Reflections on Year Three

I never reflected on Year Two, so I guess I might as well jump ahead to year three since it occurred more recently. I will also touch upon some of what happened in Year Two in this post anyways. For those who want to see my thoughts following my first year, please click here.

Warning: This post is a little longer than I expected.

At the end of Year Two with support from my unit head, I applied for my first administrative role to become director of the Kutsche Office of Local History. Solid mentors within and outside of my unit encouraged my application. Serving as director this past year has been an incredible journey. I developed our 2016-2021 strategic plan, aligning it with the overall strategic plan of both the university and college. I oversaw continuing projects and launched a new project (Histories of Student Activism at GVSU). Part of why I feel successful in this new role is because of the mentoring I receive from colleagues in administrative positions, but also because the staff and student interns in the office are integral components for keeping the office running. Support from the office coordinator aided the growth of a new signature program—Lunch with the Kutsche Office—in the fall. This new annual program also includes a featured speaker. Last year Dr. James Smither, professor of history, discussed the best and worst oral history practices and the Veteran’s History project. We also launched a new grant program, Community Collaboration Grant, for faculty working with a community partner and mentoring an undergraduate student. My first year as director has been busy to say the least. ❤

The second year at GVSU also saw me serving on my first search tenure-track search committee. It was a great experience and allowed me to witness the search process “from the other side.” By having both perspectives—as someone recently on the market and as a member of a search committee—I could better see the nuances of what makes one candidate jump off the screen more than another. And, how one candidate could resonate more with one committee member over another. This is why committees are essential to hiring, as not every member will “see” the same thing as they read applicants’ materials. In the end you always need to trust your colleagues and their judgment for coming up with the best candidate for the position. It also reinforced advice from my mentors when I was on the market who always noted that searches are quirky and it’s about the committee’s desires not you. (And yes, I realize it sounds like an academic rendition of “He’s just not that into you” or “It’s me, not you, really.”)

The skills learned as a search committee member bolstered my abilities to chair a search committee last year (2016-2017). Chairing a search from start to finish was an interesting opportunity and gave me even greater insight into how the hiring process works from start to finish. It also made me realize the importance of thinking about this process holistically and recognizing that applicants like search committee members are human.

Thoughts on Third Year Review

In addition to chairing a search and transitioning into a new administrative position during Year Three, I completed my third year review process. One of the biggest tools that allowed me to think critically about the review process is the fact that Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen shared her tips for preparing an academic dossier early on with me when I was a graduate student. I kept these tips in mind and made sure to save, save, SAVE all of the things in preparation for my third year review. I also took mental notes as I talked with colleagues about their review processes and went to workshops offered by the college. More importantly, I attended the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center Personnel Portfolio Workshop offered by my institution the summer before year two. At this workshop, I not only learned more about the institution’s norms for review, I also developed a working draft of my integrative statement. The integrative statement is meant to act as a guide for those reviewing materials in your review binder. It is meant to demonstrate your breadth and depth and underscores your trajectory as a scholar including reflections on teaching, research, and service. The workshop provides a mentor from a senior colleague in a different discipline and you operate in smaller cohorts/teams. This was such a worthwhile experience as it got me thinking about how I would articulate my career at the institution and the contributions I have made since arriving to campus.

Kim McKee Third Year Review Binder
Kim McKee holds her third year review binder.

To give folks a sense of what my binders looked like, see the photographs on the right. In addition to my main binder that held materials related to teaching, research, and service, I had two binders holding the manuscript for my monograph and the essays in the edited volume I am working on. Click here to see my table of contents. I’m sharing my table of contents to illustrate the kinds of material that are included at my institution. I recognize that expectations for review differ institution by institution. It is my hope that by discussing my third year review briefly and sharing my binder’s TOC that I can create a generative conversation around this process. I want to use this moment as a tool for productive conversation around how we can best support faculty during this process. For many faculty, the review process is daunting and we do not often have open conversations about what to expect.

Here are some tips:

K McKee Third Year Review Binder, monograph draft, and edited volume draft
Three white binders. Kim McKee’s Third Year Review Binder, Edited Volume Draft, and Monograph Draft.
  • If your colleagues’ materials are available for you to review or if they offer them to you for review, always review them. See how they organized their materials. Learn the norms of your institution. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid.
  • If you there is a workshop dedicated to preparing faculty for the review process, go! Reap the benefits of colleagues’ expertise.
  • If a senior colleague offers to read a draft of your integrative statement and you want feedback, take them up on your offer.
  • Make sure you review your personnel guidelines. Review them with a fine-tooth comb. Familiarize yourself with the expectations. Try and eliminate as many surprises as possible.

I recognize that not everyone’s review process is smooth sailing; however the four tips above are meant to at least get folks thinking more openly and critically about this process. Sometimes just having someone else encourage you to do X (or Y, or Z) produces an invaluable change.

Remember the annual review process is meant to prepare faculty for their third year review and subsequent tenure and promotion reviews. The annual review process, in theory, should provide you with tangible feedback if you’re on the right track to meet the benchmarks set in your personnel guidelines. And, in addition to updating Digital Measures (if your university uses metrics), don’t forget to continuously update your CV. This saves you time down the road. 🙂

Reminders on Mentoring

I have written elsewhere on my blog about mentoring, but I want to highlight a series for Ideas on Fire and offer a few words. Ideas on Fire has a three-part (as of this posting) blog series on mentoring: How to Find a Good Mentor, How to be a Good Mentor, and How to Be a Good Mentee. They offer useful information on a variety of topics in their blog, but I highlight the mentoring series because often we forget that sometime we need nudges about what good mentoring is and what it is not.

As a reminder, don’t wait for a mentor. Mentors don’t magically arrive at your footsteps. This isn’t a fairy tale and you’re not Cinderella. The mentor fairy godmother won’t appear out of thin air. And we’re not at Hogwarts. Dumbledore won’t come rescue you from a cupboard. I took advantage of my institution’s program for first year faculty. In year two, I also joined the peer-to-peer mentoring program. To complement these formal mentoring avenues, I sought out multiple mentors at my institution and elsewhere to create a vibrant mentoring constellation as no single individual will have all of the answers. A mentor for one issue may not be the same mentor for another issue.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Protecting Your Time

This past year has been one where I did not protect my writing time. I watched as blocks of time originally carved out in my calendar slipped away into the cloud as the delete button was struck removing them from my iCal. L This is not to say I did not have established writing times. I DID. And, I recognize the importance of them. For those who don’t completely buy into it, check out “Establishing a Regular Writing Practice” from Ideas on Fire.

But I shouldn’t say that I didn’t write. I did. I worked on revisions for my first book and sent them to the press in April. I also fine-tuned the edited volume I’m working on with a colleague. I submitted revisions on a journal article and completed page proofs on two chapters in edited volumes. This isn’t meant to be a listicle lauding my accomplishments over the year; rather a reminder that even if my dedicated writing time shifted, I still managed to write. Writing is writing even if the times are discrete moments. There is no perfect magic hour for writing. At least, I have not found one.

Just as protecting your time to write is important, so is protecting your free time and thinking about self care. Academics and higher ed often make faculty feel as if we’re on the clock all of the time. I am working on developing better practices at negotiating the attempt of balance. I realize that perhaps balance isn’t the best term to describe the healthy place of negotiating personal and professional responsibilities, but it does signal a desire to strive for a holistic life that allows for me to excel without becoming a workaholic.

I end with two articles focused on self-care and the end of the semester. They’re good reminders to prioritize YOU and your health.

And, to remind myself daily, I have a print out of the Crunk Feminist Collectives’ “Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips” (2011, August 25) near my desk.

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