Starting a Tenure Box

Filing Cabinet Open drawerAs a first-time tenure-track assistant professor, I’m already looking down the road to the different stages of tenure review. Academia has a number of different hurdles, often based on assessment of productivity over spans of years. So whether you’re in the same position as me, further down the line, or starting to think about the job market, it’s worth building good habits in personal archiving. While caught in the moment it’s easy to think that we’ll remember everything–but committees, teaching, service, publications and other work can add up fast.

What goes in your tenure dossier (or other portfolio) varies by university. Karen Kelsky has a good overview of the basics here. Before I started planning on what types of documents to save, I looked at the tenure dossier requirements for my area at a range of universities. Just because my department now doesn’t want a certain type of documentation doesn’t mean they won’t change their minds in the future–and thinking in universal terms is important in an era of continually shifting careers.

Before the fall semester becomes overwhelming, I’ve started my first tenure “box”–a digital archive of everything that might be essential down the line. Here are some of the thoughts that have guided me in getting started:

  • Too much is better than too little. As contract faculty last year, I was blissfully unaware that I should have been saving emails and letters that are now gone for good. Now, I save more documentation than I could possibly ever need to make sure I have specific details when the time comes. Will I include everything I put in the box? Not unless I hear a scale is involved in the tenure review. But it feels better to be over-prepared.
  • Invest in a document scanner. Even though a number of our most important files have moved to digital, there’s still plenty of things worth keeping in a physical tenure box, including letters, signed contracts, hand-written evaluations, and other hard to replace documents. But getting those files scanned in is essential to making them part of your records. For me, it’s a lot more likely to happen if I don’t have to leave the house to do it.
  • Don’t trust the cloud. My website already has a lot of the information I’d put in my dossier, but most of it is linked out to other sites. I don’t expect journal websites to go away or publications to delete their archives–but that’s exactly what happened to a journal I had an article in during graduate school. Never depend on another archive to keep the content that you might need in the future.
  • Redundancy is your friend. I just invested in a serious external hard drive (I recommend one with at least 500 gigabytes of storage and good ratings on long-term reliability) to act as the last line of defense in the event of a personal archive disaster. Other ProfHackers use SpiderOak and other cloud-storage systems in addition to local back-ups. Whatever your system, back-up storage only works if you use it. We all have horror stories about lost projects, papers, or irreplaceable photos.
  • Don’t wait til the ta-da nick of time. Nels Highberg wrote about approaching annual reviews with the mindset that they are fodder for the tenure dossier. As he pointed out, once a year isn’t often enough to be thinking about what you’ve accomplished. Memory fades fast. If your college or university has monthly opportunities for sharing accomplishments, take them seriously. They aren’t just opportunities to make your colleagues aware of what you’re up to–which is important on its own! They’re also a chance to be keeping track of those same events that you might forgot later.
  • Know what you’ve got. A big collection of files is great, but a group of files organized with consistent structure (and perhaps a continually updated index) is even better. Take a look at examples like online tenure portfolios (from Brian Croxall’s post on simplifying tenure) and physical dossiers, especially those produced by people up for tenure in your department. Keeping a list by area of focus (such as scholarship, teaching, and service) can also help you see any gaps while there’s still time to address them.

Do you keep a tenure box, portfolio or other personal archive? How do you keep up with your own record-keeping? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Flickr user Vegansolider / Creative Commons licensed

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