Right around this time of the year, I meet with the faculty and staff in my department to do their annual reviews. Each faculty member is required to record their achievements in research, teaching and service over the past year, as well as assess their progress on their goals from the previous year, and set their goals for the upcoming year. Staff reviews are somewhat different – more task-oriented – but still require assessing progress on goals and developing new goals. Faculty and staff are then evaluated on their achievements and goals and scored. The scores are then translated into merit increases, should we be so lucky as to receive them that year.
This process is not unique to my institution. Variations on this theme happen in academic units all around the country. The process ranges from highlighting new entries on your CV to paper forms to electronic data entry, but almost always includes goal setting for the short and long-term. There are plenty of reasons documented as to why it is important to set goals (e.g. Forbes and Harvard have some ideas), with requisite science (correlation, not causation – some entertaining examples here!) supporting the habit.
Most faculty hate this process. It can be painful to try to recall all of your accomplishments from the last year, and some are harder than others to dig up (e.g. how many grants did I collaborate on that never got funded?!). Systems to collect these data can change from year-to-year and can sometimes be glitchy. Finding the time to enter all of this information may not be easy, and meeting with your chair/director/boss may not be pleasant. Plenty of reasons to dislike this process.
I, on the other hand, have always enjoyed this process. It isn’t very often that you get the opportunity to really see what you’ve accomplished in a set period of time all in one place. Plus, I’m pretty good about keeping up my CV, so much of the information already exists and can just be cut and pasted into the form. But more than that, I’ve always welcomed the opportunity for me to review me. This is the one time each year that, in addition to seeing all of my accomplishments in one place, I also get to see my shortcomings. As I review the goals I set for myself, I get the chance to reflect on what I’ve done and what I have yet to do.
As a Department Chair now, although extremely time consuming to meet with all members of the faculty and staff, this process is even more fun for me. Sure, there are the rare occasions of having to tell someone that they are not meeting the expectations we set for them the previous year, but I also get the chance to help each member of the department celebrate her/his accomplishments. Individually, I get to share in the excitement each person feels in reaching their goals, and help in the important process of setting new goals. I also get to see what my department has accomplished in aggregate over the last year, and how we are moving towards our shared goals and vision. It is quite incredible.
Getting ready for these meetings, I know that faculty and staff are not always excited about this. I know that they get annoyed about the time it takes to put all of this information together. Some of them are nervous to meet with me. I know, because I have to do it too. This year, putting together my review packet has been more difficult. Specifically, setting my goals has been difficult. As I started to review my goals from the past year, I realized that all my goals were for the Department. Given that I’m a Department chair, maybe this is okay. Maybe I’m overlooking some unwritten goals: success with my grant submissions, progress with my students, and success in the classroom. And certainly I had non-professional goals, like keeping both kids alive through another year (which, (1) I was successful in, and (2) gets WAY easier as they get older). But I’ve always been moving towards something in my career. First, just getting through my PhD and getting a job. Check. Then, there are some goals that your institution sets (e.g. promotion, tenure), which are obvious targets. Check. But I’ve always set goals beyond that. After I became involved in the graduate program, I set my sights on becoming the Graduate Program Director. Check. Next step, Section Head. Check. Then, Department Chair. Check. But this is where my list ends! So, I find myself asking: what next? This is a strange space for me, I’m a very goal-oriented person, and not moving towards a goal leaves me feeling… uncomfortable.
Which brings me to my first week at ELAM. Without getting into the nitty gritty of the week, much of the time was spent with me getting to know me. Exploring my strengths and weaknesses. Examining what others see as my strengths and weaknesses. I’m definitely a talker, and I love to talk about data, about facts. But talk about how I feel? Talk about feeling uncomfortable… But it was important for me to step outside of my comfort zone and think about how to foster my strengths and how to improve on my weaknesses. And maybe this is the next step to figuring out “what’s next.”
Or, maybe this is what’s next. That is to say, maybe I don’t need a next step right now. Maybe I’m doing exactly what I should be doing, and my goals should be to be the best chair I can be. Maybe goals to improve my department are exactly the goals I should be setting. It is definitely rewarding to look back at the past two years and identify changes that have come about in the Department as a result of work I’ve done, so maybe that’s just fine. Maybe in addition to continuing to move the Department forward, I should focus on my personal goals – continue to try to keep my children alive, and perhaps even help them learn to be contributing members of society. Work on strengthening my relationship with my husband. Develop some hobbies (since said husband seems to think that watching Law & Order reruns isn’t a hobby).
I always try to emphasize having fun at work when I meet with the faculty and staff. This should be the ultimate goal – if you’re not having fun at work, you’re not doing it right. As I go through these meetings and try to help the faculty and staff set goals that will make their work more fun, maybe I should practice what I preach. Since I’m really having fun celebrating all the successes of my department, then YAY! I’m accomplishing my goals and perhaps “what’s next” should really just be “what’s now.”