My ideal gig

My uncle asked me what I’ll be looking for in a department when I hit the job market. I smiled and told him “prestige and money.” It got awkward because he didn’t realize I was joking, and it got more awkward as I squirmed to replace that answer in his head with my serious answer, since I had no idea what my serious answer was. Now I’ve thought about it. Here’s what I’m looking for in a department.

  1. I want to be part of an intellectual community in which I can be vulnerable, at least professionally if not personally. That means feeling safe sharing ideas, good ones and bad ones alike (since I can rarely tell the two apart without talking things through over beer). There’s nothing more awful and tragic than a department in which people mistrust each other and feel proprietary about their ideas — why even be in science? Conversely, there’s nothing more amazing then being part of a group with strong rapport, complementary skills, and a unified vision. (An ordinal listing misses how much higher this first wish is than all the others.)
  2. My colleagues are all smarter than me, or beyond me in whichever of a number of likely ways: more creative, more active, harder working, more connected, more engaged, effortlessly productive, exquisitely balanced and critical and fiery and calm. There’s something to be said for learning from osmosis.
  3. I have inspiring students — undergraduate and graduate — and maybe even students that are smarter than me, or more creative, more active, &c.
  4. My colleagues and I share some kind of unified vision. I’ve seen that in action before and it’s amazing.
  5. Prestige. I can’t pretend I’m too far above prestige. A recognized school attracts better students, which makes teaching more fun. It has more resources lying around, which makes it easy to make things happen quickly. It casts a glow of success that makes it easier to raise money, and build partnerships. They are often more likely to be able to follow through on commitments to underprivileged students. And last, since age is the major cause of prestige, fancy schools tend to be on more storied and beautiful campuses.
  6. My colleagues cross disciplines.
  7. My department has institutional support for interdisciplinary research (no list of five journals to publish in, conferences and journals on equal footing, tenure letters of support accepted from people outside the same department).
  8. I’m in a department beloved, or at least on the radar of, the dean. I don’t know a lot about this, but I get the feeling that life is a little easier when a department has a dean’s support.
  9. Beautiful campus.
  10. In the US. Alternatively, the UK or the Netherlands. In a good city or back in CA, or maybe in one of these economically depressed post-industrial-wasteland cities. Can’t explain that last one. Well, I can: it means to me that it’ll have a more active arts community, be more diverse, and have a neighborly sense of community.