Most academics provide an annual report on their teaching, research and administration to a line manager or department head each year. It may feel like just another hoop to jump through, but you can use the annual review productively.
Rather than seeing it as something management imposes on you as a monitoring exercise, think about what the annual review offers to you. You can use it to show management exactly what you’ve achieved each year, and over longer trajectories of time.
Make sure that all work you carry out is reflected in your review, not just the basics listed on a standard form. Think about all those extra things you do, like providing extra sessions to prepare students for exams, courses you have done in addition to your regular work, and any conferences or meetings attended (not just those where you presented). Don’t forget informal research links.
Controlling your direction.
Control the annual review report, and it becomes a persuasive narrative of where you’ve been and a blueprint of where you’re going. The more forcefully you put your case, the better you support your performance and future plans with evidence, the more likely that you’ll remain in control of your academic destiny.
So set reachable goals every year and decide on the criteria you want to meet, rather than waiting for a manager to do so.
Make yourself aware of departmental, research group and university priorities, and make sure these are reflected in your goals—at least in wording. Make these links explicit in the report document. This can be a protective measure should anyone wish to scrutinise your performance in future.
Getting training and support.
Rather than trying to gloss over areas of weaker performance, consider before the meeting how you might best address these. Would it help to take a course or work with a mentor? Is something about your current workload impeding progress in research? What would need to change for you to work differently with students, or be ready to take on a higher management role?
Have answers for questions like these ready; if they aren’t asked, bring the topic up yourself. You may be able to get appropriate training, admin support, workload reduction and so on written into your workplan through this process.
Charting new directions.
Before your official review meeting, take time to examine the big picture by looking at this year’s review, last year’s and perhaps a few from years gone by. Even if the current year wasn’t marked by major achievements, you’ll almost certainly notice a pattern of goals reached and passed—and you can highlight this longer journey if questioned.
This process helps you see the value of the work you do, and think of things you might want to try that are new. The annual review is a perfect time to bring up any thoughts you may have about a change in direction: is there a new type of research, or a new area of specialism, that’s been in your thoughts? Bringing it up can get you the approval you need from management to take steps in a promising direction.