Contemplating a professional move? Risks and rewards to consider…

Are you a faculty member in good standing? Contemplating a professional move? Dr. Kraig Wheeler has recently completed a move to his third faculty appointment, and that is after spending over a decade each at his previous two appointments. Benefit from his experience and advice by reading this post. While a move can be scary for sure, transplant opportunities can be immensely rewarding and serve as a springboard to new and satisfying professional and personal growth.


Are you a faculty member in good standing? Contemplating a professional move? I have three faculty appointments under my belt with the first two spanning a dozen years each. Scary for sure, but as I have found, these transplant opportunities can be immensely rewarding and serve as a springboard to new and satisfying professional and personal growth. Here I share some of what I have learned along the way – some joys to consider and some pitfalls to sidestep.

The Fear Factor

What is your risk quotient? Don’t fool yourself…any relocation comes with risks. For faculty considering a lateral move or moving up the administrative ladder, the hazards of relocating can be very real. Every move is a process of give-and-take. You’ll have to leave some comforts behind, in exchange for new opportunities. It’s just part of the deal. These changes will impact both your personal life and professional world… so stay flexible.

For example, meeting the teaching, research, and service expectations of a new institution can present a substantial hurdle. Believe me, I know this. Without a campus history, you start from scratch as an unknown entity.  While a move might provide the benefit of moving closer to family or an appointment with a healthier academic climate, you might leave your tenure behind, especially if you coming from a primarily-undergraduate–institution (PUI). What about re-establishing your research program and blending in with a new campus community?  That wish list…it isn’t likely that you’ll get everything. Concessions are a reality.

“For faculty, considering a lateral move or moving up the administrative ladder, the hazards of relocating can be very real.”

So what to do? Make sure your belief system and professional aspirations fit well with the institutional mission, that the administrative framework is supportive, that the campus environment expects collegiality and nurtures productivity, and above all, there is room for you to grow and contribute.

Avoid Ramming Speeds

We all have our reasons for being disgruntled with our professional lives. Some of these feelings are reasonable, some not. Whether it be an un-supportive environment, the changing of institutional missions, or a locale that does not suite you well, avoid making decisions out of desperation.

“We all have our reasons for being disgruntled with our professional lives. Some of these feelings are reasonable, some not. …avoid making decisions out of desperation.”

It only makes sense. It has been my experience that hasty decisions of great magnitude – such as a relocation – rarely result in the relief you are looking for. Always, always make the effort to improve your current situation before mentally and physically digging-in-deep with a potential move. Do everything you can to improve your current situation and yourself. Think about it…you are more marketable if your skills include learning to tolerate conflict, fixing the things that are broken, staying accountable, neutralizing difficult people, and staying courageous.

“…you are more marketable if your skills include learning to tolerate conflict, fixing the things that are broken, staying accountable, neutralizing difficult people, and staying courageous.”

Be a Mentor, get a Mentor… 

The adage that no person is an island is true. As faculty, we all have served as mentors to some degree through our teaching and research efforts. Each of us need people in our lives that are mentors as well. Why? Making decisions that could have significant impact on our personal and professional lives require sage advice from others. Find trusted colleagues that are willing to give you unfiltered ‘truth’ at the right time.  My mentors have played critical roles in my professional development. Each has given me important perspectives and support with a relocation, as well as advice on a variety of other challenges. I have benefited greatly from these relationships.  If you are considering a move, seek wise counsel from others with more experience – it’s just smart business.

To thine own self be true..

Fact – faculty have egos! It is best to conduct some intensive self-appraisal before considering a move. We have all survived the rigors of a graduate education and now have the confidence to deliver complex science topics to eager students. We come off as fearless and self-assured, and our students can treat us like superheroes at time. But, be careful this doesn’t translate into overconfidence. This is especially true when moving on to new faculty appointments. Selling yourself at one thing and then not being able to deliver will not end well. Instead. build a career by capitalizing on your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses; this approach has always worked for me.

Figure out and be comfortable with who you are first, before jumping into the applicant pool.

For example, if your research credentials are just okay, steer clear of appointments that have high expectations for scholarship. If you are unwilling to put in the time for superior teaching, then why are you seeking positions at a teaching-intensive, liberal arts institution? Why are you applying for a department chair or dean position when you have limited leadership experience? Figure out and be comfortable with who you are first, before jumping into the applicant pool.

Reflections

I can look back on three faculty positions over the course of my career, and each has provided rewarding experiences and important perspectives. Each move did come with real costs; but, in the end, these stopping-off points have been worth it for my family and I. Each faculty appointment brought with it opportunities to help new colleagues and communities achieve success, as well as opportunities for personal and professional development.

If a job change is on your horizon, stay relevant and flexible, and look for positions with healthy workspaces that build on your strengths.

If a job change is on your horizon, stay relevant and flexible, and look for positions with healthy workspaces that build on your strengths. In doing so, you will find your sweet spot: that professional appointment that allows you to flourish. Anything else isn’t worth it.


Dr. Kraig Wheeler is a Professor of Chemistry at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA where he does research with undergraduates on molecular engineered functional materials, and X-ray crystallography.

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