Bullshit paperwork, … or is it?

It wasn’t really a secret anyway, so I’m just going to come right out and admit it. I’ve got a problem with authority. I dislike feeling like I have a boss, and that is probably partly why I like having an academic position. I am fortunate to have a direct superior that does not act like ‘the boss’ in any way that is bothersome, however- there are parts of my job that sometimes feel like I have to report to the authorities, and that includes paperwork that sometimes feels like bullshit paperwork. Or is it?

You know what I’m talking about- it is those Annual Faculty Activity Reports. I suppose we all have to do them. For those of you not in the know- these are those pesky and lengthy reports that we faculty fill out every year and hand over to the authorities (chairpeople… I adore you).  These documents are a long reporting of everything we have done, accomplished, and taken part in during the previous year. This report typically includes some standard categories:

1.  Research/Scholarly activity:

  • Grants current, pending and planned.
  • Papers in prep, submitted, and published, collaborations etc., Book chapters, and sometimes
  • Meeting and poster abstracts.
  • Active Collaborations
  • (SADLY, there is no category for blogging YET!)

2.  Teaching-

  • Graduate students trained,
  • Undergraduates mentored,
  • Graduate/undergraduate/medical school courses taught (of course this varies with dept.)
  • Thesis committees that you are serving on.

3.  Service-

  • Committee service- departmental, college, and in my case university and system, as well as state, national etc.
  • Editorial Boards, Advisory Committees, Ad hoc reviewer
  • Programs and Symposia organized

4.  Professional Development

  • Meetings, Workshops attended
  • CE done/attended

5.  Major Accomplishments

6. Explanation of problems or circumstances that prevented you from reaching your stated goals for that year.

7. Goals and Objectives for the next academic year.

Now, I hate bullshit paperwork as much as the next person, in fact when I started I really disliked doing these reports, and I did a crappy job on them. I felt, you know, as though I was being micromanaged by the authorities. But I’m going to suggest that these annual reports do not fall into the category of BS paperwork. In fact, it is very, very important to make this document as complete, detailed, and correct as possible.

Why,… I hear you cry! Because next year- or more importantly in 7 years, no one- including your chairperson.. or anyone on the promotion and tenure committee will remember what you did UNLESS YOU WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Writing it all down in what will feel like nauseating, tooting-your-own-horn detail-, (and perhaps a little like  bitching and complaining around the edges in a nice way – see category 6.)  is the only thing that will protect you, and the only way you can advocate for yourself when you are not in the room and those people making decisions about you are otherwise left to go on their memories alone. Help them to have an accurate memory of what all you did in each year. And make sure you fill out those last three sections- esp. #6!

I’ve done a few of these now, and I learned very quickly to make them as detailed as possible. In fact, I’m thinking of some more creative ways to fit things in that I do, that I have to do if I want things to proceed in a timely way- but that aren’t really my job. Let’s take the X zillion hours I have spent dealing with facilities issues that should be totally and completely under my radar, just for starters. Dealing with these issues takes quite a bit of my time, but I don’t get credit for them anywhere unless I make a place. Let’s say under SERVICE. and let’s say under ‘explanation of problems/circumstances that prevented you from reaching your stated goals’.

Another reason why it is important to pay close attention to what you write in these reports- is that you will probably have a sit-down annual meeting with your chairperson, to discuss your performance, … based largely… you guessed it… on WHAT IS IN YOUR ANNUAL REPORT. I’ve seen this go awry- when junior faculty don’t carefully elaborate exactly what they have done in these reports- then the little report that the chairperson writes back in response to your report/meeting… called an annual evaluation- can be off, way off. And you do not want this to happen to you because it becomes a permanent part of your record! Fortunately, in many places you get to see that annual evaluation, and you may get to comment on it, point out any inaccuracies,… before you sign it to acknowledge that you have seen it and that what is in it is correct.

These reports are not bullshit paperwork, and it is so, SO important to get them right… can anyone say PROMOTION AND TENURE?!


10 thoughts on “Bullshit paperwork, … or is it?

  1. I know some real-name bloggers who put the blogging under service (outreach to the public), and I think Janet at AiES was even encouraged to put it under scholarly activity.

    Another pointer is to keep a file to throw things in during the course of the year so that you don’t forget them when it comes time to write up the annual review. I realized yesterday that I’d forgotten to include something in my review, and now I’ve forgotten again what it was…but it was something that would have given me an itty-bitty bit of credit in a year when I could have used it.

  2. Hi Sciencewoman!

    Excellent points. I use my calendar and email records also.

    And one more thing- unrelated. I love your sandals (that recently appeared in a post at Isis place), they look comfortable!

  3. Reports on what I did as an individual have some merit in providing a paper trail. But a lot of the reports we academics have to compile are useless. Right now I’m on a task force preparing a thick stack of paper on undergraduate research. The charge of this task force was to do something to expand undergraduate involvement in research. Then a fair question was raised about defining undergraduate research in a way that’s inclusive of other disciplines. OK, fine. So we read articles and wrote a definition.

    Then it was decided to start documenting “programs and practices that support undergraduate research.” OK, if the goal of this project is to provide more institutional support for undergraduate research, then it shouldn’t be too hard for each of us representing different academic units to come up with some department-wide or college-wide things that support undergraduate research. So I listed everything I could think of that involved multiple faculty, i.e. things that could be expanded at an institutional level.

    Then somebody said “Oh, we already know the big stuff. We want to know the little stuff.” They actually want documentation of every single research group that involves undergraduates. Given that we’re a primarily undergraduate institution, that would be, um, ALL OF THE RESEARCH GROUPS.

    They still want some sort of documentation from each and every research group, and I’m the poor schmuck charged with harassing all of my colleagues near the end of the quarter and asking them to contribute something to a report that will go off to whatever place these reports go to. Fortunately, I procrastinated a bit on harassing my colleagues for this info, and in that time the muckety-mucks shortened it from “Fill out a detailed form” to “A few sentences describing what happens in your research program and how many students are involved each year.”

    So pretty soon we’ll have a big thick stack of dead trees that says “The following people are research-active and include undergrads in their work.” There will be a bit of fiction there, since a lot of deadwood will point out that they still supervise small senior projects and include that. But it won’t really matter, because this report will go off to the mysteryland where these reports go, never to be heard from again.

  4. BTW, the leader of this task force is only slightly more senior than me and he seems to be active in research. Despite that, he’s already drunk so much kool-aid that he’s enthused about the preparation of this report.

    My family and friends have standing orders to administer cyanide if I turn into that guy.

  5. Alex- Hilarious. Yes. I know there are tons of BS reports- and every faculty member has enthusiasm for some report that some other faculty think are total bunk. I write this to emphasize that reporting on one’s faculty activities in a given year is NOT such a piece of BS work, it is advocacy for yourself.

  6. Hey, good to see you back! I’m guessing you can’t write “spent too much time filling out bullshit paperwork” under the “Explanation of problems or circumstances that prevented you from reaching your stated goals for that year” category? 🙂

  7. Mad Hatter- Oh HOW I WOULD LOVE TO WRITE THAT!! I will refrain, however. And sorry for the long absence, meeting, trip w/family, and professional drama have sucked up my time. I’m actually relieved to have time to write a post, and I’ve got several other ideas..

  8. Thanks for writing about this – it’s difficult for Jr faculty to perceive what’s important and what’s not in those early years…I have been advised to keep a ‘professional’ diary, essentially a running list of everything I do over time. Our FAR is done online, so it’s not so heinous, and I find it actually kinda fun. With a diary, it’s not so tedious to do. We actually don’t have a #6, so you’re lucky to have a chance to explain a gap in the productivity. My close colleague is on a P&T committee and said the annual evaluations are based on the FAR, so it does not just go into a black hole. Unlike tenure and promotion decision which depend on a whole packet of info, any salary increases beyond the standard cost-of-living in non-tenure/non-promotion years are required to be ‘merit’ based, and is based entirely on their evaluation of the FAR. So it’s in your own best interests to do a good job.

  9. Oh, no! Sorry to hear about the professional drama. Hope it’s nothing too serious and that you had a great family trip!

  10. Although I agree with you that it’s good to have the information from years past, I still can’t help but feel frustrated with the amount of time (and paper) it takes. Especially since we are so overloaded to begin with, and then we’re asked to “prove,” essentially, that we’re doing what we’ve been hired to do. Our annuals require ginormous notebooks of detailed accounts, and I’ve never understood why a CV wouldn’t suffice instead.

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