The success of your application for tenure or promotion depends on good performance reviews.

Use the annual performance review process as a way to allow you and your supervisor to identify the areas where you need to develop skills or put more effort, especially if you are a relatively new academic staff member. These areas highlight where you may need time or support to do something.

An OSP application can be used for this. Ultimately, your achievements on OSP will be reflected in your applications for promotion or tenure.

To get an idea of how other academics have approached the use of OSP, look at their OSP applications and ask if you can look at their promotion/tenure applications.

Goal setting

To use the OSP effectively, look at both long and short OSP.

Although the maximum accrual of 80 months qualifying service under the rules allows programs of up to 40 weeks to be taken, you need to check your Cost Centre (Faculty or Central Administration) OSP guidelines for direction on program lengths and application deadlines. Refer to OSP policy, forms and guidelines for further information.

Generally, the longer the program, the earlier the application should be submitted.

When deciding on the length of the program, don't:

  • underestimate the time needed
  • overestimate what you can do.

It is important that you match realistic content with time. Your OSP application asks if the goals of your last OSP were met.

Planning your OSP

Preparation

Preparation is very important. This applies to both your application and the whole OSP.

The formal application involves a fair amount of work.

  • Predict your measurable outcomes. In the form you need to outline these outcomes and explain how they will be achieved.
  • Look at other OSP applications to get an idea of how the different parts were completed.

Organising the program itself is a major work. This starts well before the submission of your formal application.

  • As your Cost Centre needs to arrange coverage of your duties while you are on OSP, you should make informal enquiries and discussions with the appropriate Cost Centre members about your proposed activity and duration of the OSP.
  • If your OSP is going to involve other institutions or organisations, you need to establish contacts with people who will be prepared to sponsor you.

Although you need to account for your time before you go, the longer OSPs may be problematic as host institutions may not be able to forward plan sufficiently or your sponsor's availability may change. Therefore, although you may have planned for outcomes that were plausible/achievable, changes may become necessary.

If travelling, forward planning can be difficult. It is often impossible to book air fares or accommodation six months or so in advance. Your itinerary may be affected by security. Your plans need to be fluid.

Once your OSP has been approved, you need to obtain permission if you wish to make any significant changes. Any changes to your OSP or itinerary that occur whilst you are actually undertaking the program need to be shown in your report.

Depending on the length and location of your OSP, issues to consider include:

  • will you be accompanied by your partner/children?
  • will your partner seek employment?
  • will children need to be enrolled in schools?
  • what are the attendant visa issues?
  • what about accommodation? Will you rent or house swap? Will you rent out your own home while you are away? Both renting out and house swapping involve packing. In some foreign countries, if you rent accommodation you will also need to arrange the insurance.
  • how will you live in a higher cost environment?
  • do you need to organise/pay your own office accommodation/desk/computer? Some institutions do not provide any facilities for visiting scholars.
  • do you need to organise access to resources such as computer, email, telephone?
  • what equipment will you require?
  • will you be required to give seminars or lectures?
  • do you need to arrange library membership?
  • will you have access to the staff car park?

Some of these issues need to be considered prior to your formal application as they need to be included in your application. Other issues, although not part of the application itself, need to be considered before undertaking your program, while others can be dealt with on site.

Establishing contacts

Prior to planning an OSP in another institution, you will need to establish some sort of network with potential contacts. Get names and use them:

  • attend conferences
  • find mutual acquaintances (eg the editor of a journal which has published one of your articles)
  • try out the university at which you were an undergraduate
  • if going to a foreign country, talk to people from that country and get names.

Even if you know nothing else about the person, a name acts as a common point of reference in situations where you know no-one and you are not known.

Don't make assumptions

Think of every contingency before you go.

  • If intending to carry out experiments, check that equipment is available and check that it is working.
  • Don't assume your sponsor knows what you want or need. You need to ask.
  • Don't take it for granted that you will be offered the same facilities you are offered here.
  • Don't assume you will be provided with an office or desk space or a computer. Some institutions do not provide offices for their own academic staff. In such situations it would be important to have access to the common room.
  • Don't assume you will even have accommodation. In one case study the visitor booked the accommodation but the sponsor deemed it unsuitable and cancelled it, without informing the visitor. Be prepared to stay in an hotel until accommodation is found.
  • To be included in the life of the host institution, ask to be included on the email list or allocated a pigeon hole so that you can be advised of what's on.

Things to avoid

If your OSP involves a visit to another university, don't go during its long vacation period.

Don't rely on other people to set things up for you in advance.

Choosing your location

Your OSP can be undertaken locally, interstate or overseas, or comprise of a mix.

A period away from base can be professionally refreshing.

Your choice of location/s should be based on your goals.

For example, one overseas OSP of three months duration involved visits to universities in four locations plus presentation of a conference paper in another city. The longest stay in one place was one month. The difficulty, therefore, was finding space to do detailed intellectual work. In hindsight, the OSP should have been either carried out in one location, or the visiting component carried out over a period of 3 - 4 weeks with the remainder of the time spent back home.

Is it all worthwhile?

The overwhelming verdict is 'yes', particularly where OSPs were carried out overseas.

An OSP:

  • can be frustrating when things don't go as anticipated
  • takes enormous effort to organise
  • is exhausting
  • is expensive
  • involves a lot of nervous energy while you try to find your way around when you know no-one.

However, the experience benefits you in many ways. You:

  • get a clearer idea of what to do next time
  • achieve a growth experience by getting outside your comfort zone
  • learn to behave in accordance with other cultural rules
  • learn how to negotiate for what you want
  • keep up with what is happening in next year or two rather than relying on published material, which is already dated
  • create networks, which will not only be of benefit in planning future OSPs but may have other consequences, such as the opportunity to publish an article
  • meet leaders in your field (especially important for young academics).