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Going Digital With Annual Review, Tenure & Promotion Materials

The ubiquitous tenure binder, serving as documentation of one’s academic endeavors, is gradually being replaced by digital processes that involve significantly fewer hours spent on printing and copying. If your university has recently switched over to a digital system, or if you’ve just started at an institution with a digital materials submissions process, you’re probably in a position where you’ve got a lot of papers and files sitting around in need of scanning and organizing. This was my position a few weeks ago, as I had a traditional binder for our annual review process (two years worth of printouts, letters, etc) and instructions from the administration regarding our new digital submission process.

Annual review processes (which are usually warm-ups for tenure and /or promotion, for those fortunate enough to be on tenure stream lines) are inherently stressful and time-consuming. Depending on how you’ve been preparing your materials throughout the year, a digital process can be a blessing or a curse. Here’s a few tips for preparing throughout the year:

  • Set up a clear file structure on a cloud service–one you’ll actually follow. My folder structure is fairly simple: everything gets sorted into research, service, or teaching, with sub-folders for each year. I would probably be better off with a lot more sub categories (books, journals, conferences, for instance) but I’ve realized I’m much more likely to save things as I go along if I don’t have to think too much about it. Like many ProfHackers I use Dropbox for everything, but any reliable cloud service works just as well.

  • Make good use of “print to PDF.” One of the easiest ways to save websites and emails is to use the option to print to a PDF file, which usually results in a clearly-formatted version that retains the essential information. Finding important emails in your inbox later can be a nightmare: if you save them to the appropriate folder as they come in and name the PDF file with the topic and date, it can save a lot of hunting time later.

  • Scan everything as you go. If your office gives you options to receive evaluations or other essential forms in PDF rather than physical forms, definitely take it! But for most of us a surprising amount of important stuff will still show up on paper, from official paperwork to awards and thank you notes. I admit I usually put all of this in an overstuffed file folder, which is just procrastinating on the work. Scanning as you go will both ensure that papers don’t get wrinkled or lost, and save time when assembling materials later.

  • Invest some time in mastering the tools. My university requires everything to be submitted in giant PDF files organized by category, with bookmarks for every section. Adobe Acrobat is not something I’ve had to use for anything in the past beyond the usual readings, so spending time getting used to the optimal process for combining files and marking sections was a tedious part of preparing my materials. If you know you’ve got certain technical requirements for your process, try to put in that time upfront.

There are lots of limitations to the tenure binder, particularly for those of us who do digital scholarship that doesn’t lend itself to print. Often, those same problems are reconstructed in the tenure process when it amounts to a scan of a binder: if your university only allows submission of PDF files, for instance, it’s unlikely that you can meaningfully represent work that is interactive, data-driven, or hypertextual in form. Seek out other scholars at your institution early to find out what options might be available to you.

Have you gone through a digital annual review or tenure and promotion submission process? Share your tips in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Luca Masacro]

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