What prof-specific topics would you like us to blog about?

Following on from our recent reader survey, which revealed that our regular and regular-ish readership contains a much higher proportion of profs than it used to: what prof-specific topics would you like us to blog about? This could be stuff on which you’d welcome advice, or just stuff on which you’d like to hear the experiences/approaches/opinions of other profs. We and others have done a few posts on prof-specific topics, like how to write tenure & promotion letters, what to do at lab meetings, or what to do after you get tenure. But I feel like there are many others that we could talk about. Especially topics that are specific to post-tenure profs. It doesn’t feel to me like there’s much online discussion of stuff like how to be a good administrator, how to remain a fresh, creative researcher after many years of working in the same study system, etc. (Or is there a ton of stuff out there and I just don’t know where to look for it?)

So the floor is open! Looking forward to your suggestions.

15 thoughts on “What prof-specific topics would you like us to blog about?

  1. I’d love to read on how to be a good administrator and your thoughts of whether recently hired professors should work in administration positions of if these positions should be occupied solely (or mostly) by professors with more time at the university.

  2. Speaking of administrators… how about hiring a private one for a few hours a week? I am not getting the administrative help I need (I’ve talked to the chair about this). I’m wasting hours writing more boilerplate grant docs, listing collaborators, etc. I’ve asked around and it seems some of my peer profs DO get this kind of help from their departments. I would love to see precise data on what kinds of things people do/don’t get help with. I’m at a private R1 that charges the same overhead as another private R1, yet the grant support at the latter is much better. This absolutely affects how much I like my job and how much I get to do actual research and… just think!

    So anyway, in the short run, I am thinking about hiring a private assistant to manage grant budgets, ensure progress reports get submitted on time, etc. Anyone done this?

    • Three more very different topics:

      1. Dealing with federal contracts, especially ones that don’t allow key equipment (like laptops and compute nodes), but which your university thinks you should be paying for off of grants…

      2. Hiring and how to do it well

      3. Firing and how to do it well. Most PIs I know are slow at moving on poor fits. I’m trying to get better. “Firing” here would include PIPs that actually work.

      • Yes!!!
        I have struggled with poor fits when I started my TT job. I still do. Any way to avoid? Any way to dig yourself out of the hole that you dug to begin with?

  3. For those of is new to running research teams, I’d be interested in tips on how to run a dynamic inclusive group. The post on running lab meetings will be really useful, but what else makes (or breaks) a great lab group?

  4. How to manage a department to rescue the research careers of those who are struggling, and to make sure everyone is pulling their weight, given the huge disparity in career stages, skills, interests, health and willingness to pull.

      • I second this. I’ve directly been told on multiple occasions that I was nominated for some committee because I actually respond to emails and get things done. I once refused because I said it wasn’t fair for me to be burdened with extra service work just because someone else thought his time was more important. (Didn’t Feynman recommend being an a$$hole in this way? Being bad at service so no one asks you for anything?) This is happening for a larger grant proposal too right now–I submitted my parts (nearly) on time, and now I am being asked to take on more, while the person whom I covered for is busy doing urgent science and attracting a following on Twitter. I detest covering for colleagues who unilaterally decide their research and time are more important than my own.

        There should be repercussions. We’ve decided that when this contract gets awarded, we will cut budgets in inverse proportion to how much people helped out on the grant itself. But I wish my chair would cut the salaries or budgets of colleagues at work who require a bazillion follow up emails and make it harder for the rest of us to do our jobs.

  5. What are some topics discussed with the department head or dean during an annual evaluation? Also, what you can negotiate and the general approach to take when it comes to annual evaluations, or tenure and promotion? And how would these discussions differ at an R1 vs. a regional comprehensive university?

  6. My biggest challenge as a new prof – maybe tenured profs have it figured out! – is learning how tolerant to be with poorly done or inadequate data analysis, especially as it pertains to bachelor’s and Master’s theses. Do you let an undergrad get away with running 30 different correlations? Do you advise a Master’s student that they should account for spatial autocorrelation in their data? Basically, how much rigor do you expect in student analyses’ at each education level? And my question pertains not so much to directing one’s own students but for those for whom you are a committee member. If their supervisor is fine with their student running 20 t-tests, how do you diplomatically suggest a more rigorous alternative? I’ve seen some really horrible stats in some final thesis drafts but is that okay for a Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis?

    • I second this question, but would like to see it expanded beyond the use of statistics. In other words, how much leeway should we allow bachelors, honours and masters students to make research mistakes?

      Obviously, its bad if the student doesn’t realise their mistake by the end of the degree because this would suggest that they didn’t learn anything from the process. But, should we allow these mistakes as long as the students realise that they should’ve made different choices were they to start over?

      Then, a related sub-question. Who’s to blame for fundamental mistakes in a thesis (e.g. missing controls): the student or the supervisor? I would expect even bachelor students to be aware of these basic issues, but I would also expect an attentive supervisor to catch such mistakes right at the beginning of a project…

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