Monday, 22 April 2013

Staff appraisal

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I had my annual Staff Appraisal the other day. Mike Rowe has delegated some of the appraisals to his deputy Gus Johns and I was one of these. Of course I chat to Gus quite regularly so much of what was said in the meeting was just revisiting previous conversations. You may remember that as my mentor Gus had asked me before whether or not I was ambitious - if I was perhaps I should look to moving on as it was often harder to gain promotion in the department where you have been working for some time than moving on and moving up.

Of course there is paperwork to deal with for the appraisal. The appraisee has to submit a form to the appraiser before the meeting in which he or she reflects on how well the priorities and targets agreed that were agreed at the previous appraisal have been met and also to set down what will be the main priorities and targets for the coming year. Then there is a section for the appraisee to request any staff development help that he thinks may be appropriate. When the appraisal is being conducted by someone other than the Head of Department, as in my case, It can be a bit unrealistic if these requests carry with them direct financial costs, or even indirect ones if you are asking for relief from teaching or other duties. Only the Head of Department can really make such budgetary and time off decisions so Gus would not be able to make me any binding promises.

I was happy that my targets for the previous year had been achieved, in terms of publications, teaching and administrative duties. Gus asked me first about my teaching as he knows that I enjoy it. Was I happy with the modules that I was looking after? Had there been any issues that had been flagged up in student consultations or via the External Examiner? I referred him to the reports that I had produced for each of my modules at the end of the teaching year and to the supportive comments from the External Examiner.

Next he asked about my research. Although I have enough good papers for me to be entered into the Research Excellence Framework exercise maybe I should try to aim a bit higher in terms of the journals to which I submitted. I said that this was exactly what I was attempting to do as he would see from the section of the form where I outlined my plans for the next year.

Gus then asked about administrative duties. For the last two years I had taken on responsibility for Open Days and Preview Days. The Open Days were times at which potential students and their parents could visit the university to find out more about the courses we offer and all the other important matters that might affect a student's choice about where to study. These days were mainly for students currently taking their "A" levels before they had actually completed their UCAS forms. Preview Days on the other hand were for later in the year when students were clear about where they wanted to go but before the "A" level results were out. On these occasions more specific information about accommodation, books and other equipment that would be needed for the course etc. would be given. For each type of occasion I had to make a presentation, coordinate with the other staff assigned to the particular day (everybody was supposed to be involved on at least one occasion a year but it didn't always seem to work out that way), and recruit student helpers who could show people round and provide a picture of what it is like to study economics at USE. I also had to liaise with the Marketing Department and the Registry. By and large I enjoyed the experience and I felt that the high proportion of people who actually went on to apply to us after coming to an Open Day session was a mark of how well we had been doing.

Gus said that everyone agreed that I was doing a great job, but maybe I should think about taking on some other role in order to freshen up my CV. Mike had told him that he would like to rotate some of these roles this year so what did I think about being admissions tutor, peer observation coordinator, staff seminar organiser, exams officer, library coordinator or final year tutor? I said that given the choice it would be one of the final four rather than the first two, but I guess it also depended on what other people wanted to do.

Gus then said that, off the record, I should try to avoid taking on anything that was too much of a burden and distraction from my research.The reality was that promotion these days was primarily down to research output, publications and successful grant applications. Although the smooth running of the department depended on people taking their administrative roles seriously he felt that maybe it should be down to the established members of staff like himself to do the time consuming jobs, allowing the younger staff to get on with their teaching and research. He suggested that I offered to take on the role of staff seminar organiser, or maybe library coordinator as he had heard that I wanted to work more closely with people in the Library (he winked at me as he made this last comment and I realised he knew about me and Jenny!).

I asked Gus whether he knew what research money would be available to us next year. Was the Dean sticking to the same allocation and distribution mechanisms as this year or had there been any proposals for change. Gus said that there should have been an item about this on the staff meeting agenda. There would be no automatic individual budgets this year. Instead you would apply to the Head of Department who would have discretion over where to allocate the money. But if I was looking for money to finance a conference attendance it would probably be OK so long as I was presenting a paper.

After asking me if there was any other points I wished to raise he said that I should complete the final section of the form where I should outline my version of the discussions we had had and return it to him within a week for him to agree and sign off.

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