This interview began in part one discussing Dr. Smith’s graduate student experience and job search. In this session we will continue where we left off with Dr. Smith, and discuss his experience as a faculty member.
What was your experience like as a new faculty member? Would you do anything differently?
The hardest thing to learn I think is balancing your time, especially balancing your time between research and teaching. In particular, teaching a class for the first time is just brutal. It is very hard to learn how much material you need to bring to class to get through an hour-and-a-half. I would tend to bring about five hours of material for an hour-and-a-half class. I think a much better approach is to ask questions of the class to get discussions going. I think the students will enjoy it more, and paradoxically it is easier to teach that way. Learning how to teach is really hard, and there is no substitute for experience. If I could go back and do it all over again with what I know now, I’d have more time for doing research.
How did you balance your new teaching responsibilities with research early in your career?
I took a strategy from my consulting days. As a consultant you have to fill out a time card that says “what did I do today” and “which client gets charged for those hours.” To this day I keep a time card of the time I spend on classes and on research and on administrative tasks, and I try to be honest with myself that I can’t bill “goof off” time to anyone.
In the consulting world, partners frequently limit the number of hours you can bill to a client and I try to limit the number of hours I spend on administrative tasks per week to less than 4 and try to get in a certain number of research hours each week. The result is that you need to get your class planned in a limited amount of time — which is good because teaching can suck up all of your time. This is because it is frequently easier to plan classes than to write papers and we have a tendency to focus on what is easiest on our “to do” list instead of the “hard/painful” things. This strategy also gives me some accountability at the end of the day/week to look back on what I have done and evaluate how focused I was relative to my goals.
Congratulations on your recent tenure! Do you have any advice on thinking preparing for the tenure review now that you’re on the other side?
The letters are more important than you think. When you put your tenure case forward the Dean will send out letters to prominent people working in areas aligned with yours and ask them for their opinion about whether you should be granted tenure. Having those people be familiar with your work turns out to be pretty important. One of the things I was very intentional about almost from the first day on campus was having a list of potential letter writers and making sure that I met them at conferences and making sure that they were familiar with my work. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending prominent faculty members who are interested in your work your paper and saying “I’ve just finished this paper, and it’s on a topic related to your research and I thought you might find it interesting. Here’s a two sentence summary of what I do, feedback is appreciated.” Ninety-nine percent of the time they won’t read the paper, but usually they will read the email, and recognize that it looks like you are doing interesting work in your area. I think it is also the case that you need to go out and shake hands at conferences. In a polite but intentional way, make sure that the prominent people in the field know who you are and know what you’re doing.
For the Dean to promote you to associate professor they will probably want to ask for letters from full professors, and to promote you to full will probably ask for letters from chaired professors. So that’s not a bad starting point to think about who are the full professors and who are the chaired professors who might be interested in your work and who might be able to say that you are doing outstanding work in this area. You should also cover both your core discipline and any relevant reference disciplines. In my case my work sits at the interface between the interface between information technology (IT), economics, and marketing, so I wanted to have a core group of IT faculty, a core group of economists, and a core group from marketing who were familiar with my work.
Check back for part three of this interview.
Dr. Smith will discuss his perspective on research.