Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Etc. Etc.

This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1861)

It's that time of year in mid-April when many faculty have to file a Faculty Activity Report. In my department, the purposes of this report are several:

(1) Even tenured faculty have to demonstrate activity; the chair makes decisions about the balance of teaching and service depending on level of research activity.

(2) Merit raises, when they existed, were decided in part based on the activities reported in April.

(3) Advertising: this is how we can show some of our colleagues (the ones on the committee that reviews the reports) what we are doing. Faculty opinions of how and what colleagues are doing are based in part on fact and in part on perceptions. It has happened to me several times over the years that a senior colleague has reviewed my annual report and been amazed to find that I had lots of papers and grants. Why were they surprised? Because I don't look like someone who has lots of papers in grants? One wonders.. Anyway, this is one reason why I am always happy to submit my annual report, even in years when there are no raises possible.

I therefore write a fairly detailed report. I like doing this for myself as well, as it gives me a perspective on what I got done and what I didn't get done during the year and starts me thinking about what I want to accomplish over the summer and in the coming academic year.

However detailed my report is, though, when I am on a committee reviewing other people's reports, I am often surprised by what other people think to put on their reports. I saw one item recently that someone had on their CV under 'awards'. It was something that I had received on a number of occasions as well, but had never considered it an award. Perhaps I still have a lot to learn about self-promotion.

Or perhaps too much information suggests a certain lack of dignity, and it would be better to be vague. A few months ago when the so-called BBC book list was circulating and everyone was noting how many of the 100 listed books they had read, I noticed that I had read all but 4. I looked at the remaining 4 and decided that I had no interest whatsoever in 3 of them, but I would try the 4th, The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. I was very entertained by the title page, which is a copy of the one published in 1861:

THE WOMAN IN WHITE.

BY

WILKIE COLLINS,
AUTHOR OF "ANTONINA", "THE DEAD SECRET", ETC. ETC.

Somehow I think that "etc. etc." wouldn't be as effective for me, but it certainly would be more efficient when compiling the annual report.

20 comments:

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

You could also try, "FSP: Reader of Austen, Bronte, Dickens, etc. etc..."

I'm jealous that when Brits are asked this question, they produce a list of Bronte/Austen/Bronte/Rowling. The American equivalent list is dominated by L Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand (and my batting percentage drops accordingly).

But please won't you ID the 3 unread, and unappealing, books that remain?

John V said...

FSP, uncanny how you capture the academic life with clarity and simplicity.

And with strategic direction and elegance. A couple weeks ago (the day after I got the request) I raced through my activity report in an hour or two, submitting a sloppy report to get it out of the way. It would be great to use the time spent to introspect and plan as you mention, but that is beyond my self-discipline. I did use etc.'s for a number of categories - talks, reviews, media contacts, meetings with state agency people.

As you hint, over-long statements, unless impressively farsighted, are viewed with disgust by reviewers. At first, I thought you were saying someone listed writing their activity statement amid their publications, maybe I'll try that for a joke next time.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm curious to know which are the other three books...

Cathy said...

The Woman in White (and The Moonstone, too) is a lot of fun! Definitely worth reading.

female Science Professor said...

I recently acquired The Moonstone..

Ms.PhD said...

This post made me smile.

Maybe it would be a good exercise for all of us to do annual reports.

I suspect it would just make my PI feel guilty and defensive, which certainly won't lead to my desired outcome...

amy said...

I always wonder how much to put in these annual reports and on my CV. I don't want to look like I'm padding the thing, but I don't want to undermine myself by not including things that some administrators might view positively. One thing I've never understood is why we're supposed to list our professional associations. It's not like it's an honor or something - you just send in your annual dues, and bingo! you're a member of the association.

I have learned over time that appearance is extremely important. People who walk around looking calm, stop to ask how you're doing, and agree to take on extra tasks, are perceived as not working enough. People who look harried all the time and who talk about all the work they're doing are perceived as getting a lot done. The reality is often the opposite. Since I'm pre-tenure, and perception will matter in my tenure decision, I've been trying to act more busy. I *am* genuinely busy, but I haven't been in the habit of announcing that to people.

Kevin said...

At first I thought that the "Faculty Activity Report" was a distinctive enough bit of bureaucracy to identify FSP's university, but a quick Google search revealed that dozens of US universities have a form with exactly that name.

The University of California requires a new "biobib" every 2-3 years for merit review, but not an annual report. That schedule seems a little more manageable.

notfromaroundhere said...

I love the annual report, I was working on mine today. It's the one time of year my CV is perfectly up to date, and the pdfs of my publications are all in one folder numbered in chronological order. The rest of the year I don't keep up so well! But I agree, it's great to look back on last year's and the last year's and see that you actually have made some progress.

Azulao said...

Oh, you'll enjoy the Woman in White...as long as you can forgive Mr. Collins for being a product of his time and having his hero call the strong, spirited woman of the piece "ugly" (although a wonderful person) and fall in love with the fair, blue-eyed, fainting damsel in distress.

Anonymous said...

I always do an annual report of my own (for myself) even though I am a postdoc and never get formally rated. A bit obsessive perhaps, but I can then see exactly what I have achieved during the year - very helpful when I am in one of those "I have achieved nothing this year" moods.

Also, I send it to my HOD, usually under a heading such as "what the heck has Joan been up to this year?" (luckily he has a sense of humour) so he knows what I have been doing and what I am planning. I also find it very useful as a reference for eg estimating how long stuff takes me, which is a skill I am not naturally good at.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe it would be a good exercise for all of us to do annual reports. "

I actually think this is a good idea, and that PI's should encourage it.

Jackie M. said...

What were the other three? What were the other three? WHAT WERE THE OTHER THREE?

female Science Professor said...

The big 3: The Lovely Bones; Bridget Jones's Diary; The Five People You Meet in Heaven

female Science Professor said...

And Kevin: FYI, the annual report thing may or may not be called "Faculty Annual Report" at my university. I used it as a generic name.

John V said...

I regretted reading the lovely bones. Probably partly because I have a teenage daughter, and there was little to enjoy in the story.

I think those who feel the need to look busy to gain tenure are missing the boat - the point is to look and be effective and good citizen.

Be proactive but tactful. Contribute to department chores in an obvious way. Post your papers outside your office door. Nominate your students for department prizes. Offer to talk in other's classes and give seminars. Maybe suggest the chair nominate you for prizes.

Mostly, remember >90% of people get tenure.

There's no single rule for the length of good CVs, depends who is reading them. Seems like they generally are about what one can write in half a day, a full day for bigger promotions. Maybe ask people you respect if you can read theirs as guidance.

Cathy said...

Bridget Jones' Diary is one of the 100 books you must read? Really?? (disclaimer: I read it, and it was amusing, if you like books about people behaving stupidly. Great literature it was not.)

Hey, John V, I think I know (or knew) you. I would be "Cathy S" from Caltech...

John V said...

Cathy S, from the office next door, married to John S, here in town? If so, a very small world.

Kevin said...

@John V:

The 90%-get-tenure statistic is very campus- and even department-dependent. I believe that some departments at MIT and Harvard take pride in their very low tenuring rates.

It also depends on how much feedback is given to people to give up before they apply for tenure. People who get an unfavorable review half-way to tenure often look for another job (often outside academia).

John V said...

For Kevin -

True, tenure rates vary a lot, although rates generally are very high. A few schools are exceptions, a very few out of all the faculties in the country, and rejects from there generally find another faculty job without trouble.

I also think some are better off seeking other intense and more remunerative jobs, so pre-tenure drop-outs are not necessarily being evicted from the profession of their dreams.