Note: Comment moderation and posting will be sporadic until early January, as the FSP Family is now on its annual FSP-Refuses-To-Spend-Her-Birthday-At-Home trip to an interesting destination. My plan is to post some of the more awesome entries of the Statement of Purpose Contest throughout the next week or so, as internet connectivity and time permit and after I've had a change to peruse the submissions more, but I have a few other topics -- e.g. today's -- to cover first.
Also note: For those of you with relatives and friends who have Christmastime birthdays, you may want to consult my posts from 2006 and 2007 on this important topic. I continue to rule Google for the relevant keywords, so am clearly the definitive source of information.
OK, now on to the main topic of the day: Why DrugMonkey is Sort of Wrong about whether junior faculty should 'go slow' in their first few years.
Actually, he's not wrong at all. It is a fact that tenure-track faculty need to do proposal-writing as if it were an extreme sport. And when I was told to go slow and not be "too ambitious" as an assistant professor, I was offended and ignored the advice.
That's the way it is now and has been for a while, but what I'm wondering is whether it has to be that way. What about those who can't or for some reason don't write swarms of proposals and try to acquire acres of loot and lucre? Are they by definition mediocre faculty who would become deadwood if awarded tenure? Should we write them off as unable to fulfill the requirements of a faculty position at a research university, or is it possible for someone to take a more moderate approach and not be deemed a failure?
Last week I wondered what the perfect number of proposals and grants is (for a science professor at a research university). I don't think anyone would argue that the number for most of us should be high, but I wonder if this must always be so.
Is it possible that we could be more flexible in terms of what is acceptable for the pace and size at which early career faculty build their research programs and not sacrifice our high standards (whatever those are)? There have been many times in the past 10+ years that I have encountered grad students and postdocs who leave science and/or academia in large part because they don't want to be continually trying to acquire grants that are getting more difficult to obtain. Maybe we should bid these people a fond farewell and conclude that if they can't take the heat etc. etc., but my impression is that many of these departing people are women.
This was in the back of my mind when I wrote the post last week. My gut reaction is to advise early career faculty to write as many excellent proposals as they can and rapidly build an impressive research group that tackles big interesting questions, but I wonder whether we should reconsider this approach. Is academia losing some otherwise talented people by requiring this level of activity from the very beginning?
Perhaps an early career professor (female or male) -- for example, one who has young children -- needs to start slow with a grant or two and a few grad students. If they are doing well with that and seem to be on an upward trajectory, even if one with a less-steep slope than that of we monomaniacs who worked 24/7 and ate take-out pad thai every night for the first 5 years of our tenure-track position, is that person nevertheless an unambitious failure who should be culled from the academic herd?
There is no reason why women can't write a swarm of proposals and get grants and build a research program just like the men do. If there were sufficient numbers of women who wanted to do this and who had supportive partners who helped with child-care and other family activities, perhaps we'd be all set. But we're clearly not all set.
My young colleague who is struggling right now is male, but he has young children and is having trouble balancing family and work. If he can't handle another proposal right now because it would harm his family in a way that is unacceptable to him, should we really advise him to do the proposal anyway? Is his inability to submit the perfect number of proposals a sign that he's not going to make it in academia and won't get tenure, or is it a sign that the culture isn't as family-friendly as it needs to be, or something else?
My daughter was born before I got tenure and I've done fine as a professor at a research university, but if I say "I did it and you can too" to an early career professor, am I being an inspiring role model or am I saying that you have to be a clone of me to succeed? The former has not shown itself to be particularly effective, and the latter seems kind of grim. Are there other options?
Whether I am a doyenne or a grand-dame (DrugMo - can we go back to when you called me a curmudgeon? I think I liked that better), I am also an anti-role model for those who see how much time I spend on work and decide they don't want to be like me. Again, does that mean that these people can't or shouldn't be science professors at a research university? The traditional answer would be yes. Those who want to spend an insane amount of time writing proposals and papers and managing a research group will be the science professors at the big research universities and those who want a different balance between work and the rest of life will go elsewhere.
I suppose that system works in a way, but is this one of the reasons why the women faculty in the physical sciences, math, and engineering at my university can all go out to lunch together and sit around a medium-sized table, and why it doesn't take much time to learn the names of the new women faculty each year? In fact, I've already met both of the new ones this year.
Any change that comes will likely be slow, so in the meantime, if you want to get tenure in a science department at a research university, listen to DrugMonkey.
10 months ago