Monday, March 19, 2007

Professor Ego

Lately I've been talking to academic friends and acquaintances who have made mid-career moves to other universities. In particular, I have been talking to those in academic couples, in which 2 senior hires are involved.

In one case, one member of the couple didn't have a tenure track job at the first university and doesn't at the new one, but the non-tenure track position at the new university is slightly better, and the new university is better overall for both of them.

In another case, one member of the couple is giving up a tenured professor position at the old university to take a research scientist position at the new university, so that they can both move to a better university. This is the case that has been making me really think. I'm not going to say whether it's the husband or the wife giving up the full professor position to become a research scientist (reluctantly, I should mention) because what I have been thinking most about is whether it matters. And whether I could do that myself -- that is, give up being a Professor to become a Research Professor. There's no real difference in status in my field between the two, so that's not the issue. Even so, I don't think I could, and I don't think my husband could. Even if I were allowed to teach as a research scientist, I would still feel like I was giving up something important, perhaps in part because I worked so hard to get where I am.

For me, this is just a thought exercise because all the positions my husband and I are considering at the moment are full professor positions for both of us. But what if one of us were offered our 'dream job' and the other were offered something else? This was our fear way back when we were searching for our first tenure-track positions, and I thought that kind of anxiety was over and done with. This is different (we do have jobs), but the stress of wanting to finding 2 jobs that we both like in a place we both like feels the same.

It's strange to think that it would be so hard to give up being a Professor. If I were a research scientist instead of a professor, the things I would be giving up are the things I like the least -- meetings, meetings, and more meetings. In addition, my opinions are ignored now, when I am a Professor, so what would be so different about being in a position in which I officially had no say in department governance? It would be different, and I guess I'm realizing that that difference is important to me.


SciMom said...

This topic I know something about. I recently "gave up" my full time associate professor status to take a research track, part time one - many reasons but a big one was to allow my husband to take his dream job. I learned one very important thing from this experience - that being a recognized full time faculty within a department and valued as a scientist meant more to me than I thought it did. I think ego has nothing to do with it. It's about loving what you do and knowing how hard you worked to get to that place. As I now contemplate walking away from academics all together, I realize that sometimes major changes teach us a lot about ourselves. The important thing is to take that new knowledge and use it to find the place you feel valued and respected.

Female Science Professor said...

Thanks for the comment, scimom. I am curious about whether you would you go back to your associate professor full-time job if you could (assuming there was a reasonable job for your husband as well, even if not his dream job).

Anonymous said...

I jumped off the tenure track to work in student services, mainly because I wanted shorter hours.
I like what I do, and it's very meaningful work, but I'm amazed at how I'm treated by faculty. It's as if my IQ dropped 100 points once I left the faculty pool.

Some of the faculty in the department I hold adjunct status in won't even talk to me, or make eye contact. I still publish at a reduced rate, but I seem to have become an embarassing bastard lovechild, neither fish nor fowl.

SciMom said...

FSP, I would indeed go back to my associate professor position, full time if it was a possibility. I think it's not where I am now and given the current state of government funding, I don't think the "powers to be" think I'm a good "risk" to give a package to, to allow me to revitalize my lab. At this Institute, if one enters at less than a tenure track position, one is considered "less valuable" than doing a search and bringing in a new faculty at the tenure track level to begin with. Of course, this makes no sense to me, financially or otherwise - but I'm just the part time faculty and wife, so what do I know :)

If I found a position that made me the major breadwinner, I think my husband would move, even if it was not his dream job. But considering he is running a Center within this Institute, I don't think my faculty salary could trump that.