08 August 2014

Change and Differences

People have been asking, "so, how was your first year?"  I reply, "I'm glad my first year is over." Then I explain that although I think I did okay, I'm glad to be past finding a new doctor, new dentist, new hairdresser, new dry cleaner, new nearby gas station, and a new route to the airport. These are the little realities that come along with having moved across country for a new faculty position.

How was my first year in my new faculty role? That's really what others want to know. When pressed on the issue, I usually talk about the differences I noticed between institutions. Change always seems to highlight differences ~

Travel arrangements and reimbursements: do it yourself online versus having a secretary do it all a month in advance and on paper.

Budgeting: carry-over funds across fiscal years versus zero out accounts two months before the end of the fiscal year.

Student advising: ad hoc process of notifying students of availability versus putting advising hours in the online advising schedule.

Parking: one hanging tag with annual new little dates and a swipe card versus a radio frequency hanging tag that is replaced each year.

Student textbooks: university owned and run bookstore versus Barnes and Noble as the bookstore.

Graduate School: no coordination across program directors versus quarterly meetings of all graduate program directors from across campus.

Clearly, one side or other is not better, just different. But, it's coming to accept the differences, embracing the accompanying learning curve, and getting fluent in the new jargon that makes it no longer the first year.

As campus fills with the new students, new faculty, new enthusiasm, new anticipations, and new hopes, I feel ready to step from being the new faculty to being the old faculty.

06 September 2013

Moving Across Country

My absence for the blogosphere has ended. Happily.  As of August 1, I started a new position at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, as Director of a new PhD program in public health sciences. I'll write more about starting a new job in my next post. This week, I want to reflect on what it means to move across the country.

I had lived in Chicago for 16 years. The longest I had ever lived anywhere. Illinois was the 5th state I had lived in, after Texas, Oregon, Washington, and California. I had a home and a house, and felt settled and, in some ways, living on cruise control. Accepting a new position meant selling my house and buying a new house.  Going through each of those events felt nerve racking for a day or two.  Once I had a new address, the move began in earnest. 

Physically packing and unpacking, making the change of address on innumerable websties, waiting in lines to get new forms and licenses, all heightened my awareness of the federalism that is the United States. Federalism rarely surfaces in our daily lives. I hold a passport from the USA, not from the state I live in. Federalism surfaces in ways  that may be too obvious to actually notice. Consider who is listed on the ballots we mark; local, state and federal candidates.

When I give talks to international audiences, as I did in Italy last year and Ireland last month, I compare the United States to the European Union. Until you have live in more than one state, the comparison may seem peculiar. The reality is that federalism is alive and quite healthy in the United States. Witness the licensure laws. Each state governs my practice as a registered nurse. Yes, there is a national examination, but you are licensed  by the state, not the federal government. Each state has its own driving laws and collects fees for being licensed in that state. Each state dictates drinking age and selling of liquor.  Each state has its separate retirement system for its state employees, which includes me. The national retirement system, Social Security, barely provides income "security."

Federalism has deep, obvious as well as hidden public health implications.The breadth of those implications would take more than a 3 semester hour course to fully address. For me, the tension  between state and federal government, the ways that we as a nation acknowledge and deal with those tensions, and the subsequent range (some might say disparities) in availability of services and supports across this nation can serve an international model. The USA and the EU stand as exemplars as ways to achieve economies of scale while maintaining local autonomies.  Yes, it is a royal pain to get relicensed, but I'll suffer those very transitory inconveniences for the vast benefits of living in a healthy federalism.

In this light, from this perspective, what does it really mean to "move across the country?"

27 January 2013

Hiring Faculty For the Uninitiated

Our department has not hired any new tenure track faculty for nearly a decade. We have been waiting for retirements and the accompanying salaries, and then we were waiting for the economic downturn to turnaround. Finally, and almost despite the dire state of our State's retirement fund, we are hiring junior faculty.

The hiring process within academe has its own rhythm and rituals.  We do follow all legal requirements applicable to hiring, but those human resource practices are only a small part of the process. The hiring process is closely tied to the academic year, which determines the timing and time limits.

As with any open position, a job announcement is developed. Academic job announcements function as job descriptions.  Unlike a job description, the faculty announcement tends to be created for each faculty opening, as though to explicitly explain how each new faculty will fill a unique niche within that academic unit. I don't recall ever seeing a faculty job description developed by HR and then distributed. That just seems like a weird idea in academia.

The work of developing the job announcement falls to the Search Committee. A group of faculty are chosen by the Department Chair, in the case of a departmental faculty opening, or by the Dean in the case of Department Chair search.  The group of 4-6 faculty do a considerable amount of work.  After drafting the position announcement, they develop criteria by which to select the top candidates. After reviewing the cover letter and curriculum vitea of each applicant, they list the top tier of candidates.  We  had over 125 applications; that's a lot of reading. The search committee then conducted phone interviews with the top12 applicants. From that pool, they invited 6 to come for a visit.

Notice that I said candidate visit, not interview, but calling it a "visit" is rather euphemistic. The applicant comes to meet with faculty, students, the search committee, the department chair, and to give a formal presentation on his/her program of research.  For the candidate, it can be a grueling day or day and a half agenda that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with key and interested individuals. During the visit, the candidate will also be on the "buying" side while the faculty, implicitly or explicitly, "sell" the position, themselves, and the academic unit.

In the end, the search committee gathers the impressions from faculty and submits a recommendation to the Department Chair. Then the salary and non-benefit befits negotiations begin. In the ideal situation, the Department hires the faculty's favorite candidate. But, there is no guarantee that the ideal happens. Worst case scenario is that no new faculty are hired and the whole process starts over the next academic year.

As you can see, this is not a quick process. It is a process that exemplifies the historical independence and self-governance of faculty, at least in the US and UK. It is a process intended to be democratic and deserving of a secure future. It is a process that can generate excitement and enthusiasm among a stably stagnant faculty body. It is a process that is long over due in my academic unit and about which I am hopeful.

30 November 2012

Exam and Questions

On my return from Italy last week, the flight from Rome was full, with physician, scientists, and vendors headed to Chicago for a very large annual radiology conference. This lead to plenty of polite chatter before and after the mid-flight naps. Coming back into the US requires going through both immigration and customs.  A two step process with less than welcoming lines, and a fair bit of confusion for the uninitiated traveler. It really makes the US look a bit unfriendly, compared to entering the EU.

I got put in a line that was not moving. Literally. I could see ahead a couple of people that the white haired immigration official was talking intently at a somewhat cowering middle aged man. From a distance he seemed to be scolding the man, took his photo, took his palm prints, and kept talking at the man. Naturally those of in this line going nowhere watched with irritation as everyone around us whizzed pass their immigration official.

Finally I got close. I could hear the lady ahead of me say that that she had been Italy as a cupcake consultant. Really, that's what I heard. My turn.

The white haired man asked where have you been?
For how long?
Two weeks.
Business of pleasure?
A little business and a lot of pleasure.
(he smiled, vaguely)
What to do you do?
I'm a professor.
What do you profess?

I burst out laughing. He grinned widely, with that "got ya" look. Then he said that teachers always explain what they teach, but professors always laugh.  I asked what was the best answer he had heard. He replied "as little as possible."  I nodded. He handed me my passport and I moved on.

But, the question dangles. What do I profess? It's one of those questions against which to measure a life and a life's work.  Like the "in this I believe" essays. So rarely do we pause and take stock of where we are and where we are headed.

Some time ago, I decided, after a considerable amount of trying on ideas, that I believe in curiosity. I like that I now have a new question to ponder, to nudge my self-awareness. 

24 October 2012

Nerds at the Round Table

Some days seem to mark themselves as important.  A memory has substance. A task list rolls forward. The sound of laughter lingers.  Not too long ago, I had one of those days. 

Last month I had served as a grant reviewer for a new federal granting agency, and kept thinking that I can do this.  So, I forwarded to one colleague the announcement for this rather new grant funding stream. She immediately responded with "let's pull out that grant on post partum women that we almost did."  Being office neighbors and friends for several years, I knew exactly what she was referring to. And, as simply as that is how grant application activities get started.

By the following week we had a meeting scheduled with two other colleagues from medicine. We met in my new, slightly larger office which has curtains and a round table for meeting.  Among the four of us (women), the ideas immediately started flowing.  We noted which grant guidance nuances that would need to be addressed. We mapped out an overall research plan and a subject recruitment plan. We all groaned at the short amount of time to do so much, and at a time when we all already have pretty full plates. But, the grant idea is good and like hounds we were following the scent of potential funding. The mix of brain power and enthusiasm around the table far outweighed our reservations.  So, I have a section of the grant proposal to develop, as do the others.

My office neighbor and I handed the title of principal investigator to our younger, not yet tenured colleague. We both have reached a place where we can be more generous in that way, and love the mentoring aspect of this emerging project.

Yes, us four nerds at my office round table were having fun. The way academic work ought to be fun. Now, we are focused on getting the proposal written and pulled together, and then we will cross our fingers. Hopefully, early next year, I'll have good news. Meanwhile, I have the good news of enjoying, a little bit like the "whistle while you work" enjoyment of life.