Hypothetically, let's say you (the person reading this comment) want to make a big change in your organization. You identified a problem, and honestly think the solution is a fundamental change in direction. The incorrect next step is to bring up your opinion in front of the decision makers! This causes strife, anger, embarrassment, negative attention, etc.
The correct plan is to quietly gauge support, get allies, make your case one-on-one, and get things going with multiple stakeholders on board. No one embarrassed, the majority in agreement. Rocking the boat publicly (as this post clearly shows he is OK with) is not the mark of good political skills.
The difference is on whether the set of people you work with is mutable or immutable. If it's immutable, you better preserve relationships, because you'll be working with them in the future, regardless of what happens, and you need them to implement your plans. But if it's mutable, then when people dislike you, just find new people. Stake out a territory in idea-space, and then just adjust the set of folks you hang out with until everyone agrees with you.
Voice or exit. If you want voice, you've got to speak to what the people around you will hear. If you're willing to exit (or going to anyway), you can say what you want and swap the people out until you find the set who hears you.
Interestingly, the current U.S. presidential race is a perfect example of this. Trump is following the people-are-mutable, if-they-don't-like-you-fuck-'em strategy. He's burning bridges with everyone who criticizes him. And he's probably doing this because it has worked for him in business - when he stiffs a contractor, sexually harasses an employee, or loses an investor's money, there is always somebody else willing to get in line behind them. Clinton, however, is the consummate relationship builder. She's carefully worked across the aisle through decades of experience in Washington, such that she's got all the really important people supporting her. Trump's strategy works great at rallies, where he can speak only to the people who agree with him, but fails across the entire electorate, where he has to deal with a pre-existing composition that isn't going anywhere.
I absolutely agree with this. At the same time, you should attempt to downplay the fact that the current set of people you work with found you such a massive pain in the arse that they didn't want you to stay.
The guy's accomplishments look impressive. He should concentrate on those.
Right now I work in Germany, writing in C++, the language I have greatest expertise in (except maybe C, where my epertise is all in hobby projects).
My professional goal is to work in Australia, preferably in any langauge other than C++.
The vast majority of Trump voters are “traditional Republican” voters, at least in general elections. Many were folks who usually only turned out to vote in the general election, but not in the primary. In other words, they were expanding the pool of Republican primary voters, but not significantly expanding the pool of general election Republicans from “outise the party”.
As a tenured professor in a department looking exactly for this type of "Hacking Professor" I can tell you it may take a year to find talent. Positions in Europe might be even harder to fill. Advantage of our "biking distance from Amsterdam" culture is that anti-establishment mentality and non-conformist hear style of professors is acceptable. Quality research and teaching counts. We have an official CS class called "the Hacking Lab".
<shameless promotion> Any Associated or Assistant Professors out there with experimental background, please click:
Historians please weigh in: Is there any evidence that the Whigs also volunteered in their own destruction?
The Democrats themselves fell apart in 1860, splitting into Northern and Southern Democrats (running Douglas and Breckinridge, respectively). The split in the Democratic vote meant that Douglas (who was the second-highest popular vote getter) got the electoral votes of only one state, Missouri. This in turn meant that Abraham Lincoln, who wasn't even on the ballot in most Southern states, was able to carry the election, despite a popular vote count < 40% and net favorability ratings that were probably lower than Trump. This led directly to the Civil War.
Might sound corny but -there is no I in team -.
Great leaders bring change by assembling great teams where everyone gets their time to shine and don't take the credit for it. Everyone wins.
While it is certainly distasteful when someone takes credit for something that they had no involvement in, I would argue that it's also possible to too far in the other direction. All too many programmers (myself included!) won't take credit for anything unless they did 100% of the work. Well, as I'm slowly learning, it is possible to be nuanced. It is possible to take partial credit and to understand that saying that you led an effort doesn't automatically mean that you did 100% of the work.
Part of being a leader is convincing other people to listen to you. A very good way of doing that is to be able to point to publicly recorded instances where you've taken leadership in the past and delivered good results. If you don't take credit as a leader, you'll very soon find yourself displaced (for better or worse) by someone who does.
Yes and no. Let's say your team has pulled off a major coup. As a (good) manager you very publicly say that all the credit belongs to the team. The team are happy and they love you. But the power players understand your real message.
But I have ZERO political skills, and I couldn't understand why.
Reading your comment is like finally getting the missing link. I never realized this was the basics of politics. I mean, I knew good politician did it, I saw them doing it among other things, but I could not comprehend it was the essence of it. No joking. Now I understand many things much better.
It may seems nothing to you, but you actually made my day.
And this is something that should be explained to more technical minded people, because otherwise, you can get very frustrated when you can't manage to influence things with good intentions in mind and a detrimental approach, while others seems to make it happen naturally.
Well, I guess now I have to practice a lot to get better at it. Seems a lot of work.
Being "political" in this sense is a codependent behavior.
Instead of operating out of fear of others' reactions, I prefer to give people the space they need to feel their anger, embarrassment, etc. by checking in with them over how they feel & empathizing with them.
I'll also agree with OP that approaching people 1-on-1 about big changes is much easier than putting someone on the spot to be open about & own their emotions in front of a group of people. The group's likely been trained to "act professional" by hiding their emotions as opposed to being professional by producing quality work. Sadly, that's not the sort of culture typically found in a business.
The last engineer I worked with taught me a similar lesson after one of our last meetings: "You lost the moment you became emotional. Don't ever let people see your feelings in a meeting like that."
He was right about one thing: a group of "professionals" hates emotions. Go find a group of emotionally mature adults to work with & work on your own emotional maturity. Here are some hints for how to work on yourself that also acts as a list of mindsets to spot in others:
- nobody makes you feel anything
- you have a choice how to respond emotionally to all thing, though the amount of time your brain gives you to spot the choice may be unnoticeably small
- that spot can grow with practice (mindfulness meditation)
- whatever you're feeling in the moment is ok...you're allowed to feel it
- unpleasant feelings signal a fundamental human need going unmet...find the need & address/accommodate it
- everyone's doing the best they can and always have been...if someone isn't doing the best they can, the real culprit is you not accepting someone
- own your feelings...don't defend them, especially by blaming them on other people.
- apply all of this to every single person, including the worst of people.
- read "Nonviolent Communication" https://www.amazon.com/Nonviolent-Communication-Language-Lif...
Being political it's so much work that most people, in high places, in big organizations, barely do anything else.
Time for disruption. Dear hackers: Find a way how one can automate at least large parts of this by a computer program. :-)
The guy in the video suggests companies collect users' reasons for using products/services & feelings around those reasons. Companies would then be able to choose which reasons to design for.
The thinking goes like this:
Right now, companies use metrics based on how much things cost in terms of time/money/attention. Those are abstractions on top of our reasons, so if companies can create a system to directly measure our reasons, those more meaningful metrics will allow them to produce better products.
That idea doesn't get rid of the politics in companies...unless you remove the company from the equation when collecting user reasons.
My idea is to build a public blockchain-based system for collecting those reasons publicly & anonymously. If every company has a public user-generated set of reasons for using their product & whether or not the product is a good choice for fulfilling those reasons, the internal debate changes to which reasons should they choose to fulfill. Arguing over whether this or that change better fulfills this or that reason would be silly because testing the idea is the only thing that makes sense.
There'll still be politics around funding tests, among other things, because political people aren't just going to change how they act overnight, but I'm betting this system will give them far less to play with.
You have to be willing to do a lot of walking away, but the inevitable "you were right" has been satisfying so far.
Or I guess another way to say it is if you can, do, and if you can't, by all means, coddle. Just hope I don't end up across the table from you.
Besides, this assumes people rejecting your idea are bad, while they are just being humans. Humans are weak unefficient creatures, it's no use to take offense in it, we all are weaks in some areas.
But it is correct to take offense about people in position who command about things they are weak in.
Choosing to get offended is rarely a quick path to healthy productivity.
This is the kind of thing you learn by hard knocks or by a really caring mentor.
It's easily the most important book I've ever read.
Also, ensure that whatever you do makes your "superiors" look better, but make goddamned sure that it reflects their cleverness in choosing YOU for the job. If you're in academia and you write 99% of a grant that gets funded, put it on your CV. If you write a contract or a proposal that makes the company $5m, put it on your resume. Don't ever expect anyone to give you credit -- take it, and then thank whoever would logically be obligated to give it for their gracious acknowledgement. People seldom do what they know to be right -- they do what is convenient, then repent. So make it convenient for people to do the right thing for you.
Make it easy for people to appreciate your value and hard to fault your shortcomings. It goes a long, long way. If you can't do that, maybe look for a position where it will be easier for you to execute this task.
Good luck! You will be a happier person if you do this.
also note that if you (need to) push an idea, you shouldn't be the only one pushing it.
You should prevent the idea becoming tied to you as person.
Some people will just disapprove the idea because of the fact that it comes from you (instead of judging it by its merits).
The fact and reality that you are absolutely correct is a HUGE PART of the ENTIRE REASON why software startups so frequently outperform large incumbent companies with greater resources, support, investment, and time. Because while the software startup is messily, irritatingly, often horribly dealing with its people issues, it creates pods of productivity, small, coherent groups that work well together and make things happen without the need to wait until the lunch next Tuesday to gauge incumbent X's support for proposition Y before presenting proposition Y at gathering Z five weeks from now. In a successful startup, someone screams, "EUREKA!" summons one or two other minds from the team to a rickety little conference room, elaborates the idea to make sure he/she isn't missing anything obvious, and then starts working on it, possibly being finished by the end of a two-week sprint. What takes the incumbent organization MONTHS of political angling happens in these small, fluid organizations in WEEKS - or less!
I'm really quite glad your analysis is correct, because it creates massive opportunities for guys like me, who trend a bit on the abrasive side now and then, but it also discourages me as to the correct course of action to get any already-existibg institution into fighting shape. Is it potentially literally impossible under average circumstances? I worry it genuinely might be, and that creation of new institutionsay be the only answer, but that answer makes me very sad for some reason.
I suspect no one structure is optimal for all contexts.
Have a look at the design of the new Crick Institute in London, designed for serendipity. Or Facebook's attempt at an open plan office (probably not a great example, but you see the idea). Maybe even Taleb's ideas about anti-fragility (despite my finding him a terrible, turgid author).
I would rather assume "no one structure is optimal for all people".
He set out to improve things, which is a good goal. Improving means criticizing the status quo at some level. In case of academia, with tenured people lingering there for life, status quo is probably the result of their work (for better or for worse). Wanting to "improve" that was probably perceived as an insult something like "what you did before sucks, I'll make it better". Unless he was dealing with unusually rational colleagues, that stuff is never forgotten and surfaces at voting times.
But also playing devil's advocate here. It could also be that this is a "well the grapes are too sour anyway" type story. That is, maybe his research wasn't seen as very good, innovative or interesting to deserve a tenure. Maybe he knew it too so set out to instead focus on teaching and other aspects. I've seen people do that. Can't code so they become really strong proponents of documenting everything, or they look for other busy work to justify their salary. That is not necessarily all bad or wrong, but it is interesting to consider here. We haven't really heard from other side so to speak.
It is good this blog post got written. Can't imagine it would reflect well on the department overall in the future.
My suggestion to them is to start their own business or find one to work for (with a willing owner) that needs its core rocked or is full of straight-talkers.
We shouldn't typecast ourselves for a paycheck of it leads to misery.
When you switch to the arts and sports we LOVE to see extreme outliers and go to great lengths to assemble and prop them up. It's visceral excitement to see 320lb freaks of nature face off on a line of scrimmage in an NFL game. It would be cruel to have them face off against a highschool team or even just mix them in on the same line. Yet that kind of disparity happens all the time in other types of human assembly.
So I look at this from the other side. He did his deed at the University, made a mark, and got rejected for having high impact good, neutral, or bad. Some people were uncomfortable with high performance for reasons which could range from pettiness to valid criticism.
What you would call lack of tact I might call integrity. I am sure he will land somewhere else and do great things. Industry is more fluid and amenable to assembling high performance, especially in startups.
I did CS a rather strange way via military college so that's not the best sample, but when I took a programming languages class over the summer at Arizona State they had 300 students (yes really) in the lecture hall trying to learn C, C++, Scheme, and Prolog for the Sophomore/Junior level course. It was a total shit show, and if that had been my path to earning a degree and becoming a programmer I'd have hightailed it out of college. It's also an obvious head drop for diversity in the field. I've heard similar horror stories from colleagues from non-top tier CS schools. I'm inclined to believe he found and addressed problems, and had demonstrable success.
Paul Graham, Why Nerds are Unpopular:
There's no corporate equivalent to "Tenure" whereby a company says "We guarantee you a position for life" (Fellow roles excluded).
A change requires orientation, energy, and whatever RoI. This guy - as he describes himself subjectively - is all about engaging his own energy. Orientation is essential and is expected to come from managers (dynamics). Managers also choose a strategy that improves the RoI (kinetics). Engagement is nevertheless absolutely essential to make change happen IRL (work). That's a pity an agreement couldn't be found with his managers. It seems there's kinda misunderstanding going on here, that should have been managed appropriately.
And just to be clear, I'm well aware of claims (right or wrong) that teaching doesn't matter, but this is different from student evaluations of teaching.
The tenure vote he describes reminds me of the Blanket Party scene in Full Metal Jacket (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCNqKrX1sx8), and I think it is the same lesson: conform or suffer the consequences.
Never ask a question of decision maker type people when you don't know the answer already.
We tend to decry "politics" as a dirty thing, and I'm no great fan of dysfunctional organizations. But even among bright, innovative people, I've observed what I think is the root cause of your rule:
Most people, especially managers, really don't like to debate and negotiate in front of an audience.
I'm like that myself. I think (could be wishful thinking of course) that I'm a high performer. But I'm a terrible debater. I'm not quick with facts, and I don't handle the emotional pressure of debate very well. I'd probably flunk a coding interview. I prefer to sit down and think something through, and to access the information that might not have been presented by the debaters. And in any event, I've noticed that most conclusions reached through debate in meetings are simply overturned by facts later on.
I recommend trying this exercise with real people with the caveats that a) some of them will become angry, and b) probably most of them will ignore the outcomes unless you have some way of incentivising them not to.
I am not saying that it is incorrect; but in the background of demands by multiple people inside a university, his actions - as described by him - do not seem to be so significant.
> Rocking the boat publicly (as this post clearly shows he is OK with) is not the mark of good political skills.
You're not wrong.
However shouldn't we be asking ourselves why we are requiring such skills?
The truth is that being a good politician has an inverse relationship with being a geek.
Peter Thiel has been pointing this out for many years. He asks, do we really have scientists anymore? Or are they really bureaucrats and politicians pretending to be scientists?
I am convinced it is the latter. I think we have whole universities filled with cargo cult science.
This relates neatly with some awkward facts about the modern education system.
For all the extraordinary efforts and feats of intellectual prowess it is also extraordinary how little they practically achieve. The number of breakthroughs has dramatically declined. Once you get past the PR bullshit and backslapping there is very little actually happening in many places in the 'innovation economy'.
Take nanotech. I am not aware of any advances that make their appearance in a consumer's home. I can think only of a handful of niche applications like expensive hydrophobic coatings. If the advances were occurring in the factories we should be seeing more refined low cost goods on a massive scale. Is that actually happening? I don't know that it is. We've been promised a lot and been waiting for long time.
Take biotech. Nothing. Just nothing. I think the last biotechnology I interacted with was a yogurt. Can anybody name a single biotech invention or innovation that actually exists in people's houses? In the 50s and 60s we had the Green Revolution, that counts. However the price of food has been rising considerably for several years now. There is certainly no food product that I consume that has become much cheaper.
The discovery of DNA is at least half a century ago. Despite much fanfare about CRISPR, why should we be sure that this time biologists are bringing home the bacon? Is anybody willing to bet that in ten years time there will be GM cool pets, much cheaper food, much cheaper quality wood for building from GM trees?
I would not take that bet.
What about energy? Willing to bet your energy bills get much lower in the future?
tldr; Maybe a whole lot of people are totally full of shit. The basic metric of progress is that things get cheaper, but they're not, so it isn't happening. If you're not willing to bet that prices decrease then maybe your confidence in the future of invention/innovation is misplaced.
Again, I'm not saying anything about his talent, because it's impossible to know without hearing all sides, which I seriously doubt will happen. I'm saying that the article, his opinions, his actions, and from what his version of events are, is sending signals that he cannot get along with his superiors / peers in a way that is mutually constructive and beneficial.
Honestly, industry might be better for him, if he can find a benefactor willing to finance his research. But academia is petty and political, and from what I'm reading, his odds don't look good.
Yes, he should recalibrate his ideas of why he wanted to work in academia.
Today if you want to get ahead you need a patron and some people who know enough to bounce ideas off them.
I think it increasingly the case that universities are the worst place to send a real intellectual. Some of the most useless people in the world are respected here.
I've been to one, I'll say what I think. I think most university people are posers. Completely unfit. Institutionalized.
Then they are requested to perform. And they cannot. They like are those plants specialized to perform only in a certain Alpine microclimate.
Result: psychological sickness and poor pay. Employers don't know what to do with these people. And society insists on manufacturing more of them. It's a sick system, and it is best to get out while you're still honest.
However, I can say that there are different ways to interpret things. The author sees tenure as a way to establish obedience to the unwritten rules of the department. Based on my knowledge of academia, including friends who were granted tenure, the process is mostly fair, but of course most people are going to want to do everything they can to maximize their chances. What the author interprets as proving obedience, I interpret as not wasting time on things the committee can't measure objectively, or doing things that might piss off people on the committee.
As someone in industry, I see academia as somewhere where people can make immense contributions to human knowledge, that cannot be done elsewhere, but they have to jump through certain hoops to do so. Outside of academia there is very little opportunity to do research. Industry is conservative, and prefers to implement and refine known techniques.
> I worked really hard to bring an exciting and rigorous operating systems class to UB.
Why did this effort require working "really hard"? Was it because of obstructionist, jealous, or stupid colleagues? Or people who wanted a boring and unrigourous course instead? Or were there perhaps legitimate reasons why others didn't want to change the existing course?
> I led a complete overhaul of our department’s undergraduate computer science curriculum. It includes two new exciting introductory programming courses that I spent a great deal of time designing.
Let me guess: the existing curriculum was terrible, boring, not at all rigorous, and there was no reason to keep any of it, and the author made sure everyone knew it. And why did the author have to spend a great deal of time? Because no one else in the department was capable of doing as good a job? Because nobody else could comprehend this grand vision?
Everything listed under "speaking out" gives me the same vibe. It doesn't seem to have crossed this person's mind that there are reasons why other people have different approaches to teaching, research, administration, hiring, etc., beyond others being obstructionist, brainwashed, or just stupid. I'm reminded of the parable reminding us  to not take down a fence until we have truly understood why the fence was erected in the first place.
And really... bringing a dog to work in violation of a clearly stated campus policy, repeatedly, even after having been warned, then encouraging a student petition and getting your name in a local paper about the incident? That's just asking for trouble.
(Full disclosure: I'm coming up for tenure myself, and one lesson it has taken me 5 years to understand is that people who disagree with me on campus aren't doing so out of spite, stupidity, or carelessness, they often just have different priorities than I do. Just because our department absolutely needs more resources to do a good job handling our rapidly growing student population, doesn't mean the college should make this a priority over other things.)
I was one of the students at UB while this took place. It took a lot of effort, partially because the rewriting involved a lot of student feedback and there was also a massive e-mail discussion (accidentally?) sent to the entire computer science undergraduate mailing list of one of the senior faculty chastizing a more junior faculty over how student feedback was used in remaking the program.
I can't say for anything else (including the dog situation, since I know other faculty in other departments also bring their pets to school), but I know there was some severe and public obstruction from senior faculty to more junior faculty going on during the remaking.
So thanks for providing more context. It's hard to tell from the post whether this person is the cause of or recipient of all this drama. From the way he tells it, it wasn't just the department, but pretty much everyone he interacted with across campus. It wouldn't surprise me if the entire university was poisoned by nasty politics, but it also wouldn't surprise me if a self-assessed superstar would see it that way even if it were not.
In my experience, one problem is that the priorities are frequently rooted in the self-interest of powerful PIs or staff and are to the detriment of the department / university as a whole. As a staff scientist working on many different types of projects, I frequently bump up against stupid problems which should be fixed at a university level. At one point, I tried spear heading a number of these projects (creation of a central index of core facilities and support services for our university so people can actually find resources efficiently, centralized billing and training services for shared facilities across departments, secure storage and an EMR for investigators working with patient information).
All of these projects failed to launch for selfish reasons:
central index: powerful PIs feared discovery of their private core labs which they were abusing; core labs feared institute-level data would lead to institute wide optimization and loss of local control.
centralized billing: financial admins feared loss of control and had job security issues
centralized training: core labs feared loss of control
secure storage and EMR: PIs thought this was too inconvenient, preferred leaving shit on external hard drives with no access control. Feared if this were created they would be forced to use it.
I don't ever try to fix anything now beyond the lab level, and even that is frequently challenging.
I've also seen two talented investigators passed by for tenure in our department because my PI is powerful and other PIs fear that having another person from our lab in the department will further consolidate power in my PI's hands. Our department recently spent an enormous amount of money renovating a single floor in our aging building. That floor had the departmental chair's lab on it. In my experience, academia is full of people who for the most part are in it for themselves and have no interest in improving the situation of the group / lab / department / university as a whole.
In practice, this never helps in the business of getting experiments done. Students and postdocs just pend some time doing pointless training courses, overheads increase, lead-times for ordering equiment increase. And to what purpose?
We have researchers that literally cannot get work done efficiently because they don't know that core labs exist on campus to serve them, and labs that spend tens of thousands to buy instruments that they seldom use for the same reasons. At a department level (let alone an institute level), we have no idea what instruments or services people need, and no usage statistics for instruments that we already have. This means that it is likely that shared facilities are sub-optimally serving the community as a whole, and labs are buying multiple copies of the same pieces of equipment when one unit could do if it were shared. The lack of central indexing also means that most labs have no idea what other labs are working on, which hinders collaboration.
For training, right now EACH core lab forces researchers to do similar training courses for the same instruments; there is no way to prove you know how to use an instrument without taking each course. Similarly, every core lab employs different billing software which financial admins / lab admins have to sign up for and deal with.
How is this at all productive or efficient for anyone? If you were to suggest a similar setup for interacting business units, you would literally be laughed out of the room at a company.
The reason people like this current system is precisely because it's inefficient and confusing. This makes it difficult to regulate at a high level and makes it ripe for abuse by powerful people.
Policies to keep pets out of certain spaces isn't because of a lack of a fun environment, but looking out for some people's sensitivities.
This is an interesting perspective that I'd like to try. Thanks for sharing.
Every department is different, but I've definitely seen cases where the expectation is that you wait until you have tenure to participate in some changes or take on service work.
You're absolutely right about respecting others, but from his perspective others in the department also should at least listen to him, so it's hard to say whether "speaking out" is fighting or just trying to voice what he believes - which he should do if he does believe it would be helpful. (Doesn't mean he has to "win", but stopping speaking out or questioning things leads to problems.)
> Everything listed under "speaking out" gives me the same vibe.
> then encouraging a student petition and getting your name in a local paper about the incident? That's just asking for trouble.
On the whole, it sounds like there's a clear view he's "loud" about his work, and this sounds like the biggest probem.
You see, I expect univeristies to prefer boring, non rigorous courses, because more students can do them. When I was an undgerad, I could see that my own course was duller and less rigorous than that of my seniors, but more interesting and and rigrorous than those of my juniors.
Why should the trend be different now?
I'd be astonished if any academic committee in any university anywhere in the world had any idea how to measure the value of research objectively.
As for not pissing people off - I'd imagine it's impossibly hard to do truly original research without pissing at least some people off. There will be petty jealousies, back-biting, gossip, and all the usual nonsense. Too much, too soon, and hackles will be raised.
It's very sad. Academia seems to have become stifling rather than expansive.
My working definition of organisational dysfunction is when politics and status become primary motivators, and quality of output - and pride in that quality - become secondary.
From the outside, that seems more true of academia now than it should be.
I completely sympathize with the author; the promise of such shenanigans in the academic career path were part of my motivation for passing a job offer and instead take a software engineering job.
The problem is just like the industry (or even more so), academia is plagued with infighting, personal vendettas, skewed incentives and lots of politics.
I think many believe academia is more pure, more rational and calm environment where it is all sharing, and peaceful pursuit of knowledge and so on. The reality is very different from it.
> but they have to jump through certain hoops to do so
The hoops are part of the problems. It seems he cared for focused more on teaching and administration instead of sucking up to other faculty or just cranking out publications like crazy.
The most important bit is probably him trying to improve things.
Improving things mean undoing something that is already there. Due to tenure and length of time people with tenure hang around in academia, the status quo was established by many of the tenured people there. Saying "I want to improve that" was read as, "what you did sucked, I will make it better". That stuff is never acknowledged publicly but come voting time, it won't be forgotten either.
Sounds like obedience to me.
There's a great HBO tv show, "The Wire". It's all about how an institution can consume personalities of those who belong to it. I'm pretty sure tenure is the same way. I see this happening to people who work in corporations for a long time. Their personalities change as they become the sort of person who can succeed in such environments.
That being said, I suspect standout researchers get tenure and get to be themselves, just as talented people can succeed in corporations and still be themselves.
They are generally the exception rather than the norm, however.
So yes, there is a difference between not pissing off people on the committee and "obedience".
The professional response to a newcomer isn't to have a snitty fit of tutting and hissing, but to consider the possibility that maybe the younger newcomer has something to offer.
If they're just being Dunning-Kruger-ish then fine - snipe away.
But it's not at all a given that the situation is that simple - especially when they've been employed as a prospect in the first place, which suggests that at least an entire hiring committee met them and considered they had promise.
Being able to convince others, win allies, balance priorities, and just get along with others are important skills, and the author seems to excel at none of these. At least, judging by this post. Elsewhere in this thread, a student suggested that there may really have been some nasty infighting happening, in which case this poor guy may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But I think it's bullshit to say that not bruising egos is an important skill, especially in science. The kinds of scientists whose egos are easily bruised are the kinds of scientists who Max Planck was talking about when he said "science progresses one funeral at a time." People who refuse to acknowledge constructive criticism unless it's sugar-coated will continue to pursue the same ideas even after others have proved them wrong.
This is a systematic issue. Science is full of people with big egos. When scientist A criticizes scientist B's idea, ideally scientist A would think really hard about scientist B's criticism and either say "yes, you're right" or "no, here's what you're missing" (ideally with experiments). Scientists with big egos don't do this. They reject other scientists' criticism out of hand, and they criticize people based on feelings rather than ideas. The problem is contagious: Scientists with big egos attract more scientists with big egos, since those are the people who continue to believe they are great despite the barrage of nonsensical criticism. And egos tend to grow larger, not smaller, as people rise in rank.
Appropriately weighing others' evaluations of your ideas is really hard. It requires the technical skill necessary to come up with those ideas in the first place; the social skill to distinguish between sycophantic praise and true positive evaluation; and the emotional control to ignore anger or disappointment that might result from negative evaluation and focus on the content instead. In my experience, people who can do these things make much better scientists, and are much better to work with. They are less guarded when brainstorming ideas and more willing to change their minds in the face of superior evidence. But in modern science, there are relatively few incentives that favor accurate self-evaluation, and many that favor persistence above all else. In a world where ~5% of incoming graduate students go on to become tenured professors, people who aren't great and know it (or are great but don't know it) drop out early, and the people looking for positions end up being a combination of great people and mediocre people who think they're great.
Maybe. Or maybe they care and simply have a different perspective on what is the best approach. Or maybe they have different priorities. Optimizing for one variable (e.g. making one specific course awesome) at the expense of all others (hedging against future enrollment trends, pleasing the board of directors & alumni, limited faculty resources, ....) is simply not how universities work.
So I agree with you, somewhat, in some circumstances. In the science side of thing, maybe. But we're also talking about the college's dog policy here. The author seems to think it is completely obvious that he should be free to bring his dog to his campus lab, and shows no awareness that there may be good reasons there is a no dog policy. Maybe there are students with allergies? Or maybe UB has been sued for this in the past? Or maybe its a state law? I don't know.
So reading your comment carefully, it isn't actually obvious if you think it was the author's colleagues who had the big egos and won't listen to criticism, or the author himself.
Are we not to be allowed, as human beings, to speak for ourselves? Are we to always be in our employee role, subservient to the boss, saying outside of hushed whispers only ever what most pleases the boss? Always in costume, any extra personality immoral to wear outside…
For the most part the less sympathetic comments I've seen are extrapolating that there may have been issues with maturity, professionalism, self-awareness, "reading the room", etc. Of course those comments also come from people extrapolating about what really happened based on the account of one person.
The truth is unknowable to almost everyone here, so all people can do is compare what was written to their own experiences. I don't think you're any more right or wrong than anyone else here, but I think your interpretation is based on a different reading of the situation altogether, rather than everyone reading it the same way but having different notions of what was just or unjust about what happened.
Getting burned by pissing off one or two people in your department is unfortunate. Pissing of more than half the people in your department? Plus lots of people in other departments? And the administration too? And even the local newspaper?
Either he is the only good guy in a sea of jerks, or maybe he's not quite the good guy he thinks he is. I don't know the which it is, and the article doesn't tell us either.
I'm not sure why this story upset me so much. I think it is because when I started in my department, I saw things I thought were terrible -- courses that hadn't been revised in years, the wrong languages being taught, outdated exercises, poorly-written web pages, cumbersome processes, etc. And I said so, frequently. Thankfully, I had some great mentors to help teach me to slow down and listen to others, and work with others. We've now made lots of changes, updated the curriculum, and done it all together. And some things I thought were terrible I know realize are actually elegant solutions to problems outside of our control (e.g. finite money and time and expertise, and a college administration that needs to think about public perception, alumni, gifting, athletics, other departments, and lots of other things besides "what will make the CS department awesome").
Yeah, there's probably a few folks who you can't win over no matter what. But, there are also valid and real takeaways that colleagues are offering, and holding your hands over your ears saying the system is rigged isn't going to help one to continue to grow.
Worse still, I come out defending rights that have been incorporated in western legal tradition since the Magna Carta and the hate really shines! Is freedom that dangerous?
It's not a fallacy if it's a tenable argument.
The article would be even more effective if accompanied by statement from one or more of the eight department members who voted against granting tenure.
$3,000,000 in funding, most of it still active is astonishing (https://blue.cse.buffalo.edu/proposals/), and his DBLP (http://dblp.uni-trier.de/pers/hd/c/Challen:Geoffrey) is pretty awesome (note: he's in DBLP as Geoffrey Challen, Geoffrey Werner Challen, and Geoffrey Werner-Allen).
But he DID keep his dog in his lab, against university policy: https://web.archive.org/web/20151002100639/http://www.buffal...
I hope he changes his mind about not appealing. The grass ain't greener anywhere else. All university departments are filled with miserable gossips.
They are also filled with people who think their own vision and priorities for the intro programming course, operating systems course, networking course, "entire" undergrad curriculum, department and college resource allocation, and campus dog policy, are obviously the only correct and rational choice, and anyone who disagrees is a miserable gossip.
Am I the only one who thinks that is a cringe-worthy metric to evaluate a scientist?
I always thought I would enjoy doing research on the bleeding edge, but doing that research isn't what matters for your success in that industry. Citations and funding are "traction" in academia and I don't see anything displacing that, whether we like it or not.
The politics may not be better anywhere else, but pretty much anywhere is friendlier to life, including grass, than Buffalo.
I know people who specifically waited years to redesign courses until they had tenure.
> I knew that I had made a few enemies, but I was surprised that the final vote was so lopsided: 6 yays, 2 abstainers, and 8 nays.
What's the bar for passing? A majority of yeas? A plurality? Is there any sort of standard or is it different from school to school?
"Appointments require full review and votes at all levels (including the department, school/college, PRB [President's Review Board], the Provost, and the President.)"
I'm sure a strong majority at the school/college level would work! There are probably even a few (very rare) cases where a President has overturned department and school/college rejections. Probably ultimately it's the President's call.
Here's a small qualitative report on university presidents overturning tenure decisions: http://www.eg.bucknell.edu/~mligare/governance/adhoc/crtp_fi...
(My rough back-of-napkin summary: it's a once-every-10-years type of occurrence, and can go either way).
The naive and/or cynical answer is because the organization demands conformity: wouldn't want to hire a fresh thinker to derail our institutional gravy train! Let's burn them out by making them jump through an arbitrary and tedious series of hoops so they come out the other end too limp and tired to overthrow us! This interpretation is nonsense.
The informed answer is that this stage is an additional filtering process. Being a leader in a large organization requires politicking: coalition building, patience, tact, etc. Not every junior hire will develop these skills. Organizations that endow too much power in someone lacking such skills will inevitably suffer from unnecessary conflicts and (often) fruitless instability.
This post seems like the author is listing his accomplishments while stunned that they alone don't qualify him for tenure. However, I would wager anything that his potential to accomplish these sorts of things was obvious to the department from day one. If so, it likely influenced their decision to hire him in the first place. His achievement of this potential yielded little new information. Meanwhile, his ostentatious conflicts and overly vocal style likely did.
My personal assessment is he's clearly a brilliant and hard-working faculty member, but the rock-the-boat actions he boasts and the very fact that he wrote this post suggests that he lacks the soft touch of a leader. Tenure doesn't just mean being un-fireable, it means helping shape your institution, and a brilliant leader without a steady hand is more trouble than he's worth.
The world needs you. No matter what your politics are, if you truly are advancing science and doing all the things you wrote about, you will be fine. You just need to take this lesson to heart and understand that the machine is like Skynet in that it protects itself.
I further recommend you leave NY State, especially upstate. It's had it. Barring some massive turnaround, there is no future for anyone in Upstate NY.
I don't know the author of this article or his research, but his story is entirely plausible. Tenured faculty can be brutal to those bidding to join the club, often perceiving the most well-intended actions to be threatening. In the end the consequences most strongly harm the advancement of the field and the education of students.
On an industry level, yeah he's right. These things are happening throughout academia in departments everywhere. Tenure is a poorly designed system. Most likely, UBuffalo is missing out on a great teacher. On a personal level, it'd be a shame to walk away from an experience like this as being cynical and defensive.
I'd much rather stay in my office and work out a problem than go to a conference and "network". Or waste time writing a paper about my incremental progress (I could just wait and write about the whole thing!) That makes me a terrible "scientist", I guess.
This guy may very well be brilliant in his field, but he is clearly not a good fit for the department he was in. Quite frankly, he seems to be abrasive and a bit of a dick. He also seems inexcusably naive about how academia works, considering how long he has been an academic. Why would any rational person in his department guarantee him the job security to stick around for the rest of his career?
Why would anyone want to hire him after the unprofessional and petulant display he just posted on the web?
A common criticism seems to be that he has a huge ego.
It may also prompt potential employers to look at the makeup of the department that rejected him - is it full of people who got their initial degrees when 32-bit architectures were theoretical novelties?
Wouldn't it be an unfortunate thing, for someone to get hired into a place that has toxicity in it, when simply warning others may have prevented it? We should side with having empathy for our peers and colleagues, not for our employers and organizations.
In general, this post is mostly positive. It's a reflection on his time there. Does it contain some criticisms? Yes, but to say that he should just shut up, take the beating, and move on is tragic.
He'll have no problem finding employment.
Mmm - I think it's an extension of the "praise in public, criticize in private" mentality. Not everyone in all environments takes blunt critique of their work well, even if it's not intentionally aimed at them, especially if everyone can hear it. A little diplomacy can help a bitter pill go down much smoother.
The article seems to contain some public, blunt, and very clearly coworker-targeted critique:
>> And of course I’m angry with my colleagues. I trusted that they would be able to put aside historical personal grievances and act in the best interest of the department. I was wrong.
I'd be this blunt with close colleagues and friends. With everyone else, I'd take a moment to consider the possibility that I might've had something to do with the personality conflict (to be fair, the author does seem to do this earlier) and reword more diplomatically. Because we should strive to have empathy for our peers and colleagues - even if we don't get along with them perfectly. To do otherwise risks contributing to toxicity.
But as you say:
> In general, this post is mostly positive.
So here's hoping nobody sweats the small stuff.
I think you're right that viewing public pieces like this as "bad" is generally not helpful to anyone, but there seem to be lot of people in academia who are afraid of pieces like this and initially jump to the interpretation they're a fight or some way of circumventing the existing processes.
If this guy is as good as he says he is - then yeah he should be able to find a job, but posting this could make some of that searching harder, or at least cause resistance.
Must have been depressing for this guy to realize that universities nowadays are just massive hedge funds that sponsor football programs that are bigger than computer science departments.
Life goes on. Pick up your pieces and build a new dream. Don't stand on the bridge you are burning.
Tenure is a big commitment by the department and the university to your career. No matter how successful you are on the objective criteria behind the selection, you also need to be someone the faculty can envision being glad to work with for the next few decades, and who they think can be effective in improving the department in the future. If we believe the author's own evidence, then I would have been inclined to vote nay as well.
The author is proposing that people read those papers becaus he is proud of them. Nothing wrong with that.
In all sorts of other contexts, obviously there are many ways in which something can be good. In the specific way he used it, there is a very well-defined and objective standard, and he fails it.
I think that his publications record isn't great, and that and his personality are perhaps what lead to his tenure's outcomes, but that's not a point you are making.
But yes, only time will tell at the end of the day.
(The funding system doesn't always make sense, but it REALLY wouldn't make sense to give a grant, especially something like a CAREER, which is given to a single PI based on the work that PI proposes to do, to a department where the PI who proposed to do the work no longer actually works...)
It seems the only argument for tenure is academic freedom.. a tenured professor can pursue an avenue of research without fear of reprisal for it being controversial or not yielding results (though really, even experiments that 'fail' actually serve to prove that it's not the way to go).
It seems to be me like this is a problem that can be solved in many better ways. For example, employees in most (every?) jurisdiction are protected by laws that mean they can't be fired without just cause. Even if the employer tries to find ways around this (making up reasons), the fired employee can generally lodge a complaint/lawsuit to prove otherwise. Can some type of protection of this sort not be written into academic contracts as well?
The United States is not one of those jurisdictions. Employees can be fired for any reason other than certain protected reasons (race, etc.) One can literally be fired for supporting the wrong political candidate, for example.
(a) a lot of this is state-specific, not US wide as you indicate
(b) many states have laws specifically to protect employees from being fired for their political affiliations and activities.
(c) some states have even broader protection
But, to your point, you can always fire someone for their political view and say it was for one of a billion other non-protected reason.
But, yes, you can always fire your employees for being too attractive, if firing them for their political beliefs is too risky or distasteful.
Broadly speaking, unless the employee has contractual protection; or the reason is discriminatory against members of a protected class, is in retaliation for exercising other workplace rights, or is contrary to public policy; it's legally acceptable to fire anyone for any reason.
Your third point is not always applicable, in my understanding. At-will employees in New York can be fired for any non-protected reason, or even without cause. Contracts and unions elevate the burden of the employer to justify a termination, but outside of that, it's not easy to fight a wrongful termination without having hard evidence of some kind of implied contract.
Why make a commitment to support 2x more tenure track positions when you have 1-2 good enough to attract wide-eyed grad students? This is the market correcting itself to shrinking federal budgets and ballooning workforce supply.
As a side note, since UB is a state school, salaries are public information. He was making over $100k, even before tenure.
A $250k salary in Austin is supposedly equivalent to a $450k salary in San Francisco.
First, I think UT is a bit of an outlier: they are one of the top ranked departments in the country. Second: faculty members making $150k typically don't step into jobs in industry at $150k, they typically double or triple their salary.
Generally, salaries in academia are much lower than what the academic could be making in industry. However, to make that in industry they'd have to compromise in a lot of ways: having a job in academia means you're trading your opportunity cost to not have a boss, work on what you want, mentor students, set your own hours, etc...
Anecdotally (from my experience in academia) salaries for profs at average departments ranges from low 100s to high 100s, unless you move into more management-style roles (e.g., department chair). Naturally, this is higher for top places.
(That came out like it's a bad thing, but it's not.)
And he loves to say "you know." Way too much.
And when he writes names of people on the whiteboard (later in a video on packets) he scribbles them. If it's worth writing down, it's worth writing clearly, especially for something like a person's name where it's not a dictionary word with a known spelling. This is a quality of instruction issue. To be a great teacher, you have to notice these things, care about them, and fix them.
Principles don't require a person to project bitterness and cynicism. He's indulging his frustrations which may feel satisfying, but does not strengthen his argument.
Many organizations would pass him over based on this post alone because they would worry he may be difficult to manage or not a team player.
It's true many people don't have political skills but there are workarounds. For example, always get a second opinion before posting something like this.
I am sure there is some kernel of truth in his claim of unfairness, and he seems like a genuinely great teacher, but denial of tenure seems more like a case of promising faculty (his publication record prior to his start at UB seems stellar) not living up to expectations?
It's no more job security than in corporate america.
The language in this document is telling in a few ways. There is not much about collaboration with peers or superiors other than conflict. The article left me with an impression of conflict and someone who wasn't a team player. I am guessing that cultural compatibility was an issue. It may be possible that the outcome may be for the best because it may help the author grow (although, public accusations will not be seen well by future employees as it's airing many people's dirty laundry).
I'm also note that the author raises some issues that I as a boss take exception to. For example, more diversity. I am aware that in today's climate, diversity is a highly charged, politically correct topic. The author talks about diversity by hiring by gender. What diversity is the author seeking? That of genitals? Is there some magic empathy or creativity that females supposedly have? I've always built teams based on needs of skills, personality, cultural fit. As an example, I knocked back a highly qualified, well presented male candidate because he was too ambitious for a maintenance role. This was not because of his gender, but, because he was unlikely to provide a long term ROI and would expect promotion that couldn't be delivered and cause unrest by venting disappointment as a lack of growth. I would most probably be seen by the author as being sexist for not hiring by gender to fill a quota and I would view the author as sexist for hiring by gender and being unable to see that diversity is not a gender, but skills and personality.
I would encourage the author to ask themself if they are a team player. I would encourage the author to understand themselves and the sort of culture they want to work in. Maybe, it is a culture of creativity rather than talent that the author craves (as an example). Seeking feedback from peers outside of work may be very helpful and revealing too.
I can be confrontational (too many fights over too many years), but I know who I am and I know what I want. I support my organisation above myself (during working hours) and I support and respect juniors, peers and more senior staff. I negotiate my views. I listen carefully. I seek feedback from my peers. I align my views with my peers where it doesn't compromise my principals. As an example, I would never work for a company that hires (or excludes) by gender or race because I want freedom to hire the right staff, not some boxes ticked. I know myself and my employee. I turn down jobs where I don't believe in the company for my own sake and the company's.
I wish the author the best of luck and hope they have the courage to ask the tough questions. I think they need to ask some tough questions.
Stack ranking is a downward spiral.
Since this was posted 2016-10-22, I'm gonna assume the department did this smack in the middle of the semester.