Ask the grumpies: Advice for moving institutions

Mimi asks

I am an Assistant Professor at a directional state school, where I have taught for 4.5 years. I am moving after this semester to a much better, highly ranked private institution (in a much better location! with a job for my husband!) and I am beyond excited about it.

At my current institution, I did way too much service (sitting on university wide committees, directing a program) partially because I didn’t say no, partially because the institution is full of men who think that female professors should be on all committees relating to teaching and do all service, partially because I was thrown under the bus by my chair and dean. Needless to say, I am delighted to be moving. And that I am better at saying no now than I was 5 years ago.

My big question is this: what advice would you give someone who was moving about adapting to the new place? Are there things that faculty who have come to your departments / former departments did that drove you nuts? That you saw as particularly savvy or smart? I am bringing lots of credit on the tenure clock to the new place, so I have one year there before I go through the tenure process, if that matters. 

Oh gee, once again we’re pretty useless on this one.  Congratulations on the new job and fixing all sorts of problems!

Most likely you’ll be able to dodge excess service this year because you’re new and you’re doing that last-minute tenure push.  As a tenured person if you’re in a good place, you’ll take on more service than pre-tenure people do because you’ll be protecting pre-tenure people.  Unless, of course, they’re hiring you because they don’t have enough people to do service(!), in which case your load might be a bit higher than expected.  Do ask around what the normal load is for pre-tenure folk, and not just for women.

I don’t think there’s been anything off-the-wall with people we’ve had move from other institutions in either positive or negative directions.  One of my colleagues delayed going up for tenure for too long (negotiated a really long clock upon coming) which meant ze sailed through tenure, but hir letters read things like, “I thought this request would be for promotion to full,” but that doesn’t sound like your situation since you’ve only negotiated a one year clock.  (Granted, ze was able to take advantage of pre-tenure perks like leave and a post-doc.)

People hired without tenure have tended to be a bit more tentative as a group than people hired with.  They’re quieter at meetings, and don’t tend to provide opinions unless directly asked.  People hired with tenure have come in and changed things up (for the better!) or come in just as quietly as the pre-tenure.  It depends on their personality.  Who is to say what is right, though?  We’ve had first year hires every bit as opinionated and active as people hired with tenure.  As long as the goals are good and the environment is supportive and non-toxic, it’s ok to speak up.  If everyone has the same goals of moving the department forward, supporting the students, and doing good work, then disagreements become discussions rather than problems.  Still, if you’re pushing for tenure right away, there are benefits to keeping your head down.

We do think that the really important thing is to remember that academia is just a job and that there are a lot of other jobs out there.  As such, you don’t really need to try to game the system.  Do what you need to do to be a good researcher (and good teacher and good citizen) and, more importantly, to enjoy that research and teaching and service.  Focus on what gives you meaning.  Maybe stepping lightly that first year as you get your bearing, but if anything is too horrible, remember, you can always leave again.

So… not really that great advice above, but we’re hoping our readers can give better advice!  Maybe we’ll jump over and ask Historiann if she can signal boost for us so you can truly get some good advice from a variety of people in academia.

11 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Advice for moving institutions”

  1. Perpetua Says:

    I’ve switched institutions more than once, so my main advice would to remember that every institution has its own culture and norms (as does every department). Remember to give yourself some leeway to figure out the different systems, both formal and informal. Be aware and respectful that you don’t always know the context or the backstory to a particular issue, and try to do more listening than talking at first no matter what your tenure status. Figure it out before you jump in, is my guide to a smooth(er) transition. Also, remember that it will take longer than you think to get everything sorted (how do reimbursements work, how do I get new courses on the catalog, what should courses be capped at, etc so many tiny questions at first!).

    • Brian Ogilvie Says:

      Great advice. I think it’s good for someone coming in to get to know as many colleagues as possible; if it’s a huge department, maybe not all, but those in and near your subfield and those who seem interesting. Have coffee with them. Ask them what they’re working on, what the sentiment on campus is about the students/the administration/the state (if you’re at a public). Pay attention to how things are different from your previous institution(s), but don’t assume that things done differently are being done worse. As Perpetua says, listen more than you talk.

      And for FSM’s sake, be decent to people who support your work (admin assistants, secretaries, IT folks, etc.). Having a good relationship with them is vital, especially when you’re trying to figure out a new system when your colleagues might assume that, because you’re not fresh out of grad school, you should know how things work. Plus, it’s just another aspect of being a decent human being.

  2. I bleg your pardon: tips for moving onward and upward? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Says:

    […] Nicoleandmaggie have a letter from a reader who got a new, better job (yay!) who wants advice for th…. And they apparently think that my readers can help! A little flava: […]

  3. Historiann Says:

    Arrghhhh! Sorry. Thought I published a post directing people here a few hours ago! I would just add that Perpetua’s advice is great, and she’s a superstar, so heed her.

  4. Susan Says:

    I’ll just echo Perpetua, and say it’s astonishing how many things you have to figure out — never mind reimbursements, you can’t count on the CMS being what you’re used to. You should ask for a menotr to help you adjust to the ways of the new place, and you should feel free to say to that person, How much reading do you usually assign? Can I assign this kind of paper? How much service is usually expected? (Of course, not all at once, but the local culture is pedagogical as well as service oriented.) Use your move (“we’re still settling in”) and the tenure clock (“I’ve got to get my file in”) as reasons to limit your service in your first year.

    Otherwise, SLAC’s are notorious for asking lots of service. So you may not be free of service demands, but you can take the opportunity to ensure that your service is in line with that of others at your level.

  5. Doctor Cleveland Says:

    I would of coure echo Perpetua and Susan. There’s a lot of listening to do at any new job, and a lot of learning. You not only need to learn the new system and the bureaucratic details, but also to learn the local culture and folkways (the way things really get done), and these take longer because the people who have already internalized those folkways often have trouble articulating them. Every job has its own water that the local fish swim in without really noticing, but you shouldn’t forget that the water is there.

    I’d also urge you to build individual relationships. No one thrives with a single mentor; you need a whole set of relationships. And if you’ve been pigeonholed as a service worker bee in the past, you might consider prioritizing research relationships. The fact that tenure is looming gives upon more incentive to do this, Which senior colleagues can you share or discuss work with? How can you build relationships with colleagues in your own sub field? If people are talking with you about your research, they will think and talk about you as a researcher.

    Learning to say no to excessive service is crucial. We all have to learn that, and almost all of us learn it iteratively. But the other side of saying no to service is raising the other elements of your profile. People are less likely to think of you as just a service drone if you make them think of you in other contexts.

  6. JaneB Says:

    We’ve had a lot of new people lately, and the one thing that really riles us old timers is constant reference to how things were done at the place you just came from/studied. Sure, ask us how it’s done here, share how it is different occasionally, but preferably wait to be asked (we’ll ask if we’re interested), but PLEASE don’t start every other sentence with “At X, we always…”

    You are now at Y. Everything is different. Some things are harder, some easier, some worse, some better. Students still range from brilliant to idle, and are all young, intellectually if not in other ways, but the composition of the student body and local norms for interacting with it are different. So taking time to learn local norms and rules before challenging them, circumventing them or redefining them is a sensible thing to do…

    • Historiann Says:

      “[T]he one thing that really riles us old timers is constant reference to how things were done at the place you just came from/studied.”

      HA-ha. Yes. Excellent point, JaneB. I think we could be friends.

      I think the writer of this email is thrilled to be leaving Directional X University behind, this is a great tip esp. for young turks moving from major research unis to schools that are likelier of a much lower profile and (in the humanities at least) with a lot fewer resources. I wish we could do things like they do them at Wisconsin, Berkeley, Texas, Yale, UCLA, or Michigan! Truly I do, but that’s not in the nature of my job or of the university I serve (sadly!)

  7. LadyProf Says:

    Great questions, Mimi.
    Changing oppressive conditions is hard. Historiann has a brilliant phrase, “patriarchal equilibrium.” Having made more than one move, like Perpetua in this respect, I’ve found that saying “Let’s not make young women do all the work” tends to fare relatively well: People get it.


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