Archive for the 'faculty' category

Losing by Speaking Up

May 02 2012 Published by under faculty, women in science

A reader wonders, based in part on this discussion (on Bob Sutton's blog), about differences in how much men and women talk in professional settings, and how they are perceived as a result. In a nutshell, some studies have shown that talking a lot seems to benefit men but may be detrimental to women; for example, in the context of whether someone is considered to have leadership potential and/or in how seriously their ideas are considered.

A specific question is whether women who want to talk more hold back -- consciously or unconsciously -- and try to find effective "backdoor" ways to get their ideas across to a group.

Regarding that question, I can't speak much from personal experience (<-- that was an attempt at a joke) because personality does play some role in this. When in a meeting or other group, I do not hold back because I am worried that I will be less "likeable" or less respected. I am just not a talkative person, particularly in groups. If I have something I want/need to say, I say it, but (typically) no more than that. In my experience, this is an effective way to be listened to in some settings, but not in others (see the cartoon in the linked post above; I think many women will be able to relate to the experience illustrated).

In academic departments, there may also be an effect of seniority (and tenure status) on talkativeness (for both men and women), although some of the studies cited compare "powerful" men with "powerful" women (such as certain politicians), so this aspect is taken into account. Nevertheless, owing to the seniority imbalance in many STEM fields, it is quite common for, say, a conference to have many female grad students, postdocs, and untenured faculty participants but very few women at more senior levels. I think this will have an effect on who talks and how much they talk, and the results will break down on gender lines to some extent.

Questions for readers:

1. Have you ever "held back" your comments in a meeting (whether a professional conference or an institutional committee) because you were worried about being perceived as too talkative?

2. What is your gender and career stage (if you are willing to share this information)?

3. If you answered yes to #1, what made you think that being talkative would be a bad thing, other than being aware of the routine hatred that some of us have for people who prolong committee meetings?

4. Are you a naturally talkative person?

 

 

 

 

21 responses so far

Academic Fish Ponds

This is a recent e-mail from a reader, but it's a topic I was thinking about in a related context, so this is timely (for me):

I'm a grad student in a respectable PhD program in the physical sciences here in the U.S. (ranked by U.S. News as either in the low teens to mid-20s, depending on the particular year of the ranking).  I didn't realize until I was knee-deep in grad school just how tough the academic job market is (like, I think I know more PhDs without permanent jobs than I know with jobs!).  I'm starting to get very nervous about my job prospects.

While mulling over my options--Take the Master's and run? Switch to a different field?--it occurred to me that I could always apply to higher-ranked grad programs (you know, Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, and their ilk).  Graduating from a Top 5 school would surely increase my prospects of getting an academic job, right? Provided, of course, I could get admitted to one of those programs...

I haven't asked too many people for advice (I don't want my professors or advisor to know that I'm considering leaving), but the one person I asked said it was better to be a big fish in a small pond (translation: stay where I am and try to stand out among my cohorts).

As an aside, if you look at the most recent faculty hires for my department, you'll see that they're all Harvard/MIT/Berkeley/Caltech/Stanford grads; there's not a single graduate from a 20-ish rank school in the bunch. We're good enough to be their grad students, but not good enough to be their eventual colleagues???

This e-mail raises many interesting issues, in addition to the usual ones involving stress about (potentially) seeking a faculty position in a field that seems to have an oversupply of PhDs. [insert required mention that academia isn't the only option for PhDs, there are many excellent careers in industry/business/government etc.].

I am going to ignore the issue of whether rankings have any merit and whether the Prestige Universities deserve their high level of prestige etc. Let's just take these numbers (Top-5, Top-20 etc.) at face value for now.

An important question for the person who wrote the e-mail is: In the context of thinking about possible future jobs in academia, do you think you would only be happy in one that is a research-ranking peer of your current university (or one more highly ranked)? I know it can be hard to predict (as a grad student, I was completely wrong about what kind of job/place would be best for me), but it's worth thinking about other options within academia: teaching-focused schools (small colleges, universities that are focused on undergraduate education, community colleges) or research universities other than the top-ranked ones. These jobs are difficult to get as well, but overall you may have more opportunities than you would if you only consider major research universities of a certain rank as job prospects. Perhaps you know some people who work at these types of institutions and could talk to them about their jobs, or you could do some investigating/mingling at conferences to interact with a broader group of academics and others.

But let's say that you are quite sure that you want to be at a major research university, a peer to your current university or better (in rankings), and jobs are extremely scarce in your field. I don't know about your particular institution/field, but from what I've seen over years of serving on various committees and panels and such, top graduates of top-20ish schools can compete with those from top-5-10 schools for academic positions. If you do interesting research, give conference presentations, publish, and put together an impressive application, you could be competitive with the top-5 people.

The person you talked to was right to mention the 'big fish' scenario; if your department/advisor are respected in your field and your advisor writes reference letters saying you are the best student s/he has ever had, that can count for a lot. You may have to work harder to be perceived -- on first impression -- as just as good as the top-5 people, but it's doable.

Important considerations in whether you stay or try to move could include:

  • the nature of your research project (is it exciting? significant? can you play an important role in it?),
  • the reputation of your advisor as a scientist and mentor (will s/he write you awesome letters if you do well?), and
  • your assessment of your abilities (difficult to do..).

When you consider those (and other) factors, maybe you will decide that the best place for you for research and career development is a top-5 department, maybe it's another place, or maybe it's where you are right now.

Another question: Have you been around for any of the searches that resulted in the recent top-5 hires in your department? It would be interesting and instructive to look at the applicant pools (were all the interviewees from top-5 departments, or just the person who got/accepted the offer?). If you attended the interview talks and/or met the candidates, what were your impressions? If there are any upcoming searches, it would be good to take a close look at the process and the people involved.

And if you look at departments in your field at peer institutions of your current one, do you see a similar preponderance of top-5s on the faculty? That is, is your department typical in this respect? If so, and you want to try to stay in your field, perhaps you should send out some applications..

If you have the time, it's worth doing a bit of 'career field work' before making a big decision. There may be more options than you know about now, or you may find you are in the best place for you already.

26 responses so far

CreepPI

Feb 29 2012 Published by under advising, faculty, harassment, students

An undergraduate recently wrote to me about a difficult situation. I don't want to reprint her entire e-mail because it might have identifying details, so I will describe the general situation below (I told her that I would do this, and have her consent). I will, however, use the student's term for the professor in question; that is, she uses the term PI, indicating the professor in charge of the lab in which she does research, but not someone who closely advises her research.

This student has been doing research in a lab at a large university for several years, and her work is going well -- so well, in fact, that she recently gave a presentation on her research at a conference. The conference was far from her university, so the various members of the research group who attended the conference stayed in a hotel.  The student was pleased to get to know the PI of her research group better at this conference, as she seldom interacts with him in the course of her research in his lab. Her happiness at attending a conference, presenting her results, and having more interaction with the PI turned into anxiety when he texted her to ask if she wanted him to come to her hotel room one night. She did not text him back, and she has not talked to him or seen him since this incident.

This part is in the student's own words:

I really enjoy the research that I'm working on, and I love the group I work with, so quitting and finding another paid undergrad position seems unreasonable. I wouldn't put it past my PI to never speak of it again, but if he does, I'm afraid I might say something wrong. .. I want to go to grad school and expect to get a letter of recommendation from him in the near future when I start applying.

Have you ever been in a situation like this?  What should I do?

I know that this letter will seem very familiar to those who have experienced similar situations and/or who have read about other incidents like this in other posts. I wanted to post this anyway so that this student can get a range of responses and advice, which I expect may range from "Don't do anything" to "Report him. He's a creep and may be doing this to other students."

Although in some ways the situation is clear-cut (professors should not proposition their students), it is a difficult situation for the student. She has been doing her work, doing it well, and getting excited enough about research to want to apply to graduate school. Now she is worried and doesn't know what to do.

I hate to think about this student feeling anxious when she is doing her research, and worrying about asking this professor for a letter of recommendation for graduate school. Will this incident factor into his opinion of the student? Unless the professor proactively apologizes sincerely to the student, says he has never done anything like this before, and affirms that he thinks highly of her work, she is likely to worry about this until she graduates, and perhaps beyond.

The student worries about saying "something wrong" if the PI brings up the incident. If he does bring it up, I think that saying "That made me uncomfortable" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, whether or not he apologizes. It tells him that he crossed a boundary he shouldn't have, and that his behavior had consequences. An undergraduate student shouldn't have to tell that to a professor, but this entire situation shouldn't have happened in the first place. If the student then turns the conversation to research issues and/or career plans (graduate school), maybe they will be back on track with their professional relationships.

Even so, I think it might be worth asking around about this professor, especially if the student feels comfortable talking to others in the research group -- a female grad student or postdoc, for example. If this professor is in a habit of propositioning his female students and creating a climate of anxiety in the research lab as a result, this information needs to get to someone in authority, if not the department chair, then an organization on campus that can provide information and advice. It would be good if the text messages are still on the phone.

But mostly I hope that readers who have dealt with similar situations can provide some ideas and support, to help this student through this anxious time.

 

 

 

77 responses so far

Mid-Career Mentoring

Feb 07 2012 Published by under career issues, faculty

Although perhaps no amount of information, obtained online or in person, can remove the uncertainty and anxiety associated with being a graduate student, postdoc, and/or tenure-track professor, in recent years there has been an information explosion targeted at early-career academics. There are articles, books, blogs, forums, webinars, conferences and more on how to cope with graduate school; how to apply for postdoctoral positions; how to craft a CV, cover letter, and applications when applying for a faculty position; how to interview; how to negotiate; how to maximize chances of tenure, and so on.

As part of these efforts, many of us professors are increasingly called on to improve our mentoring skills, to participate in panels and committees devoted to mentoring and career development issues, and to demonstrate in our grant proposals that we have mentoring plans for our postdoctoral researchers. I support these efforts and consider such activities an important part of my job (as long as the paperwork doesn't get any more abundant than it already it).

But what if the mentors need mentoring? Note that I am not talking about how we can learn to be good mentors (although this is an important topic). In this case, I am referring to how mid-career and senior faculty can get information about career issues that may affect us at later stages of an academic career. Do complicated career issues evaporate after tenure and/or do we all magically know how to deal with everything that academe throws at us? No, and no.

Mid-career+ career issues that some of us have to navigate without a lot of information include:

  • whether and how to pursue tenured positions at other institutions,
  • how to use an offer of a job from another institution to negotiate an improvement in our current job, and
  • whether to pursue a part-time or full-time position in administration.

(Please add to this list! I am working on a new essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education about some of these mid-career+ issues and would like to be as comprehensive as possible.)

Just as an example, for discussion today and in an effort to use a blog to help bridge the Information Gap for mid-career and senior faculty: Let's say you go out and get another job offer, or perhaps you are recruited without being active about it. You have an offer or a hint of an offer, but you are not 100% sure you want to leave your existing institution. If you did want to leave for sure, presumably you would just take your offer and leave without trying to negotiate with your current institution. But let's say you want to try to improve your situation somehow and therefore possibly stay at your current institution.

I am surprised when people write to me with questions about this and assume that they have to provide the details of their new offer(s) to their current institution. Has anyone had to do this? In the cases with which I am familiar, no one has had to explain the details of the new offer and certainly no one had to show an offer letter; the fact of the offer (or, in some cases, the rumor of an offer) was enough to start the negotiations for a retention package.

OK, so you have an offer and you want to negotiate with your current institution. The key issues are: What do you want? And: Are you going to get what you want?

So, what do you want? A raise (sometimes this is the only way to get a significant raise)? More resources for research? A position for your significant other? More respect from your institution/colleagues? All of the above? Other stuff? I have heard of places that have a standard retention package -- e.g., a certain amount of $ added to the faculty member's base salary when there is an outside offer -- but the possibilities at many institutions are more open-ended.

Here are some suggestions, for discussion, for how to pitch a request for What You Want in your retention package:

If you are leaning towards leaving, but a really awesome retention package would convince/tempt you to stay, ask for the moon if that's what you want. This is probably only likely to work if your offer is from a more awesome institution, or at least one with which your current institution feels competitive in some way. Don't be a jerk about asking for the moon; just make your request, and the administrators at your current institution can take it or leave it.

If you really aren't sure and you feel that you could stay or go, depending on how things shake out in the negotiations, then you should still ask for what you want, but perhaps don't ask for the entire moon (and perhaps consult with senior colleagues who have gone through this process, ideally in this millennium). Don't undersell yourself because you are worried about being seen as greedy or disloyal. If you know that you are underpaid relative to your peers, or if you think this is your only chance to get more space/resources from your institution, go for it: make a case for what you want and need.

Similarly, if you really don't want to leave and just got the offer because you felt you needed to play the game, you should still make a reasonable request for what you want/need and see what happens. You don't have to give any indication of how likely you are to stay or go (although people will try to guess this). If you have an offer, the opportunity exists for you to leave, so you might as well find out what your current institution is willing to do to keep you.

If you got the outside offer because you are desperately unhappy about some aspect of your current position and want to use this chance to change things for the better without actually leaving (because, for various reasons, you don't want to or can't leave your current institution), I think you should keep your expectations reasonable (i.e., low) in terms of how much positive change you can wring out of a retention package. That is, you might get a raise, perhaps even an impressive one, but if you don't like your colleagues, chances are you still won't like them even when you are being paid more to spend time with them. They might respect you more (outside offers tend to have that effect), and that can help, but the positive results of that are unlikely to be experienced in a rapid, dramatic, satisfying way (correct me if you have experienced the contrary).

And that brings me to an important point: YOU DON'T HAVE TO LEAVE. If your current institution doesn't give you what you ask for or (worst case) doesn't even try to keep you, you still do not have to leave if you don't want to.

Of course you can leave if you want, but some people who write to me seem to think that just by entering into discussions about retention, they are implicitly threatening "Give me this stuff or I'm leaving." You are not (I hope) saying this, unless of course you are definitely set on leaving. If you are not definitely intending to leave, you may be just finding out what your options are, exploring the various opportunities, considering the pros and cons, and then you making a decision about whether to stay or leave.

If you think there is a chance you want to stay, and you keep the negotiations calm, professional, and constructive (i.e., don't rant to the chair or dean about all the things you hate about your department/institution/colleagues), you are not burning any bridges by entering into these discussions and negotiations. Administrators expect to deal with these situations; they may not welcome the chance to deal with such issues, but it is a normal part of academic life, for better or worse. Everyone does it isn't the greatest justification for seeking outside offers, but you can try to do it right (don't be an egotistical jerk, don't be a drama queen, don't issue an ultimatum etc.), and don't feel guilty (unless you are a habitual accumulator of outside offers) or disloyal.

Does anyone have any advice to add to (or contradict) any of that?

 

 

 

12 responses so far

Like A Business

Aug 23 2011 Published by under advising, faculty, graduate school

In recent posts over at FSP, we have been discussing to what extent a professor should intervene if a student exhibits signs of possibly maybe (but probably not) needing to see a doctor. In the specific case described, an undergraduate student fell asleep during a meeting with a professor about the student's research project. Some commenters said that, despite the student's claim to be fine (not ill, not feeling faint etc.), the professor should have done more to insist that the student seek medical attention.

I don't want to talk about that specific case in more detail here, but one commenter's argument for more assertive intervention by the professor hinged on the opinion that we professors are supervisors and are therefore responsible for the physical and mental well-being of our "team members"; in this case, an undergraduate student.

Agree or disagree?

There is no doubt that we professors are managers in many ways. We supervise the work of our researchers, whether these are postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, technicians, or others. Grants that we obtain pay the salary, benefits, and -- in some cases -- tuition of those we supervise. We fill out lots of forms.

And yet, there are differences. We are advisors, not employers. The employer is the university. If I have a problem with one of my graduate advisees (for example), I can't "fire" them in the way that employers can. I can remove myself as advisor, but if this occurs within the time-frame of their guaranteed support, my department has the responsibility of helping that student find another advisor, or facilitating the student's transfer to another department or institution. Similarly, if a student decides to change advisors, they can. In this way, they are treated more as students than as employees.

Perhaps the argument that professors aren't really employers or managers in a business or industry sense is analogous to the argument that students who are research and teaching assistants may (or may not, depending on your opinion) be "workers" in the same sense as employees who are not also students.

So, the question for discussion is whether (and/or in what ways) a professor has the same type and level of responsibility for the physical and emotional/mental well-being of their advisees as those in business or industry.

Certainly we professors are responsible for providing a safe, healthy, and fair working environment for our advisees, but what can/should we do beyond that? I know little of the non-academic world of work, and therefore have no idea how (or whether) an employer in industry would intervene in the personal life of an employee who showed signs of possibly/maybe having a health problem; for example, an employee who fell asleep during a meeting.

What, beyond asking the employee if they are OK, would/could a non-academic employer do? Is it really the same for a professor to ask probing questions about a student's health, as it is for an employer to ask an employee, or is it different?

 

 

33 responses so far

Intersecting spheres

Jun 01 2011 Published by under advising, faculty, graduate school

A reader wonders:

What do you do if you and one of your advisees share outside interests that bring you into social contact off campus, and some of these interactions might affect your advisor-advisee interactions on campus?

That is, what if an advisor and an advisee (think: grad student, but could also be undergrad or postdoc) have a hobby or other outside interest in common and see each other frequently outside of work/campus? Perhaps these interactions are quite positive -- perhaps advisor and advisee become friends outside of work, owing in part to these shared interests.

Is there a problem?

There might be. I haven't been in this situation as an advisor, but here are some related questions for discussion, formulated based on additional information in e-mails I have received on this topic:

Does the beyond-campus interaction/friendship affect the advisor-advisee relationship in some ways that are unfair to other advisees?

It could, but I think there are ways to deal with any perceived inequity arising from external interactions with some (but not all) advisees, much as we advisors (should) deal with perceived issues related to the fact that it's normal to enjoy conversing with some advisees more than others. Perhaps with some students, all conversations are restricted to research and other academic topics, whereas with others, conversations may range widely to politics, movies, cats etc. As long as we are alert to the situation and are careful to be equally accessible and supportive of all advisees, this should not be a problem

As a grad student, I had some low-level anxiety that my grad advisor's shared interests with other advisees in certain outdoor activities (in which I did not participate, but they all did together) made him like them more, and that this would color his overall opinions and therefore his letters of reference.. but in the end, there was no reason to worry.

What about the dynamics of the advisor and advisee who share an outside interest? If you are sort-of friends off campus, do you switch off that aspect of your interaction when on campus?

This is where it will be useful to have reader input, as I have not encountered this myself. I can imagine that it could be awkward if you know something about your advisee's personal life -- maybe they are having a crisis, for example -- but you aren't sure whether to acknowledge this on campus, or pretend you don't (really) know because you don't necessarily have this level of knowledge about your other advisees.

A (too) simple answer would be to say that we advisors should just do our advisor-jobs the same way, whether or not we know the details of our advisee's personal lives and even whether or not we like them, and provide whatever professional support is necessary and appropriate in our role as advisor. More difficult would be deciding whether/how to use 'outside knowledge' of an advisee's emotional state when providing (or withholding) criticism of an advisee's work. If you know that an advisee is having personal problems, for example, should you hold back or behave as you would without the additional information/insight?

Speaking from inexperience, I would say to put on your advisor hat and have the professional conversations you need to have with your advisees about their work. Even though you might know that you will likely upset a fragile or sensitive student with criticism (however kindly worded), or you might suspect that you will harm your beyond-campus friendship with an advisee (by exerting your authority as an advisor), you aren't doing an advisee any favors by withholding feedback about their work. If you give a struggling student advice that is constructive -- e.g., here's what you need to do to improve, and here are some suggestions and guidelines (perhaps to be worked out more fully in discussion) -- this might help the student more than if you tread lightly around them, not wanting to upset them.

But that's easy for me to say -- I am not in that situation. So, I am interested to hear from those who are: advisors and students.

20 responses so far

Failed Search

Mar 29 2011 Published by under faculty, interviewing

A longtime reader recently asked an excellent, interesting, and perplexing question:

Why do some faculty searches fail?

A failed search is one in which candidates were interviewed but no one was hired.

Given the large pool of highly qualified applicants for every faculty position, you'd think that searches would never fail. It should always be possible to hire someone good; and not only that, but someone who wants and needs the job. Yet searches do fail, and, although certainly less common than successful searches, failed searches are not so rare.

Economic issues may be involved, but these are typically resolved at an earlier phase of a search. For example, an anticipated search might be canceled after the application stage but before the interview stage, owing to budgetary issues. In some cases, however, a search might be canceled after the interviews. In my academic youth, this happened to me with one position for which I interviewed. After the interview, I got a call saying that the position was "on hold" owing to budgetary issues.

So, economics can play a role, perhaps even more so today, but I'd be surprised if most failed searches are owing to lean budgets. I would expect economic concerns to squelch a search before candidates are brought to campus to interview. Every failed search with which I have been directly involved as a faculty member has failed owing to non-economic reasons.

What are some of these reasons? Here are a few, and I hope readers will add to this list from their own experiences:

1 - All the candidates looked great on paper, but  in person, they were all jerks and/or lacking in creativity, communication skills, and/or ideas for future research. Being a jerk has not traditionally disqualified some faculty from being hired, but encountering a series of unpleasant and uninspiring interviewees definitely decreases a department's enthusiasm for hiring any one of them, especially if they all turn out to have no ideas beyond their awesome doctoral research (e.g., interviewees who say: "I plan to keep on getting more data just like these and see what falls out.").

It's unusual for every candidate interviewed to be deemed unacceptable to hire, but it happens.

As I've described in the FSP blog, I have been surprised over the years by the degree to which some interviewees are willing to be rude, patronizing, and disingenuous to faculty, students, and staff. One minor example from the FSP archives: A candidate for a faculty position, during a meeting between the candidate and the faculty (and only faculty), singled me out to wish me luck with finishing my thesis. That's nice, but, as a tenured professor, I didn't appreciate his kind wishes. This incident was one of several ways in which this candidate demonstrated that he was "out of touch" and unlikely to be a dynamic or desirable colleague. Also, his interview talks were boring.

That search failed, but only temporarily. The search was redone the following year, with great success. This is typical of many failed searches -- the position is filled during a do-over search process.

2 - The top choices accepted other offers, and none of the remaining candidates were deemed hireable. This situation arises if:

(a) The top candidate or candidates have what they consider a better offer or offers, owing to considerations of salary, start-up, geographic preferences etc.; or

(b) The timing of offers is uncoordinated, such that the top candidates have to make decisions about other offers before the university in question is able to put together an offer.

I've also heard of candidates turning down offers because they knew they weren't the #1 choice. I personally think that is a mistake, as there is commonly no real difference among the top candidates, and the ranking of #1 vs. #2 or #4 may come down to details about research specialty. If you take the job, being #2 or #4 in the search doesn't mean your colleagues will forever think of you as second- or fourth-rate, especially since they probably never thought that about you to begin with (although there are exceptions).

Most of the failed searches with which I have been involved had elements of explanations #1 and/or #2, but there are other possibilities:

3 - The department was impressed with all or most of the interviewees, but the Dean would only allow offers to be made (successively) to the top n candidates, with n < number of interviewees the department considered hireable. This happens, although I suspect it is more rare than the other explanations (correct me if I am wrong). Most academics -- including Deans -- know that every single interviewee might be an excellent hire, and, as noted above, ranking them is only done because it has to be done. The one who ended up ranked 4th or 7th or whatever might be a great hire, so why not keep making offers until one is accepted? If the search is terminated after the first or second offer is turned down, it's possible that there are reasons not known to the faculty, but it could mean that an administrator is being short-sighted and focusing only on the ranking (i.e., giving the ranking more significance than it warrants).

A failed search is a tragic thing for all concerned, and represents a lot of time and money. If a department is lucky, it gets to re-do a failed search, perhaps with success the next time because the applicant pool is different, the search is taken in a new direction, or a different search committee is formed to make initial decisions about interviewees.

Some universities have the luxury of being in continuous search mode, rather than conducting episodic searches when a position is open and the powers-that-be permit the search. A few times, I have been invited to give a talk at another university, only to realize during my visit that the department was in crypto-recruiting mode and had brought me in to ask me if I'd consider moving from my current university. In that mode, searches never really "fail", they just keep going until the department finds a good match. That works for some searches, but of course it limits the searches to people who are already known to the faculty, and may not give the searching department a very broad view of the possibilities. I think an open search is better for getting a large and diverse applicant pool, even if this type of search could ultimately fail.

So, faculty readers, have you been involved in a failed search? Why did the search fail? Was it re-done at a later date? With your responses, perhaps we can compile A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Failed Searches.

33 responses so far

Faculty Movers

Jan 19 2011 Published by under career issues, faculty

A swarm of recent questions relates to the topic of moving from one faculty position to another. 'Tis the season for offers and decisions for faculty moves?

As I have described in the FSP blog at various times, I moved from University 1 to University 2 after several years as an Assistant Professor. Before University 1, I taught at a small liberal arts college, but I was there very briefly, so my main move was between universities. The reason for my move was because of my so-called "two body" situation, not owing to any unhappiness with University 1 (in fact, I was very happy there) or because I wanted to move to a higher ranked program (although that's what I did).

The specific reasons for my move may or may not be applicable to others contemplating a faculty move, but a general question is:

When and how do you tell colleagues, administrators, and students at University 1 that you are (contemplating) leaving?

There is no one "right" answer because there are so many variables, but I can describe what I did, and perhaps other readers can share their own stories.

When I was at University 1, I was very dedicated to my institution, department, and students. I had great colleagues, some of whom became (and still are) my friends. I was open with colleagues and administrators about being on the job market and my reasons for doing so. I did not talk about it constantly, but neither was I secretive about it.

I didn't have to tell them, of course, but news travels, and I figured it was better that I tell my colleagues what was going on than that they hear rumors. I felt that this was the right thing to do for me, but I think it would be perfectly fine if someone did not inform their colleagues of any efforts to move. They might hear about it anyway, and some might ask about it. I think that, if asked, it is best to be honest, but you can be vague in your response if you want.

When I was at University 1 but keeping an eye out for jobs where my husband and I could live and work near each other, my graduate students were generally aware of the situation, but I did not inform them of the details (applications, interviews). I think they knew that I would not abandon them -- i.e., that if I did move, we would discuss it then and make a plan for each -- but I saw no reason to go into the gory details until it was relevant to do so.

When the offer from University 2 came, I immediately told my chair and a sympathetic associate dean, who leaped into action and came up with a retention package that included a tenure-track position for my husband (who, by the way, was more than qualified for a faculty position there). That was nice, but it also made the decision about staying vs. leaving a wrenching one. I understand why they couldn't create a position for my husband until pushed to do so, but even so, one reason we left was so that we could both start fresh in a new place.

I ended up staying at University 1 for an extra year, for various reasons, and this allowed my graduate students to finish before I left.

Since then, I have had a few occasions to contemplate leaving University 2 for another university. As a more senior faculty member without a "benign" reason (like a two-body problem) for leaving, I have told only my very closest colleagues about these moving opportunities. I see no reason why anyone else (including students) should know until there is something substantive to tell. There is no point in everyone's being on alert or making alternative plans until there is a real reason to do so.

When I discussed this in the FSP blog before, it was controversial. Some think that students have a right to know everything, even if moving is just the faintest glimmer in their advisor's eye. I can understand that, but I don't agree with it. The process of possibly luring a professor to a new institution can be a very long and indirect courtship, and can involve offers and counter-offers. Unless someone is 100% determined to leave, which I am not, I don't see the point of keeping a research group on alert for possible major disruption when there may not actually be any disruption.

There is a well-known advantage of possibly-moving in that this is how you demonstrate your worth at some universities (unfortunately) and this may be the only way to get some big-ticket items (a major raise, a job for your significant other); it can also be a route to early tenure and promotion. To my surprise, I have found that the rumor of having outside offers from excellent schools can have an energizing effect on some administrators; in some cases, it is not necessary to have an actual offer in hand.

Supposedly, men are better at negotiating retention packages as a result of outside offers, whereas women worry about being seen as disloyal, or they may fear that they won't get an offer of a retention. I don't know, but I don't think it is disloyal and I wouldn't worry about not getting a retention offer. Even if you get an outside offer, you don't have to take it. You can present it, see what happens, and then decide what is best for you and your family.

My advice, in summary: If you want to move or have to move, and you have the opportunity: just do it. Do it well, though, taking care of your graduate students and postdocs, if you have them, and dealing with all the bureaucratic fun of moving grants and other research-related stuff and figuring out a new university system and moving your cats.

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