Never ever read your email

I’m in trouble now. I was late reading some official email, and learned (was reminded) yesterday that I have to submit my annual report describing what I’ve been doing for the past year. The report is due on 20 March…oh. Yesterday.

You’d think I’d learn. This has been a bureaucratic ritual every year for 23 years, and I should learn to expect it. First comes my birthday, which is OK; then comes my wedding anniversary, which is very nice; then comes spring break, which is excellent; and then…darkness descends on my consciousness, and my brain averts away from the cursed next step of administrative paperwork.

OK. I’ve pulled up the form on my computer. Now I have to go through my old records and remind myself of what I did in 2022. Then I have to justify my existence, despite the howling void at my core telling me that I don’t deserve to live and nothing I have ever done matters.

I’ll get it done today somehow.


  1. nomaduk says

    Progress reports and annual reviews suck rocks, no matter what one’s job is.

    Deserve? Eh. We’re here. I suppose we deserve to live as much as anything else does; why not?

    As for the rest, well:-
    Nothing matters very much and few things matter at all.
    — Arthur James, Lord Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour.

  2. kevinv says

    Just fill it full of spider pictures and you’ll get an exemption from now on.

    Oh, wait, they’re biologists too so that probably won’t work.

  3. weylguy says

    Does anyone here remember “Total Quality Management”? TQM came out around 1990 and was used in conjunction with progress reports and annual reviews to create more work for middle management types (myself included). TQM was supplemented by “mission statements” and “vision statements,” which then headlined every management meeting, almost as one recites a religious creed.

  4. numerobis says

    A lot of these reports aren’t about you, they’re about the money people on your side needing to convince the money people on the other side to keep sending money. Are you doing this in order to your existence, or are you being asked to help justify the university’s existence?

  5. birgerjohansson says

    If you flood the administration building with “interesting”-looking arthropods you should get a reprieve while ignorant administrators have the place cleared.
    Maybe leave some shards from a very big egg in the place…

  6. says

    Dear PZ, I and my organization have been creating websites since 1996. E-mail has never been reliable. It is not in any way ‘official communication’. Many huge sites (I’m looking at you G00GLE) block E-mail reception from thousands of domains with no justifiable reason. You should not be held responsible for the administration’s informal, inept attempt to communicate. If one sends a letter and DeJoy’s destruction of the post office makes it late, that is not the fault of the sender or the recipient. You have communicated that you have a record of being a responsible educator for many years. You do your best in this ever-deteriorating world; end of discussion.

  7. says

    @3 weylguy: TQM
    OH! I remember it well. It was a mandated fanatical deluge of meetings and unproductive, time-wasting, cliched, bureaucratic, claptrap that we were forced to abide by. It was accompanied by indoctrination into CPI (Continuous Process Improvement) that actually took up so much time to implement that it negated any meager ‘process improvement’ it was supposed to create. These cookie-cutter, corporate, cult-like mandates were all foisted on us by ‘one-size-fits-all’ consultants who had no knowledge of our particular industry or capability.

  8. Snidely W says

    How specific does this report have to be?
    You have copies of past reports right? Could you just copy, paste, tweak, tweak.
    Badda-boom, badda-bing, it’s a beautiful thing.

    Any evidence that they actually read them?

  9. says

    For those who don’t know, the annual faculty activity report (or similar name) is standard at all academic institutions. They want to know your publications, conference presentations, invited talks, grants, teaching and mentoring, editorial activity, service on committees and yadda yadda. And yes, they read them. They’re the basis for tenure, promotion, salary, or if you aren’t tenured just keeping your job. The academic ranks thing is medieval bullshit, but on the other hand the administration has a legitimate interest in what it’s getting for your salary.

  10. chrislawson says


    I wouldn’t mind those annual reports if they were just the things you listed. I think it’s important for any department to know who’s published what, conferences presented at, etc. etc. However my experience of completing these forms is that they are full of useless waffle (‘List the number of activities you did in the last year that progressed our vision statement’-like questions, asked five or six different ways) and worse, asking you to do things like count all your teaching hours for the year which the department already knows because they rostered it and could answer with a single software query.

  11. chrislawson says

    Slightly OT but pretty funny:

    I’m taking long-term leave and decided to enrol in an online medical education course at a well-regarded European university that shall remain nameless. I am constantly surprised by how badly universities handle their IT landscape, but the experience of enrolling took this to new levels, including:

    [1] Application by poorly-designed Word doc
    [2] Some of the fields having text formatted to be white on a white background (seriously, what was the designer thinking?)
    [3] Some of the mandatory fields being pull-down menus that did not include all the options
    and my absolute favourite…
    [4] ‘This form should be completed electronically. Please complete ALL sections of this form in bold.’

  12. EigenSprocketUK says

    Incompetent managers expect you to justify your own achievements. Competent ones were paying attention at the time.
    Being a good manager is difficult.
    They don’t teach any of that in management school because there’s more pressure to do dashboardy spreadsheety buzzwordiocy.