Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Annie From Abelard Has a Choice

I've posted here before about how I snapped at a student and then got a real job. I've mentioned multiple times how my university incentivizes us to publish (and how these incentives allowed me to keep eating as an adjunct). Well, I've been publishing and researching pretty prolifically by my university's standards and I got a study published in a pretty respected publication and have another one slated to be published as well. On one of them I definitely got lucky: I happened to be researching for nine months a topic that became super topical, like, a month and a half ago. So while I'm sure that there were better studies being conducted, most of them started when the issue became topical and were still at least six months or so out. This is relevant background, not putting feathers in my cap, I promise!

Dean comes to my cubicle super early in the morning. Oh, shit. Either I'm in trouble or he needs something done in excel (department chair is computer illiterate; all excel work that we need falls to me). Neither is good. He gives his character weak smile/cringe, the smile he gives no matter what the occasion. It's a smile that says "Hey, sweetheart, your dog just died."

"Hey, Annie. Got a moment?"

"Well... not really. I have a class in like half an hour and I couldn't really grade on the train..."

"Alright, I'll be quick, then." He sits down in the chair of the person I share a double with. Jesus it's too early for this.

"You've been quite the busy bee with the publishing."

He expects a response. Oh, man. I nod.

"I bet you could probably publish even more than you already have been if you had more time, though, yeah?"

"Uh, yeah. I guess. But I have to teach as well." Where is this going?

"What if you didn't? See, we're trying to start a small research fellowship and we'd like you to chair it."

I'm not quite sure how to take this. Part of me still suspects I'm being fired.

"What would that entail?"

"Well... you wouldn't really teach anymore. One class a year. You'd be expected to publish with an emphasis on research and you'd be responsible for two junior fellows."

My university is not known for its research but wants to be. I was told that this is part of why they hired me by my mentor. I'm not very quick on my feet so he kind of just keeps going.

"The funding is pretty good for the size of the fellowship, I think, though it's not extraordinary. But the compensation is probably a bit more generous than you're used to." He clearly expects a response now.

"Well... I always envisioned myself teaching, I guess?"

Another weak smile/cringe. "Look, you're welcome here as a professor. But that's not where your strengths are. Most professors here are better than you at teaching and worse than you at research and publishing. That is just how it is. So your choice is really a mediocre career in teaching, sorry to put it that way, or a stellar career in research and publishing where you're renowned in your field."

He said some motivational speaker-y things after that and it was whatever. But that was the important part. I'm still kind of spinning. To be told that bluntly that I'm not, in fact, a very good instructor was kind of hard. But maybe not altogether wrong. My first post here, after all, was describing how I snapped in a truly awful way at a student. I always kind of knew research was my strong suit, but I always sort of just imagined myself teaching and imparting that knowledge directly to students. I can't help but feel that they brought me and kept me as an adjunct with the intent to throw me into research the whole time, which makes me feel a weird combination of cheap and valuable. Here are my Pros and Cons:

  • I looked into it. The compensation is fucking LAVISH compared to what I'm used to. 
  • I get my name out there and get to spend time researching, which a lot of other professors who teach to fund their research would kill for. 
  • My lack of seniority vanishes overnight as an issue. The research fellowship wouldn't be subject to seniority rules so I wouldn't have to start at the bottom of the pack. 
  • Management experience??? 
  • $$$$ for real food! 
  • Research! 
  • No students...  :)
  • More time demanding, probably. 
  • I'll have to grant fellowships and approve research areas. I would hate having to be in the position of denying someone something, but would probably get used to it. 
  • Won't get to impress students who are TOTALLY interested in and awed by my FASCINATING research. 
  • No students...  :(


  1. Consider yourself very lucky. First, you have a dean who is honest with you, even when delivering bad news. That's better than one who keeps that info to himself then surprises you later.

    You don't list one of the biggest perks of this new job: administrative experience. (Maybe you already have this so it doesn't matter.) Being not-terrible at teaching, good at research, and knowing how to manage people is a nice combination of skills in higher education. It can open doors for you in the future.

    Take it.

  2. This generally sounds good to me, too (and Ben is probably in a better position to judge than I). It sounds like you didn't say either "yes" or "no" definitely, which is also good (always say "I need time to think about this").

    It strikes me that now (right now!) is the time to network like mad, not only to find out what mentors you currently have think of this proposition, but also to find out what people who've held this kind of position at this kind of institution think of the offer (and you should make sure to get the specifics of the offer -- salary, yes, and also job duties, publication expectations, service expectations, and the like -- spelled out as soon as possible). You need to know what you need to do the job well (assuming it can be done well in your institutional context -- it's possible that there are some unrealistic expectations involved), and you need to negotiate for that. You also need to understand what both the best-case and worst-case scenarios are, and plan for those. Honestly, if you're running a research something-or-other at a teaching-oriented institution (unless, perhaps, it's a research program aimed at involving students in research), you're probably eventually going to be looking to move on.

    For whatever it's worth, my dirty lens is that I believe too many schools in the U.S. (and elsewhere), including my own, are trying to increase their research profile because that's what's prestigious when they might better serve their multiple constituencies by focusing more on teaching.

    On the other hand, I strongly believe people should focus on their strengths, and that individual faculty members should take/make what opportunities they can to capitalize on their strengths in their own institutional (or lack of institutional) contexts.

    tl;dr: investigate; negotiate; go for it.

    1. Also: cool graphic! Can't remember whether we've seen that one before, but I think it appropriately captures both the promise and the possible dangers of the situation (because I'm getting the sense you don't quite trust this dean, and I'm assuming you have some reasons, conscious and/or unconscious, for feeling that way).

      Also also -- you will need to get over, quickly, the fear of disappointing people (the dean, applicants, your parents/mentors/other authority figures, commenters on CM). I haven't read it myself yet, but I've heard Sarah Knight's The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (actual title has actual word; see http://whatnow.typepad.com/whatnow/2016/07/on-not-giving-a-f.html for one review) is pretty good.

      I also suspect Academic Monkey could give you some good advice if she were around.

    2. I want this book. I want to live the title.

      I seem to remember a graphic like that on these pages before.

  3. Congratulations, Annie! You can tell what an organization values by where it puts its re$ources. I'm with Ben and Cassandra. Take it!

  4. Take it, you fool!

    Remember: it's permanent for THEM, not for you. If you choice is adjunct work, you can get that anywhere at the drop of a hat.

  5. This fellowship has never existed at your school before, Annie, so get the details in writing. Then consider asking for more, because I get the impression they need you more than you realize.

    1. I agree with Bubba. Research how much similar positions are paid at other schools and yours. Know what you can get then negotiate.

  6. I was incomplete now that I read your comments:

    -He encouraged me to take time to think about it and to approach him if I had any questions.
    -They are currently in the process of drafting the grants and he and HR are creating the job descriptions.
    -They're currently kibitzing over whether the fellowship should be in my department or answer directly to the Dean. The union doesn't want it to be in the department so we'll probably be separate with a sort of dotted line connecting us.
    -Our offices will be in the administrative suite (bare-boned but spacious and well-lit; very corporate, redone in the last couple of years).
    -There will be a budget for an administrative assistant; their hiring will be handled by Admin. Services.
    -The details will ALL be in writing in a letter of offer when everything is finalized. My university is very good about making sure it's i's are dotted, for better and worse sometimes.

    He expects all of that to be done in about a week and just wanted to give me a heads up so I wouldn't be surprised when I was approached with a formal offer. which would be through HR.

    I've looked into the raw compensation, which they figured out based on market research (which they were kind enough to provide for me). I actually have a lot of friends who do salary adjustments and what-not for a living (old classmates) so I'll run it by them.

    I'm going to accept. It's a generous offer and I think it's the correct career move. Even the finances alone would be enough to compel me. I'll certainly have enough money that I will no longer be able to make excuses to stay with the folks. But I'm going to do my research and make sure it's fair.

    1. Sounding pretty good. Congratulations!

  7. Annie, in addition to all the above excellent advice you've already received that affirms your choice, let me add my own thoughts.

    1) You were raised with us, you are one of us. By taking this position, you've kept it out of the clutches of the career administrative class: you know, those toolsacks who have never been in front of a classroom or had to do research of the type they feel qualified to "manage". If only to prevent that outcome, we needed you to take this one for the team. Thank you.

    2) There is value in being recognized for having a particular set of skills (I am taking for granted that upon introspection, you agree with the assessment), and in being promoted into positions that allow you to excercise and develop those skills. I can tell you that similar things have happened to me, and it has worked out pretty well. I am not doing what I originally set out to do, but (many {if not most} days) I feel like I am where I should be. The same will be true for you.

    3) They want you to keep teaching. Not only will you find it rewarding and continue to develop in that arena, it will also keep you connected with one of the fundamental missions of a university. It strikes me that your administration "gets it" and that they will be reasonable and, dare I say it, comparatively easy to work with. The downside is there may be less misery for you to report here, but that's a trade I'm happy to make. (There will still be misery. Sorry. But you will live through it, ad you will spill it, here. Please?)