A reader is contemplating taking on a temporary but time-consuming, challenging, and stressful administrative position. What are the pros and cons of doing so?
Below I provide selected details of this particular person's situation, to help with this evaluation by others who can share insights or advice.
Profile of the individual: mid-career science professor, promoted to full professor a year ago, successful in research, respected as a colleague and mentor, no administrative experience other than as head of medium-sized research group, no administrative desires (although has had vague thoughts that maybe this would be of interest much later in career), loves research (including doing research, not just supervising others who are doing research) and has struggled (successfully) to achieve a good balance in career/life.
Profile of the administrative position: interim head of a university unit in crisis (the individual in question is not part of this unit, but has some ties with it), it would be a full-time job (no teaching, probably also no research) for an unspecified amount of time, until a search can be conducted to hire someone into this position.
The internal struggle of the individual:
- Likes being a professor, values research, has done well -- why give that up?
- But thinks: Maybe I could do this?
- And: Maybe I should do this? (for sake of institution, colleagues).
- There don't seem to be any other good candidates.
- Maybe the challenge would be exciting and the job enjoyable?
Some of the details are different, but a lot of that sounded familiar to me because I have gone through some of the same internal struggles when deciding about whether to agree to take on some administrative duties. I wrote about some of my (in)decision in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The specific situation described above sounds unappealing some ways (a unit in crisis requiring full-time attention as an interim head with uncertain authority). Before seriously considering taking on such a responsibility, I think I would want to:
- meet with the relevant powers-that-be and find out if I would have the trust and authority to be effective, not just a warm body sitting in an office doing paperwork that will keep the flaming ship from sinking; I would want to have extensive and detailed information about the unit's recent operation, crisis, and likely future;
- know the time-table for the search for a 'permanent' head of the unit; these things can be unpredictable, but what is the proposed time frame?
- discuss compensation for taking on this position; not just salary, but also flexible research funds to hire a postdoc, visiting professor, or whatever would be most useful to the research group;
Armed with information about the time and effort required to do the job well, I would consider the effect on my research group. Some professors who are considering moving into administration will ramp down their research program, including number of advisees. Jumping suddenly into an all-consuming administrative position could, however, have major negative consequences for an active, medium-sized research group. Is it possible to devise a (good) plan for dealing with the necessary decrease in the PI's ability to manage the research group and advise students?
And then, ultimately, you decide. If you feel that you have the information you need to make a good decision, you have a good plan for taking care of your responsibilities to your research group, and you are still intrigued by the challenge of taking on this new job for a while, maybe you should do it. If, however, you feel like you would be giving up a lot for not much in return other than stress and a warm but faint feeling of having noble intentions, maybe someone else can do the job. You will surely have other administrative opportunities at another time.
Readers, what would/did you do in similar circumstances?