Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Linkedin

Ask a Senior Colleague- Spring 2015

Question 1: I’m doing well at my current institution and will very likely be promoted soon. However, I’m seriously considering accepting an offer at a different institution. What types of things should I consider during the negotiation process for the new job? There are the obvious things such as salary, rank, and tenure (e.g., a shortened tenure clock), but what other items should someone in my position be thinking about? It has been several years since I have been on the job market and I am not sure how or whether the negotiation process is different at this point in my career than what it was like when I was an ABD job candidate.

Answer 1a: I would say that the terrain has changed from when you were hired. The prospective employer will probably expect a strong record of teaching and research, and your tenure clock could be shortened accordingly.  Don't expect too much - I will recount a recent case in which an assistant professor applicant with an outstanding record ran into trouble when he was able to negotiate only two rather than three or even four years off the tenure clock (he was in the 5th year at his own university).  He only managed to pull it off when the second candidate (his competition) took a job elsewhere, and the dean acceded to his demands rather than have a failed search - to a degree. The candidate did receive three years off the tenure clock but is unable to count any of his publications for his fourth year review (and had to accept a lower salary than expected).  In other words, his progress toward tenure at my university will be judged according to the number of publications and grants that he has received since his appointment with us. However, the negotiations were protracted and left sour feelings on both sides, which is not a good way to start a new job.

In another case, an advanced assistant professor was offered the position and then wanted one for her partner as well. This one is a puzzle, because dual hires are quite common at my university, but her "hidden agenda" and dogged insistence teed-off our chair and dean. In both cases, the candidates seemed to be too demanding for their own good. Even with the first candidate, the offer would have been withdrawn if the second candidate had taken the job instead. The take-home message is this:  compile a list of "must-haves" but be prepared to compromise if you want the job and don't expect to have third, fourth, or fifth rounds of negotiations. Our dean, who is a very determined man, usually cuts it off if the second offer isn't good enough for the candidate.

In terms of what to say about changing institutions at this point in your career, you should be honest (to a degree) without denigrating your present university. I would emphasize why the prospective university appears to be a better fit, although if you wish to move for personal reasons, then you might want to add this to the mix. As a chair or member of many search committees over the years, I always wonder why someone wants to move and the field is small enough to know if the candidate's prepared answer comports with reality. So, don't stray too much from the truth.

While I am at it, make sure that you appear to be equally friendly with all members of a prospective department during interviews. I can't tell you how many times a candidate seems to gravitate toward someone they like (especially if they're around the same age) rather than the faculty as a whole. These candidates rarely get my vote.

Answer 1b: Aside from the usual negotiated items (salary, moving costs, start-up money, course load) I would assume you are more established in your research &/or teaching areas. I would consider requesting any specific items/funds that support you in those efforts. For example, request a TA (undergrad or grad) to assist in research or teaching, or flexible teaching schedule to allow for Friday trips to a research site, or funds for using university vehicles to travel/bring students to research sites/field trips. Or perhaps funding for an extra conference. The worst they can say is no.

If you are bringing funding with you, be sure to understand how that will transfer, and whether the new institution will (& can) support that research. Not all universities are as prepared as they think to support funded research.

I would seriously consider requesting tenure clock credit. However, how many years credit is the tough part. At my present position I was able to bring in 2 years credit, they said they would go for up to 3 years credit. In my case, I wanted to be sure to be able to make the strongest case when I went up for P&T-obviously---so I requested 2 years. What is worth considering here is that your first semester, at least, will be a lot of acculturation, new faculty meetings, getting settled in your new home, finding your way around the town, and generally being less productive than you would normally be. My University has new faculty orientation, and then bi-weekly meetings for the first 2 semesters! That is a lot of "extra" in our already busy schedules.

It's also worth thinking about the type of institution that you are in & where you may be going. Taking 2 years of credit to a smaller regional university vs. to a big R1, or private college can make a lot of difference. Depending how that transfer works for you, it might be best to take 3 years credit, or 1...again to support your efforts at earning P&T.

Answer 1c: You have the basics in hand, so depending on your research agenda and timeline, you may want to negotiate aspects of your work load as you begin at a new institution.  As an example, if this is a research-intensive university, can you negotiate a reduction in teaching for more research time?  If you want this, think about how to present your research agenda and productivity to argue your case.  What will your advising load be?  Is that something you want to include in negotiations?  Does your research require equipment and/or software, space, subscriptions that you can request?  And do you want to make this part of a start-up fund?  What you negotiate for, and how you do it, depends a great deal on the strength of what you will be bringing with you, and potential impact that you can successfully substantiate.  If you already have an offer the new institution must want you, so make an honest wish list that will fully support your scholarly and other professional ambitions and plans, and speak with them frankly about what you want and need, and what you will contribute to your new department, institution, and the field.


Question 2: I’m a new faculty member in a fairly large department and am trying to do a better job of networking at my institution. When I walk into an event on campus, though, it seems so much easier to socialized with faculty members I already know. What are some of the best ways for me to network at social events without it being completely awkward? And how do I respond when a senior colleague is completely unfriendly or rude?

Answer 2a: I can sympathize with your dilemma. As a new assistant professor, it can be difficult to break into established social networks or, if you are shy, to force yourself to do so.  In the first instance, I would join a university committee where you can get to know people in a small group. Then, after your service period ends, join another committee in order to extend your number of contacts.  For large events, I would ask someone whom you already know at the event to introduce you to a third party (or ask if you can join a small group if someone you know is already there), and extend yourself at this point, perhaps by expressing an interest in his or her field.  Get them talking about professional interests and projects - it works every time!  If you seem to hit it off, invite the person to lunch and go from there.

It is sometimes difficult to get past the intense social ranking that academics seem to revel in, but there is always someone who is "at your level" either in terms of rank or being welcoming and personable. If there is a faculty club on campus, sit next to someone who is by herself and start a conversation if it seems feasible. Perhaps also befriend the most sociable person in your department who likes to stage dinners or parties and can introduce you to her many friends. And as always, approach or respond to people with a big smile and open demeanor. You might be cringing inside, but personal warmth is crucial to making friends at this juncture of your career.

As for the unfriendly senior colleague, shame on him/her!  I have had a similar experience, and can give you a few tips.  In the first instance, do not respond by badmouthing the senior colleague behind his or her back. This reaction can come back to bite you (e.g., in relation to tenure). In the second instance, I would bite the bullet and seek every opportunity to be nice, ask advice, and be respectful. Sit next to him or her at faculty meetings, smile, and make eye contact.  If the tension is really bad, then consider visiting the person in question to ask what is wrong. Are there cliques in your department?  If so, do you appear to have taken sides, perhaps against the senior colleague's clique?  Do whatever you can to dispel this notion. In my own case, I was seen as the chair's hire rather than the faculty's choice when I joined the department. It was pretty miserable for a while but I finally won over the most intransigent senior faculty person by chatting with him about the matter, voting with him (on minor matters) at faculty meetings, seeking his advice, and making it clear that I would never seek to undermine him. This strategy worked so well and so quickly that I was asked to give his retirement speech for the department.  Good luck with the quest to broaden your social networks on campus.

Answer 2b: Within the department, try, once in a while, bringing a coffee cake & leaving it in the break room/copy room. Or if you are a baker, cookies/etc. This gives you an opportunity to stop by people's offices to let them know it is there. This also becomes an ice breaker, you can inquire how they like teaching X-class, or that you saw they are involved in the campus NAACP. You can also keep a bowl of candy on your desk, and you will soon have people dropping by for a piece of chocolate and the conversation that comes with it. The key though is not to do this too often; you do not want to be the departmental baker!

If your department does not have a break room-type location, use the stuff people stick on their doors as an icebreaker. To me, I hate to sit in my office all day---I like to get up now & then stretch my legs, stop by a colleague's office & chat for a few minutes. Your colleagues know you are new and will want to get to know you too---but we all have our work patterns (a/k/a ruts) that we fall into---I would say feel free to pop in for a minute.

At larger functions, I think it is important to socialize with your departmental colleagues. These can be a great time to relax a bit, maybe discuss the latest ball game, or current events---laid back, casual conversation. It is equally important to begin to connect with others too. Look for that person standing alone, approach them and your new-ness to the university is a great opening for a conversation. Keep in mind, we are all not good at the meet & greet. A little effort at meeting the person standing alone (they may be seeking someone to chat with too!) can broaden your network.

To my knowledge, most universities offer a variety of training sessions. These can help you improve your teaching, use of campus resources, whatever. I would suggest attending these from time to time---don't overextend yourself. You can meet people who are similarly interested in the topic of the training session. Additionally, you can use some of these trainings as "professional development" which always looks good on the annual reviews!

I would also consider joining a committee/coalition/group that you are interested it. These can help you network, gain new views on shared research ideas, and provide support for your research and/or teaching. For example, join the campus anti-sexual assault coalition and you are likely among link-minded folks that you will find easier to network with, and provide a service component for that P&T file. You will find that through joining one or two of these groups your network will grow. However, keep in mind not to overextend yourself, and that it's OK to say no.

Taking part in some of these networking opportunities makes that large campus event seem smaller---you'll know people from various places & then meet their friends and colleagues.

Dealing with a rude/unfriendly senior colleague is difficult. Realize that you may never know the source of their rudeness...and don't worry about it. I would advise you to treat them just as you treat the nice colleagues, say good morning to them as you would anyone else. If you bring cookies to share, offer them too. Take the high road, do not ignore them, do not "ice" them out, but you need not deal with them any more than is required for business. When you have questions, ask someone else. As this rude colleague sees you being professional & doing good work---any change in behavior is on them to do.

Answer 2c: First off, seems to me that the department should be going out of their way to welcome you, rather than leaving you to find your own way.  But if this is not in the culture of your new department, a good way to open up the conversation at social events is to introduce yourself and prompt a conversation by asking about your new acquaintance's work.  Another way to meet new colleagues is to ask those you already know to introduce you to folks with whom you may have teaching and/or research interests in common, or at least ask those you know to indicate some others you might like to meet.  You could do a little homework by scanning abstracts of some of your colleagues' recent publications, a campus newsletter or newspaper, announcements of new courses, sponsorship of clubs and events (all this usually indicated on faculty web pages) and begin a new conversation with reference to something they've just done.  Ask questions.  Check out what is happening on campus that fits with your interests, and soon enough you should see the same people in the same places and get to know them.  All this can be hard, especially if you're shy or new to the academic culture.

As for the rude or unfriendly senior colleague, how sad:  I suggest that you smile, politely excuse yourself, and move on to work with or socialize with those who treat you with respect and kindness.  Rude, unfriendly people deserve no deference, no matter how senior, but you don't want to create bad feelings, either.  Try to keep your perspective about their bad behavior, not any shortcoming of yours in the situation.  This senior colleague is quite senior and still has to deal with rude and unfriendly colleagues.  For whatever reasons they think they may have, some people are just nasty and unpleasant, and you cannot avoid them at work.  But you can smile politely.  Stay on the moral high ground.  Then move on and make a friend with someone else to ease the sting and forge a positive connection.   (Just a quick final note, though:  if the nastiness becomes persecution, you must speak to your department chair, mentor, dean, or other supervisor/advisor who can document, advise, and even help to protect you from difficulties going forward.)