“So, when are you leaving?” A new faculty struggles with perceptions and intentions

I’m a relatively new professor, still adjusting to my first year on the tenure track at University X (or UX for short). It’s been a great transition so far. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a grant and have had a couple of nice papers come out recently. I have fantastic colleagues and have developed a good professional and personal support network. I think all of this bodes well for my future success. And lucky for me, I love my job and the place I’m at in life.

However, since I began my job at UX, I’ve noticed something funny.

Several people, at all levels from new faculty to upper administration, have asked me how long I plan on staying at UX. The questions reached their peak of pointedness during a recent meeting with an upper administrator (the first time I had met the person), when he flat out asked me what I was doing at UX and how long I was planning on staying here, given that I had these nice papers.

Granted, I think it’s reasonable to expect that at some point in my career I may contemplate moving to a different institution. And of course no university is perfect, and indeed there are some issues at UX (as there are at many universities these days). But, while I don’t want to underestimate how much the issues will affect my work and my students, I also don’t want to underestimate the value in having great colleagues and a great support network as I navigate the tenure track. So I’m not so naive that I think I’ll never consider moving, but I really have no intention of doing so any time soon!

The big issue for me is that all of these questions have given me a complex. Am I being asked this question because there is a general perception that I will jump ship, or is this just the assumption of a few insecure individuals? Because I’m new at this professor gig, I really don’t have any context for assessing how common this question is. So, wise readers: Are these types of questions normal or not? Is this something I need to be concerned about? Are there any drawbacks (or benefits) to this perception? And do I need to address it explicitly, or do I address it simply through my actions- by staying at UX, enjoying life and being a good colleague?

Note: I am traveling so comment moderation and replies may be delayed. Please bear with me!

12 thoughts on ““So, when are you leaving?” A new faculty struggles with perceptions and intentions

  1. I have been asked similar things since I started my TT gig, and realize that its more about how the senior faculty and the administrators view the institution. They think you are “better” than a person who would stay at UX for a long period of time, or they see that their school is weak in your research area, and assume you would prefer to be at a place with more directly collaborative colleagues. It’s mostly a compliment I think, though it’s an annoying question without an answer, and the people asking should know that.

  2. I’ve had a similar experience at my big state U over the past 5 years. No one straight up asked me when/if I’m leaving, but they’d bring it up. Especially after major accomplishments, people would say stuff like “I bet you get a lot of inquiries from other schools” and “I really hope you decide to stay here.” The latter felt particularly weird because at the time, I felt like the situation was the other way around – me hoping they give me tenure (which they did, this year). In retrospect, the department had lost productive faculty members to better offers elsewhere at a rate of 1-2 per year for several years in a row. A few more bigshots were known to be looking to leave. We’re in a state that frequently shits on higher ed. We don’t get raises most years. The administration pressures us to take on more students but doesn’t want to give us more faculty hires, even just to replace our losses. I think everyone is just really concerned about retaining good faculty under these circumstances.

  3. I think it’s always that idea that people have where they think “you’d probably do better somewhere else.” They probably saw your work and decided that your talents could probably take you very far, even to a better university. Also these people may not have the same outlook on the university as you do where they’re looking for a way out and see that if they had your talents they probably would’ve gone elsewhere. But it all comes down to this: if you’re okay with where you’re at and feel that this place is the right fit for you, don’t let anything else sway you. Ultimately, it is your life and your career. As you said, you are open to moving to a different university if your career takes you there so ride this one out and see where it takes you. Maybe they’re right about taking your skills elsewhere but until you see your time at this university to be done and well spent, I’d pay no attention to their comments and do what you want.

  4. I agree – it seems to me as though the Institution has an inferiority complex of some sort. People probably do think they are complimenting you, and have no idea that others have said something similar. Perhaps it would be useful if you could bring it up at some sort of meeting where there is a range of people of different levels – in a humorous way of course – and perhaps if they become aware that it is an Institution-wide ‘problem’, then it can be addressed.

    If it is possible to address the issue, everyone will find It is much nicer to be in a place where there is a positive attitude. Even if it isn’t the highest-prestige university in the world, everywhere has something that it does well to contribute to its own students and staff. It is more comfortable for staff members if the admin and others in authority emphasise these things. Otherwise what starts as a joke can become entrenched over time, and demoralising (ie the overall feeling is that it is an inferior place). This leads to more and more grumbling instead of more and more being proud of one’s university and achievements.

    In the meantime, enjoy your new place and well done for being so successful so early. I hope both the success and the enjoyment continue for many years.

  5. Perhaps it would be useful if you could bring it up at some sort of meeting where there is a range of people of different levels – in a humorous way of course – and perhaps if they become aware that it is an Institution-wide ‘problem’, then it can be addressed.

    This is exceedinly foolish advice. Absolutely do not do this. As a new assistant professor, it is not your job to make people aware of any supposed “institution-wide problem”, especially something as amorphous as this.

    Whenever it happens, just laugh it off and tell people you love it there. Your job right now is to build your own research program and reputation in your field, not to distract yourself with irrelevant minutiae like this.

  6. I admit I may be coming at this from an angle of a completely different culture, but drmsscientist has already said that it ‘is giving her a complex’, so it seems to me that business as usual is not going to help her in the long term. I would always say something, I am not cowed by being a junior person in a meeting. In a joking way, of course.

    I am also coming from this from working in a place where comments started this way and just got worse and worse over several years, to the point where everyone around was saying ‘I wish i could leave this place’ – yet it had much to offer, and I often did point out our positives and while I was there, work towards being cheerful and emphasising what we had to offer as much as i could in my own way. But in the end, the culture got toxic and I, too, got depressed.

    If something can be done early on, even by a junior, then everyon – particularly drmsscientist – will be happier for longer.

    Maybe my suggestion is not appropriate in a different culture, but maybe my attempt to stir the possum will help someone think of something that does work.

  7. I don’t know if I would call it an “institution-wide complex” but I think that the fact that people are asking you when you are leaving rather than contemplating what they can do to keep you says something about their own belief in the institution and its resources.

  8. Thanks, all. Many of your comments reaffirmed thoughts I’ve had (this is somewhat common, take it as a compliment, as long as you’re happy disregard, etc), so I think I can finally get over any weirdness associated with these questions!

  9. It’s funny, people at my university don’t ask me when I’m leaving, but I get that question a lot from colleagues outside my university. Obviously our circumstances are really different (gender, seniority/tenure, kind of university I assume), but still, the inverseness of it is striking to me.

  10. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | Want To Be Successful? Just Publish, “Dude”!

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