Thursday, May 23, 2013

Three Things Research-oriented Faculty Do

This is based on something I jotted down in a late night email to a former Ph.D. student from USC, who just has landed a faculty position, and will start as an Assistant Professor this fall.

The main epiphany I had early on about life as a faculty member is that you have three main functions as a researcher:
1. do good work and publish
2. raise money
3. network and collaborate

Doing good work and publishing it in respectable venues is, of course, the main thing.

But these three all feed inextricably, recursively, into each other:

  • To do good work you need to raise funds to support students, and it helps to network and collaborate with others. 
  • To raise funding, you must do good work, and it helps to network and to collaborate.
  • To network and collaborate, you must do good work, but also need funding to travel.
Doing a good job as a faculty member at a research university thus means constantly balancing and juggling these three functions. New Faculty must particularly pay attention to 2 and 3, because 1 is the thing they were good at as students or post-docs (or they would not have been hired), but in many cases 2 and 3 have not been as much of a focus for them in the past. 

I would actually encourage senior Ph.D. students seeking academic positions,  and certainly post-docs, to gain as much experience as they can with respect to 2 (for instance by practicing writing proposals for/with their advisor) and 3 (by collaborating with other students and faculty, being engaged and interactive while attending conferences, making themselves known to faculty at other schools, giving talks at other schools). This will both help them land faculty positions, and give them a head-start on life as a research-oriented faculty member. 

It's interesting to note that excellence in communication is crucial to all these functions.