If a faculty member is considering leaving their department for another university, but isn't at all sure whether he/she will stay or go and doesn't want their department (other than a few close colleagues) to know about his/her potential departure and has grad students who would be stressed out (perhaps unecessarily) if they knew and who is in the middle of trying to recruit new graduate students.. what's the best way to deal with all that? Being completely open about everything doesn't seem like the best plan, but being secretive doesn't feel so great. Providing partial information seems pointless. It is important to note that this person would never abandon their grad students and researchers and would work out the best possible arrangement with lots of lead time (1 year at least) to organize things.
In reality of course, it's not up to the possibly-departing faculty member to control the flow of information because rumors fly anyway. So maybe it is best to be open with people who would be affected, if they are going to hear possibly unsettling information from other sources anyway.
13 years ago
When my advisor applied for jobs elsewhere, he told each of the grad students straight away so we wouldn't freak when we heard rumors. We did end up hearing it from other sources, so it was good that we had already learned from him what his intentions were. He was only looking for other jobs to increse his bargaining power during promotion review.
The students are less likely to spaz if they hear from their professor that the process would be slow, they wouldn't be abandoned, etc., rather than hearing from someone else that their advisor is leaving.
It can be very difficult to be open about this. I applied to a different school in the same metropolitan area (two-body problem!) because of massive problems my old school had with me being a (gasp!) women.
In the midst of the matter there was an election and an attempt to get me off of the faculty board, but the men could not do the math and ended up with the prospective dean not being elected and me with the most votes.
No one understood why I did not grab the deanship, but instead settled for vice-dean. I felt that as dean I could not move before my term was up. I didn't explain, to anyone. But I also did not have doctoral candidates, just master's students.
The problem was with the search committee I was on at Old School. We offered a professorship to a guy who also had an offer from New School.
He came to me for guidance - what should he do?
I was offered a position at the exact same time, I explained my situation, and now we are both at New School.
It was, btw, delicious to watch the faces of the old boys at Old School when I told them of my impending move. They did not think that anyone - most certainly me - could get a job elsewhere. And for more pay at that.
Actually, the president wanted to keep me, offered anything in his power for me to stay. I requested a public tarring and feathering of the mobbers, and even though he agreed that that was a suitable punishment for them, it was unfortunately not constitutional to do so.
I was amazed that the students at the new school did not leak the information to the old one. As soon as everthing was official I told my master's students, and we worked out a gradual plan. New School let me spend one day a week finishing up my research at Old School. That was great!
I've seen this done okay. I've seen this done badly.
- When it was done okay, the professor was open with his students, made it clear that he was planning to leave, and some had the option to follow. Others had to scramble for a new advisor.
- When it was done badly,
a. The professor sent an e-mail to his students in the middle of the summer with, "By the way, I'll be on leave for a year" and actually never came back. 1 student followed him later on.
b. The professor just up and left, taking a leave to work for a company for a semester. The students had no idea he was leaving, have no idea if he's coming back, and their productivity is ultra low. I'm very disappointed that the dept. is doing nothing on this issue.
But again, I only know it from the student point of view. I would certainly prefer to hear the news direct from my advisor, if he were considering a move. I knew 6 months ahead of time that he was going on sabbatical, and I really appreciated that.
Having been through this myself, and ultimately not moving, my own approach was not to tell anyone, but try to move through the decision-making process as expeditiously as possible. My reasoning was there was no reason to upset my lab members or colleagues (I like my job and Department) unecessarily. In my case I thought it was unlikely things would leak back to my current establishment, as I often give seminars and also made the decision before a second visit. The only folks who knew wwere my Department Chair and the Dean.
If it has proceeded to a second visit and serious, lengthy negotiations, I think informing my lab members would have been the right thing to do. I also would have negotiated a transition long enough to allow people to make decisions without feeling pressurred to do so quickly. In the end I am very glad I stayed--my original University granted some things that were part of the other offer, and I retained valued colleagues and a lifestyle with my spouse and children that works very well for all of us. Of course, each situation is individual.
I think it is important for all students to know that faculty can be offered jobs at any time and that faculty can and do switch universities. This is the reality of science careers. The other side of the coin is that students leave research groups for a variety of reasons. We are all free people who can change jobs at will.
I would discuss this in the context of what your commitments are to a student, preferably when you first hire them: What happens if research funding declines, what happens if they don't perform adequately, what happens if you move elsewhere, etc.
At my University, the assumption is that everyone is on the job market all the time. It can lead to poor morale, but it is the reality of academic life.
I think in terms of handling your students it's best to remember that many graduate students get to the program not having all the information and insights that professionals and tenured faculty have with 20/20 hindsight and maybe years and decades of experience under the belt. They aren't going to necessarily understand how the market works from the other side, and based on that, they're a little more focused on their end of the experience. Perhaps it might be best for advisors of these students to start the first years off with a brief talk about some of the aspects of academia that aren't so apparent from the outside--and really, you're on the outside until at least that point in time.
A professor who I work with occasionally currently has another offer, out of the country. He told me and everyone else who was working with him when he got the offer, and told us that he was considering it. He hasn't said anything about it since, and now rumors are flying that he's just using this offer to leverage a better salary.
So, I would say it's best to be open with your students and those who you work closely with (that is, those who will need to prepare for your absence). I would also say, though, that once you tell them you are considering leaving, keep them very plugged in to the process - give them frequent updates.
I think it's only fair to tell the people in your lab that you're looking, even if you're not sure if you'll go.
I have a thing about advanced notice. I think I deserve some. Always.
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