Baby and tenure packet are both cooking along, so I thought I’d post a brief update.
Today I’m 28w pregnant and therefore officially in the third trimester. While I do feel much more relaxed with this pregnancy, I had my first significant baby freak-out earlier this week — I had just been feeling off, and woke up with a sort of painful burning in my lower abdomen and then had two bouts of super-intense sharp pain over about an hour in the morning that freaked me out and sent me running to my OB worried about a repeat abruption. She very calmly told me she didn’t think I was having an abruption, and that it sounded more like something GI-related, but if it would reassure me they’d check on ultrasound, which they did (just a quick, unofficial ultrasound). Everything looked fine with the placenta, and baby has been kicking up a storm ever since, so I’m just left feeling a little sheepish. I’m still glad I went in instead of stewing in worry, though. While I am significantly more relaxed in this pregnancy than in my pregnancy with S, that’s like saying that my wind speeds have dropped from hurricane level to tropical storm level — I am still very, very far from the carefree blissful assumption of a healthy baby that I experienced for the first 18w of my first pregnancy. But objectively, everything is fine. I’m starting to drag a little and feel the achy pelvis and lower back that I remember from my pregnancy with S, but it’s still not bad, and I’m still immensely grateful for every day that I’m pregnant with a healthy, squirmy baby.
On the tenure side, I’ve drafted my research and teaching statements, gotten some feedback on them from my PhD advisor and my faculty mentor outside my department (who has served three times on our university tenure committee), updated my annotated CV, and am now revising everything and preparing to submit at the end of the month. While my materials aren’t technically due until early November, I’ve obviously got another big deadline looming at the same time (i.e., my baby’s due date!) so don’t want to leave it any later than I have to. I had discussed with my chair turning everything early and he’s totally on board with it. So, my goal is to get my packet submitted by the end of August, before the semester starts, and then just allow myself to be distracted by teaching and the new baby while the process goes forward over the course of the year.
I am facing one tricky decision that I need to make in the next few weeks, which is whether or not to ask my department to solicit letters from former students as part of my tenure packet. There’s a little bit of explanation required here: it’s not a standard thing that my department does, but other departments around the university do include it as a standard component of the tenure packet. The only universally standard metric of teaching effectiveness at my university is the end-of-semester evaluations filled out by students in my classes. Mine are good — consistently above average numerically, with lots of positive comments and relatively minor gripes. But I’m also philosophically opposed to having my teaching evaluated only on the basis of those student evaluations, since there’s a ton of research showing that they are biased and not good indicators of teaching effectiveness.
So I’ve wanted to include multiple metrics of teaching effectiveness in my tenure packet. I already asked my department to send faculty to observe some of my classes (which they’ve sort of done… last semester my chair visited one of my classes and had a really great conversation with me afterwards about his observations, and then another faculty member visited the last 12 minutes of one of my classes and said he thought he got a pretty good sampling of my teaching, blargh). While I’m glad that I’ll be including peer evaluations to some extent in my packet (another component that is standard in many other departments at my university), the dimension that I think is missing is any sort of measurement of the longitudinal impact of my teaching/mentoring, including the work I do with research students (which falls under the category of teaching at my university). So, I had discussed with my chair the possibility of soliciting letters from former students. Apparently my department had their first meeting about my tenure case last week and discussed that they’d be happy to do it, and it’s basically up to me (1) whether or not I want them to do it and (2) what sample of students I want them to ask.
For example, I could ask them to solicit letters from only my former research students, or I could ask them to solicit letters from every student I’ve ever had in class, or I could ask them to solicit letters from only former majors in our department. Whatever I choose, they will all get the same prompt (which my chair already drafted and shared with me), which is basically a letter from the chair saying that I am being considered for promotion to associate professor with tenure and asking them for any reflections they have on the quality of my teaching and mentorship, and how their experiences with me may have impacted their subsequent career development. So, a pretty generic prompt, with no carrot or stick to encourage them to reply.
Philosophically, it seems like a great thing to do to assess a dimension of my pedagogy that is not otherwise reflected in my materials. I suspect I might get some really strong letters — I think I have had a pretty significant positive impact on a number of our students (and I don’t think I’m being delusional about it — certainly I’ve had students tell me that they have felt that way). But… part of me wonders if I should just leave well enough alone and not introduce an extra dimension of randomness. My teaching evaluations are good, and on that basis alone I’d probably get tenure, so why rock the boat? It’s certainly possible that I could get negative letters (though I can’t think of any former students who are out to get me), but the thing I’m more worried about is getting weird letters from students who don’t understand the tenure process and therefore say things in a way that they might think is positive but that might raise questions for the tenure committee. Basically, the more data the tenure committee has in its hands, the higher the probability that there will be something a little odd for them to fixate on.
So, anyway, I’m thinking about it this week, and planning to talk to my aforementioned outside-the-department faculty mentor to see what her experience has been reading student letters as part of the university tenure committee. My inclination at the moment is to ask my department to go ahead and solicit the letters, and for the sample to be all of our former majors. My reasoning is both the principle that I would like my tenure packet to reflect the long-term impact of my teaching/mentoring as a dimension of my teaching effectiveness, and also that I think it’s likely that it will be an overall strength of my packet rather than a weakness (I just don’t think I’ve made any of our students mad enough that they’d be motivated to write and complain about what a horrible professor I am, and I know that I’ve had a significant positive impact on a number of our former students that isn’t reflected in my end-of-semester evaluations and would likely be reflected by these letters). So, that’s the last big decision I need to make before I turn in my packet.
Overall, this is an exciting and busy time as I prepare for so many new things: a new semester, a new baby, and a new stage of my job. It’s always easy to love life in August as a university professor, but I’m really feeling the gratitude this year for all of the wonderful things I have in my life. My anxiety about the tenure process has been kept at a minimum both because I’m actually able to do something about it at this stage (e.g., work on my tenure statements) and because I have had the perspective of expecting a new baby and watching my friend land on her feet after her tenure denial last year — both of those have grounded me and reminded me that whatever the outcome of this case, I’m going to be fine, and in fact, much better than fine. I’ve also had the wonderful distraction of preparing for the new baby. My husband and I took most of last week off from work and had a lovely staycation — we did fun stuff with S that we don’t usually have time to do (like taking him on longer trips to the zoo and the aquarium and the beach), and we also kept him in daycare a few days so that we could get stuff done around the house (newborn and 0-3mo clothes are out of storage, washed, and folded, expired infant carseat has been replaced, and my baby to-do list has gotten longer since I finally had time to sit down and think about all the things we need to do). The big-kid bed transition is officially a success, and I loved having the opportunity to spend more quality time together last week as a family of three — we have a really great family right now, and so much to look forward to.