Annual review – or, depending on your institution, ‘ professional development review’, ‘performance review’, or even ‘job chat’ – is an inescapable part of life as an academic in the UK. For those early on in their career, it may also linked to your probationary period.
If you are new to the field you should ask your mentor for help with preparing for your annual review, and familiarize yourself with any online documentation provided your institution to support you.
Preparing in advance
You will usually be asked to complete a form detailing your achievements and output over the laACst year, and to draft a set of goals for the following year. This document will form the basis of the discussion in your annual review. Do not leave the setting of goals to the meeting itself, unless you want someone else’s agenda to be foisted on you!
Consider your narrative
Annual review can be an excellent means of taking stock of the direction of your research and prioritizing your efforts. You should also read up on your institution’s mission, and the research aims of your school or discipline, in order to consider how your own activity meets these aims. Considering this may help you to refine or prioritize research plans.
If this is not your first review, you will probably be required to provide evidence of how you have met your stated goals, and to explain any shortfalls.
As another form of preparation it is always a good idea to establish who will be conducting your review (good practice is for reviews to be conducted by two senior colleagues). You can then ensure that they are fully briefed on your circumstances and previous year’s submission.
Be prepared for constructive criticism
It can happen that a reviewer will take a critical or even negative view of your work. It is worth asking yourself beforehand if there are any areas of weakness in your report, and to consider how you will account for these to your reviewers. If specific criticism is offered, make sure you receive it gracefully; if criticism is more broad, it is reasonable to ask for specific examples and/or evidence. Ask your reviewers for their suggestions on how you might improve in certain areas.
Ask for help
If there are matters you are unsure of, this is the time to ask. Reviewers can steer you towards extra training, or draw on their own expertise for advice. This is also the time to discuss the overall shape and direction of your career, to raise such matters as promotion prospects.
Keep it in perspective
Annual reviews can at times seem like an unnecessary formalization of a discussion that, ideally, should be taking place between you and your colleagues (and line manager) already. If that is the case, then you are fortunate, and the review can be seen as simply a way of keeping a record of your work. If it isn’t the case, make the most of the opportunity it provides to get your voice heard and to flag up your achievements to others. Above all, remember that everyone has to go through it, and that your review should remain confidential.
See annual reviews as snapshots
Annual reviews are just that – annual. Their obvious limitation is that they can’t encompass long-term objectives at any one point: nevertheless, as an accumulated record, they can provide you with a valuable overview of your progress at regular intervals and can therefore be important tools for you to manage your own sense of achievement and direction.
See the review as an opportunity
For all their faults, annual reviews can also be a great opportunity to talk to your line manager or senior colleagues about yourself, and to let them know a little more about you. The annual review can be the perfect time to let your busy line manager know, for instance, that she can keep you in mind when it comes to allocating major admin posts, or that you are working closely with your colleagues on collaborative research projects that tie into the school or university’s agenda and that need his or her support. In short, make the annual review work to your advantage.