I've got a new job

As the title says, I've got a new job.

But it's not really that exciting a switch, sorry :)

As of mid-August sometime, I will officially switch my appointment from 2/3 Computer Science and Engineering / 1/3 Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, to 2/3 Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, 1/3 Computer Science and Engineering.

Big change, right? Hah.

Well, in some ways. While the change reflects physical reality -- my office and many of my interactions have been in the Microbiology department for several years -- the key point is that my tenure case will run through Microbiology (and the College of Natural Science) rather than through Computer Science (and the College of Engineering). This is preferable because I'm behaving more like a biologist than a computer scientist: writing journal publications instead of conference proceedings, and mostly not presenting at conferences. So I think the tenure case will be easier through Microbiology. Since I'm up for tenure in about a year, I think now was a good time to make the change.

The other major reason for the switch is teaching. Computer Science is heavier on teaching load than Microbiology, and serves a different population; they were having a hard time officially recognizing things like my NGS summer course as part of my teaching (it's "outreach" if it's not credit-hour teaching, basically). Microbiology is enthusiastic about my teaching, my workshops, and my outreach, because I'm serving biologists. I'm still going to be doing an awful lot of teaching compared to some of my Microbiology colleagues, but it's teaching that is directly relevant to my research (and, increasingly, for which I have external funding.)

Overall, I'm pretty content with the switch in appointment. But I do have some experience now, and hence I have:

Some advice for Assistant Professors

  1. Never, ever take an evenly split joint appointment (50/50). Always take something uneven, like 51/49 or more skewed. That way there's clearly one chair, department, and dean who take primary responsibility for you. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!

  2. Despite the existence of various kinds of guidelines for promotion and tenure evaluation of interdisciplinary faculty, no one pays attention to them. This has been a significant disappointment in my dealings with upper administration here; they're very (extraordinarily, better than any other place I've ever seen) welcoming of interdisciplinary work, but the official channels of authority and influence have not been rounded out very well, so it's a bit of catch-as-catch-can.

  3. Different departments have very different cultures of publication, granting, teaching, service, and promotion. It may take a few years to figure out which one is the best fit.

  4. Any official mentoring strategies you may have seen are going to be mainly honored in the breach, especially if you're a multi-department odd-ball. At least, that's been my experience. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but it does mean you need to seek out your own mentors and maintain your own lines of communication. (I have an excellent, diverse group of mentors who spent a fair amount of time talking me off of roofs in the first few years.)

  5. Switching departments happens, and people seem to be mostly OK with it. More importantly, if you have good reasons -- like, "my tenure case will be stronger over here, because X, Y, and Z" -- nobody serious will blame you. The CSE department made a significant investment in me, and I really appreciate it! But this is the right decision for my short-term future, and no one has argued with me about that when I've explained myself.

    This ability to switch emphasis is particularly important when you are split between multiple departments, because -- as your research focus changes, and your student recruitment changes -- you may find that what was a good fit 5 years ago is no longer a good fit, so a move may be the best thing you can do.

    (Come to think of it, this may be a good reason to accept a split appointment - the flexibility of switching depts. Hmm.)

More as I think of it....

--titus

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