Ask the grumpies: Academic jobs tricks

CG asks:

Jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general.

I like the, “Yes, but…” when it comes to service.  Yes, I will do this service thing, but I have to stop doing this other thing.

Staying out of fights about molehills is another one.

If you want to get something done at a faculty meeting, talking to people one-on-one before the faculty meeting to get them on board.

If you’re running a meeting, make sure you have an agenda.  Also start the meeting on time even if only one other person is there.  Once you have a reputation for this, people stop wandering in late as much.

Grumpy Academics, what are your jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general? 

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9 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Academic jobs tricks”

  1. Julie Says:

    I like all of these. I’d add: as far as possible, be strict with how much time you allocate to things e.g. I will allocate 20 minutes to comment on this report/respond to this person/write this reference. Copy and paste whenever possible. It doesn’t always work, but it can stop small things sucking away too much time.

  2. Coree Says:

    I give myself a very strict limit to lecture writing. If I give myself all day, I’ll take all day. Work expands to give the time you give it. On the same principle, I also just save all my non-urgent emails until I’m in transit (airport 2x a week).

    I’ve also started using Calendly to let students book in (at times where I’m unlikely to get concentrated work done anyways) rather than sitting around during office hours.

  3. Michael Nitabach Says:

    Rigorously distinguish between urgent tasks (especially when it’s someone else’s urgency) and important tasks (especially as defined by your own scholarly goals), and always be mindful of not allowing the former to suck up excessive time & energy at the expense of the latter.

  4. af Says:

    Make sure there are good minutes for important meetings. Sometimes you have to take them yourself – though never volunteer or agree to take minutes for meetings that are unimportant to you. If you can’t bear to take notes and there is no good minute-taker, send immediate followup emails confirming decisions etc. to the people who were there (with a “correct me if I’m wrong” kind of caveat) and anyone who needs to know about it.

    Only agree to chair committees or do major service (faculty governance, union, etc.) on issues you care about. Try to get people on the committee/senate/etc. who also a) care and b) are capable of doing good work. You will learn who these people are by serving on committees for a few years. They may not always be your friends and you may not agree with them on things, but they are the people to work with. (Conversely, agree to serve on their committees to build up good will.)

    For these people, be like C.J. on the West Wing re: Toby: ” You get my support the same way I get yours: when I agree with what you’re saying or when I don’t care about what you’re saying.”

  5. First Gen American Says:

    These are all Great tips and work for the private sector too.

    Our version of service is helping out on projects that aren’t directly tied to our metrics. “Being on cross functional teams” to fix or implement something new or drive some change at the company, leading an affinity group, etc.

    I led the women’s network out of choice but then I was asked to chair it over and over after my term was up. When I no longer had the capacity, I’d say, this is a great opportunity for an up and coming staff member to show their leadership skills. What about x person?

    I used yes but all the time at my last job for things like organizing big events. My boss always wanted me to do them. “Okay, but the next big thing has to be someone else.” I can’t be your go to person for all your pet projects because then I can’t hit my own metrics and look bad.

    My last tip is to ask and learn the preferred communication method of people who are important in getting your work done. Don’t send an email to someone who says they can’t keep up with them. Or Write please respond before the rest of the title If you need to use email on important tasks that need a response. Try to remember to change the title of a text string if the actions change. Pick up the phone and call someone when they say “call me to discuss”. Don’t assume that means it’s okay to text them. I’m talking to you, millennial.

  6. First Gen American Says:

    PS. You’ve gotten really good at short and meaningful posts. This is a skill I need to get better at. Getting to the point with fewer words.

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    This post is fire, as are the comments!

  8. bogart Says:

    I’d add get it in writing, and ideally with as much detail as possible/appropriate (i.e. not “$5K will be allocated to Professor Pet’s pet project…” but who exactly is allocating the $ and when, and for how long (are there repeated funding instances, is there a deadline on when the money needs to be spent)). I cannot tell you how many faculty I’ve seen not do that and be unpleasantly surprised by the details and/or results.

    If you’re being hired into a faculty role in a new place (or an existing place) and getting something (lab, center, program) set up as an enticement, find out where it will be housed, administratively, and what the implications of that are in terms of what staff support will be available to its activities. Make sure you connect with the relevant people (e.g. that the departmental director, administrator, whoever is aware that this commitment is being made of departmental staff members’ time). And, get this in writing before accepting the offer.


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