabi and representative assignment rubrics
    • all course and instructor evaluations
    • programs of conferences/workshops/events you organized
    • letters of appointment to leadership positions in relevant associations
    • requests to keynote a conference or guest lecture for a course
    • thank you letters for participation or lecture
    • thank you notes and other meaningful correspondence from students
    • meaningful correspondence with practitioners
    • letters of advocacy you’ve written to politicians
    • articles/news segments in which you were featured as an expert
  • Keep a table of contents of above evidence.
  • Annotate above evidence. These annotations will comprise the first draft of your narrative self-assessment. It could be something as simple as putting a post-it on the document indicating why this is important.

On Teaching

  • Keep a teaching journal. Reflect upon what works and what doesn’t work, and why. Do this after as many class sessions as necessary, and after you receive your teaching evaluations. Write about student conflicts and how you resolved them.
  • Take your teaching evaluations seriously. Some students may be liberal in their criticism, but try not to get debilitated by those; rather, look for themes and recurring comments. Focus on addressing recurring criticisms and maintaining your strengths, and then write about these in your narrative.
  • Get a calculator and some scratch paper. In your narrative, talk about how overall your averages improved each semester, and/or how you improved steadily on one particular area of weakness (for example, “clearer grading policies” or “creating a safe and comfortable classroom environment.”) If you know the departmental averages for these areas, see how you compare to them. You may not be able to address everything in your narrative. In mine, I wrote “In this section, I will discuss representative areas that demonstrate how I have worked to improve my teaching” or something to that effect.
  • I have a printed agenda for each class; during class I take notes on what I can improve for the next time I teach this particular unit, or assign that particular assignment – and why I need to make that change. Related, when you make other changes to your syllabi from one semester to another, take notes on why (for example, “Students indicated on my teaching evaluations that I need to provide clearer assignment descriptions.”) These notes will help you when you explain, in your narrative, how you are responsive to students, and the steps you are taking to improve your teaching.
  • Continually work on improving your pedagogical practices through workshops, reading scholarship, attending conferences, etc. In the teaching portion of your narrative, cite scholarship that supports your teaching philosophy.

Your Binder

  • Earlier I mentioned that you should keep a table of contents of your materials. For each section of my binder, I have a table of contents that lists the items that follow that page. This will help guide your reviewers through your materials.
  • I color-coded my dossier binder. In the photo above, you see that I have orange, pink, green, etc. binder tabs. Within each section, I have the same color sheets separating each document. For example, in the orange section (narrative self-assessment and CV), I have an orange sheet of paper between my narrative and CV. In my pink syllabi section, I have a pink sheet of paper between each syllabus. I know, I know: those poor trees. Sorry, but it truly makes it easier for your peer reviewers.

Your CV

  • Update your CV every time you do something meaningful. Some people don’t update their CV until something like this comes along, and then they scramble to remember which conferences they attended, the titles of their papers, all the committees they chair, etc. Don’t be that person.

And the most important thing is this: be a good professor, colleague, and researcher. If you are a good professor, colleague, and researcher, it will clearly show through all of the above.

There’s a lot more to say about professional/university service, setting goals, doing and publishing research, etc., but that’s another entry for another time. Or, at least for publishing, you can read Phil Nel’s excellent “How to Publish Your Article.”

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “How to Prepare Your Academic Dossier

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Year Three | Kimberly McKee, PhD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s