14 : EVERYTHING IS EVALUATED
Most non-academics probably think that the life of a tenured professor is fairly easy and low stress, and I am certainly not going to complain about having the job security that comes with tenure. However, one aspect of academic life that few people (including graduate students) seem to appreciate is just how often we are EVALUATED.
Our teaching is evaluated. Teaching evaluations may consist only of the anonymous survey that students fill out at the end of each course, but may also involve classroom visits by more senior faculty.
Our research is evaluated in many ways:
• Manuscripts are reviewed and criticized; based on reviews, they are accepted or rejected.
• Proposals are reviewed and criticized; based on reviews, they are funded or not.
• Conference presentations or talks in other professional setting are open to criticism, questions, and comments in a very public setting.
In addition, untenured faculty are evaluated every year or two or three prior to the big evaluation that comes during the tenure process. Associate Professors who are considered for promotion are re-evaluated. Professors are also evaluated, in some departments every year, as part of the post-tenure review and consideration for merit raises.
If you are devastated by criticism, you might well be very unhappy in academia unless you can develop a thicker skin and become receptive-but-impervious to criticism.
Every spring I fill out an annual report detailing my publications, grants, conference presentations, awards, teaching activities, and students advised/graduated. I typically feel pretty good about this, as most years I have a good number of activities to report.
A friend of mine at another big research university told me that in his department, the bar for research expectations is set at a level corresponding to the highest-performing faculty members – the ones bringing in millions of $$ in funding and running big labs that produce a lot of papers. If the bar is set there, most faculty get lower evaluations, even if they are doing really well by almost any normal standard. My friend says this system is bad for morale, especially for Assistant Professors. Hearing that made me feel grateful for my department's more mysterious but more holistic system. By the standards of this other department, I might be considered a failure or, at the very least, underperforming, even though I’m a fairly productive researcher. I definitely would not feel so positive about my annual report.
Teaching evaluations are part of the annual report, and we are also evaluated as to whether we fulfill the ‘service’ part of our job. The former is fairly straightforward, but the latter is more ambiguous because we never really know what the expectations for this are.
It is easy to specify that faculty need to teach a certain number of courses each year, but I don’t know of any place that tells faculty how many committees they should be on. Part of the mystery has to do with the fact that service involves such a wide range of possible activities, each of which requires a different amount of time: department/college/university service (committees), professional service (reviewing papers and proposals, serving on panels, being an editor, holding office in professional organizations), and outreach (visiting schools, judging science fairs etc.). Are all of these equal in value? What about giving invited talks at other universities? Is that service, research, both?
I think these issues are particularly important for Assistant Professors who need to know what the tenure criteria are, and for senior professors facing a negative post-tenure review. For example, should early career faculty agree to serve on administrative committees and teach a graduate seminar in addition to their regular teaching load and is it OK to decline to do some reviews? For early career faculty, department and university service should be minimal, but professional service activities that provide visibility can be important.
If some department/university service is expected, there are some committees that can be more useful and interesting than others. I have found that the graduate admissions committee and hiring committees are examples of service work that can be worth the time and effort.
Everyone has to find their own balance in terms of what they can manage, but the priorities are to be a productive researcher and to be a good teacher. You need to be a good academic citizen, but within reason.
Other parts of the chapter include further discussion of teaching evaluations, including comparing online evaluations to in-class evaluations.
And so on. Thanks to all who left nice comments on the book announcement yesterday.