Monday, July 31, 2006

A different perspective on the job changing issue

Recently, Dr. Crazy over at Reassigned Time has been discussing her decision to go on the job market to look for another academic job. Basically, she's thought through some aspects of her life that are good and not so good at her current job, and thinks she should look for a job that's a better fit.

She got two distinct sorts of responses, in favor, and against, as you might expect, and has been discussing those responses in more recent posts. Other folks, notably New Kid on the Hallway have also posted on the issue (and here).

I posted a response to Dr. Crazy in which I encouraged her on the market, and wished her luck. As I said there, I changed jobs and am very happy I did.

But some of the responses got me thinking, especially the responses that said she should work to change the problems at her current job rather than leaving, and responses that noted how difficult junior faculty leaving is for remaining faculty.

I'm sympathetic to those issues, but I have a slightly different take. I'm now on my way to mid-career as a faculty member, I suppose, though not to most minds having a notably stellar career in many ways. But I really like my life, and especially to the point, my work, colleagues, students, department, university, and community. That doesn't mean I think they're perfect, but I'm overall happy.

I've left a job I wasn't happy at, and I've had friends and colleagues leave the place where I'm pretty happy. That puts me sort of in the middle.

The thing is, as someone in mid-career now, fairly comfortable in my department, when I look around at junior members of my department, I see two types, the people I really want to stay, and people I'm indifferent to (or worse). When I think about the possibility of a couple people leaving, it makes me ask myself, why would they want to leave.

Okay, there are a LOT of reasons one would want to leave, some of them very important and valid. Many of those things, I can't really change. Trust me, if I could make the Northwoods winter a little shorter and less cold, I would. If I could make the state pay us twice what it does, I'd be happy to do that too.

But there are ways I can affect the lives of my junior colleagues. And if I want them to stay, I want them to be happy staying, then it's in my interest to take some initiative and try to make the university and community a good place for them.

In my department, that means mentoring folks, making sure they have honest feedback on their work, giving them opportunities to learn and gain experience, helping them pick up the pieces after mishaps.

In my university, that means not sitting back when a department is being notoriously sexist. (And boy, this is a hard issue; but I was pissed off recently when a very senior member of another department was talking about the notorious sexism of another department in years past, and complaining that the dean didn't do enough to change it. Here's the thing: once you have tenure, then it's your responsibility to act, even if it's uncomfortable. I have a feeling this one's going to be hard for me, because I'm not very good at uncomfortable.)

That also means taking a stand against the good old boy favoritism that's ruled and still rules many parts of my university. (Another hard issue!)

When am I sure that favoritism is favoritism, and not just coincidence? What about when things might appear to be favoritism, but may not actually be? Should deans and their buds not play golf together because they talk shop, and may make decisions that put the buds in positions of power? After all, a dean might nominate his bud for some position without really thinking hard about the fact that they golf together; he knows the bud, knows they can work well together, and the bud seems an obvious choice. But to those on the outside, the bud's getting favoritism, and it's bad. (Yes, deans should be aware enough to avoid such problems, and when you find one that really is, give me her/his name, please.)

One of Dr. Crazy's issues has to do with the difficulty of being a single person in a community of mostly married folks. I really get this problem. I think by the time folks are done with grad school, most are married. Certainly, in any job I've held, most colleagues are either married or divorced.

Still, is there a way to make single folks more comfortable in communities?

I think there are ways.

First, married folks should socialize with folks who aren't married, and vice versa. Really. And you're allowed to socialize outside of a couples' setting.

Offer introductions: If there's a biking or poker or Friday afternoon at a certain pub thing, invite your junior colleagues, even, yes, the single ones! And not only the junior good old boys. If there's a gay or lesbian group you know about, make sure junior folks know and feel welcome.

If you're in a small town, make sure the junior faculty member knows where s/he can buy liquor and birth control without getting jerked around (even if it's the next town over), make sure s/he learns about bookshops and restaurants in the nearest cities.

Make sure junior faculty get opportunities to meet faculty in other departments, especially on mid-sized and larger campuses.

Which is all to say that I think changing schools for the better is primarily the responsibility of people with tenure who have a sense of the schools' history and the power to effect some kinds of changes.

(Okay, while I'm sounding off about stuff, can we get OB/gyns' and family doctors' offices to have at least a FEW magazines that aren't focused on breeding, breastfeeding, or raising spawn? Seriously, I'm radical enough to imagine that women who have spawn also have brains and might enjoy an Utne Reader or something. And I know for sure that after years of putting energy into trying NOT to have spawn, I'm uninterested in reading magazines about how to create and raise spawn. Thanks. /psa off)


  1. Thanks for this - as a very junior faculty member, it is really nice to hear someone articulate things that are about helping folks like me ease into our workplaces.

  2. This post is fantastic - particularly the tips about what it takes to make junior faculty who are single feel at home. I think a lot of times when people are coupled, esp. if with children, it can be easier to establish new social networks, but when you're a single jr. faculty person, it's very easy to have the job become your whole life, while all the while your partnered senior colleagues imagine that you are out gallivanting around sex-and-the-city-like.

  3. Nice post. It strikes me that the pre-tenureperiod is not simply one in which the institution gauges the faculty member, but as in the case of Dr. C, vice versa as well.

    What I am particularly struck by is that this process doesn't end when we earn tenure--we've done (or in my case, hopefully, will do) more than simply decide to stay, we should also be deciding how to engage the place where we're staying.

  4. Great post. (I especially appreciate your PSA at the end of the post!) Seriously, I think these are excellent points. I did want to respond to Dr. Crazy's comment about it being easier to find a social network if you're coupled: I don't think this is exactly the case. If you have kids, it does help, though I know people who aren't thrilled about being friends with someone just because they both have children. If you don't have kids, and a lot of your colleagues/other people your age do, that's another tension in the social network dilemma. The thing about being coupled is just that it's easier to get along without a major social network - not that I think couples should (or can) be EVERYTHING to each other (can I tell you how many times I've wished for that cool close girlfriend to hang out with, something that LDH can't replace no matter how wonderful he is?), but it's easier than being on your own.

    Which is not to negate Dr Crazy's points - I just think building a social network is hard regardless of one's personal situation. Hence, the need for cool colleagues like Bardiac to help out!

  5. Excellent post. As someone who just got tenure (and, I suppose, is entering "mid-career"), I feel a lot of responsibility for making sure junior colleagues are treated well. I feel like printing out your post and taping it to my wall!