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Probationary Review Dossier

Recently, I completed and submitted my probationary review dossier at UTSC. You can see get a copy of it here.

I learned a lot by writing my dossier, and would like to share the things that I learned along the way. I hope that this is helpful to some future colleague, who is preparing their own dossier. I want to note, for the sake of context, that I’m a teaching stream professor. That informs the focus of the advice below, and things might work differently for research stream faculty. Also, I’m a huge geek and I did some rather obsessive tracking of how long things took to write, which you don’t need to do in order to complete a dossier.

What is a probationary review dossier?

To put it simply, the probationary review dossier is a collection of files that your colleagues will use to assess whether your probationary period should be extended until your continuing status review. You can find the full description in the Academic Administrative Procedures Manual. The relevant bit is the following:

The Committee should be satisfied that it has enough information to make a recommendation to the Unit Head on the following basis:

  1. Has the appointee’s performance been sufficiently satisfactory for a second probationary appointment to be recommended?
  2. If reappointment is recommended, what counselling should be given to the appointee to assist him or her to improve areas of weakness and maintain areas of strength?

To check out the details about teaching stream and probationary appointments, see: Policy and Procedures on Academic Appointments (2015), Section VII: 30(vii).

What is at stake?

The main thing to notice is that the committee has a very simple role. They are just answering the two questions above. To paraphrase:

  1. Is the appointee satisfactory?
  2. What should they do to improve?

And so, this is essentially formative feedback. Preparing your probationary review dossier is not a life or death thing. Your colleagues will read it and provide feedback to you.

A friend pointed out to me that if your performance wasn’t satisfactory, then you would get a lot of informal feedback in advance. This means that the answer to the first question is almost certainly “Yes” and you’re going to get insightful feedback when the committee answers the second question.

I found it very helpful to keep the fact that this dossier is “formative assessment” in mind while preparing it. That thought took the pressure off, and let me write more confidently.

However, I don’t want to make it sound like the probationary review dossier is a zero stakes cake walk. It is still important to do it well. The reason for this is the fact that you will almost certainly re-use it when preparing your continuing status review dossier. If you have a well assembled probationary review dossier, then it saves time in preparing your continuing status dossier where the stakes are much higher.

What were the main steps?

Here is a somewhat idealized plan for assembling the dossier. I didn’t quite follow this workflow. I mixed up steps four, five, and six, and spent a couple months playing with an outline that I eventually abandoned. If I were to do it again, I’d follow these steps:

  1. Ask around in your department for examples or templates to follow1.
  2. Collect up all possible materials from your PTR files.
  3. Read over the CTSI Guidelines.
  4. Meet with colleagues at CTL.
  5. Write or re-write your Statement of Teaching Philosophy.
  6. Populate the CTSI Sample Table of Contents (below).
  7. Ask colleagues for feedback on the dossier.
  8. Revise the dossier.
  9. Send it in!

The CTSI page has a great outline for a dossier. I found it easy to use, and was able to slot things in as needed.

Sample Table of Contents

  1. Statement of Teaching Philosophy
  2. Teaching Responsibilities
  3. Evidence of teaching effectiveness
  4. Leadership in and professional contributions to teaching
  5. Professional development undertaken to enhance teaching
  6. Appendices

Who did I reach out to help?

While preparing the teaching dossier, I reached out to a bunch of colleagues for help. I think that, at a minimum, you should reach out to some people at the Center for Teaching and Learning, and a friendly colleague in your department. For me, these people were: Nancy Johnston and David Chan of CTL provided great support. Francisco Estrada, a colleague from my department, gave it an early read.

Nancy gave me great writing advice, which got me moving. The advice was to really lead the committee through the documents. To be very clear about sign posting, and explain everything thoroughly. Initially, I had just included a syllabus and left it at that. Nancy gave me the advice to really excavate the cool things I was doing from the syllabus. This resulted in a section of the dossier which essentially walked the committee through a syllabus section-by-section.

David pointed out that you can get your course evaluation data directly from Academic HR. This saved a huge amount of spreadsheet work. Another thing that David suggested was to really use your teaching philosophy as scaffolding. That is, whenever you discuss something, tie it back to an aspect of your teaching philosophy.

Timing of Feedback

One thing that I didn’t account for while writing was the length of time it would take to get feedback. If you want to get a full read-through of your dossier from someone, then you should give them at least two weeks to read it. This means that you need a workable draft due three weeks before your actual deadline, because you want a week to incorporate the feedback that you receive.

Given this turn around time, I didn’t get anyone to do a full read-through of the dossier. However, everyone was willing to either: skim the whole thing, or look at bits-and-pieces of the dossier. Keep in mind you can reach out to someone and ask for feedback on a small chunk of it.

Professional Editors

Warning: I didn’t hire a professional editor, but thought it might be neat. You don’t need to get a professional editor!

Towards the end of working on the dossier, I realized it would be nice to get feedback from a professional editor. I reached out to Avivah Wargon, a friend of mine who works as an editor and indexer, to ask for advice. In the end, I didn’t get a professional editor because of timing constraints. For people who are curious, Avivah told me:

How long did it take?

To put it simply: It took about 27.6 hours of writing spread across 45 writing sessions in four months.

Warning: This section contains some really over-the-top analysis. You don’t need to do this to complete your dossier. Don’t be an obsessive writing geek like me; there are better things to do with life.

I attended a couple workshops about preparing a teaching dossier. At one of the workshops, a speaker said: “How long does it take? Well, it depends on how much you’ve prepared.” I think that’s generally true. A lot of the work of preparing a dossier is straightforward if you’ve got a good collection of documentation from your PTR files.

However, I was curious to see how long it actually took me to write the dossier. And so, I added a bit to my $\LaTeX$ compilation script to log when I compiled the dossier, and how many characters2 were in the dossier’s $\LaTeX$ source file. I got the following graph.

A Graph of Character Count by Time

A graph of character count by time

We can learn a couple things from this graph. There wasn’t much progress in the first two months from 2024-03-01 to 2024-05-01. I would go a week or two at a time without touching the dossier. The majority of the writing happened pretty steadily from 2024-05-01 to 2024-06-15. And in that latter period, I worked on it regularly.

As a regular part of my writing practice, I keep track of how much time I spend on various projects in a spreadsheet. Here is the spreadsheet filtered for just work related to the Probationary Review Dossier.

A Spreadsheet of Writing Time
Date Start Time Write Time (minutes) Total Time (minutes)
2024/06/29 12:06 30 1656
2024/06/27 11:26 43 1626
2024/06/24 9:40 36 1583
2024/06/21 11:00 30 1547
2024/06/21 10:00 29 1517
2024/06/19 11:30 30 1488
2024/06/19 10:30 30 1458
2024/06/19 9:30 30 1428
2024/06/18 14:00 40 1398
2024/06/17 13:15 38 1358
2024/06/17 11:30 33 1320
2024/06/14 11:00 35 1287
2024/06/14 10:00 31 1252
2024/06/14 9:00 31 1221
2024/06/12 11:00 27 1190
2024/06/12 11:00 33 1163
2024/06/12 10:00 29 1130
2024/06/10 12:30 30 1101
2024/06/10 11:30 33 1071
2024/06/10 10:30 33 1038
2024/06/07 11:00 33 1005
2024/06/07 10:00 32 972
2024/06/07 9:00 33 940
2024/06/05 10:45 60 907
2024/06/03 13:30 37 847
2024/05/31 9:30 25 810
2024/05/29 14:30 30 785
2024/05/29 11:15 40 755
2024/05/29 9:35 35 715
2024/05/24 10:45 45 680
2024/05/15 9:35 57 635
2024/05/13 11:15 66 578
2024/05/01 9:15 26 512
2024/04/29 9:45 50 486
2024/04/22 10:24 48 436
2024/04/17 10:18 60 388
2024/04/16 8:30 28 328
2024/04/05 15:25 40 300
2024/04/03 11:30 30 260
2024/03/20 10:10 45 230
2024/03/02 6:30 30 185
2024/02/29 11:50 40 155
2024/02/28 11:00 65 115
2024/02/27 11:10 50 50

You can see the same trend in the writing session record. Initially, I worked on the dossier fairly sporadically, and then very regularly May and June. That last bit of the graph, with lots of steady progress, was a period of time when I was doing three half-hour long writing session per day starting in June.


A template based on my dossier is available here: here. It was original based on a template by Paco Estrada. To compile this template, unzip it, and run pdflatex ./TEX/dossier.tex


I want to thank David Chan and Nancy Johnston for giving me advice early on about how to prepare the dossier. Megan Shaw, my first reader, deserves many thanks, not least of all for her careful line-editing of an early draft of this work. Paco Estrada provided the template on which this dossier is based, and insightful comments on an early draft. Many thanks to all of you!

  1. Thanks, Paco, for providing a great LaTeX template! ↩︎

  2. I think that character counts are more natural for $\LaTeX$ than word counts. ↩︎


Published: Jun 27, 2024

Last Modified: Jul 8, 2024


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Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions about the content, please let me know. Anyone can contact me by email.