Sunday, March 28, 2010

I coulda been a contender...

I was looking at the candidates for what could honestly be my dream job in the future, and I had a sudden realization. I might have been a contender for the job...right now! Not in five years, not after promotion to full professor, not after an intermediate administrative post, but right freakin' now! Not a shoo-in, by any means, but the pool is looking a little shallow if these candidates are the best for the job. Of course, I hadn't applied, thinking it was beyond my current standing. Hell, they had people on their faculty (and even their interim) who were way more qualified than me. But those people hadn't applied, and those who had didn't possess more impressive credentials than my own.

So, now I have to stand back and watch someone else who doesn't have much on me get the position. Worse yet, the gf had encouraged me to apply for it, and I had explained to her that I couldn't compete. It is a learning moment for sure. I am learning that the market for senior administrators is really quite limited right now, and my skills and experiences may allow me to compete for these positions earlier than I thought possible. Yet, it still feels wrong to look at those positions right now, because they would require me to skip over a lower, intermediate position.

I have always been a big believer in moving up the ladder one rung at a time. I have read numerous stories and reflections in the Chronicle and IHE about people who skipped a step, only to fail in the higher ranking position due to some lack of understanding. Of course, it is impossible to know if that failure was really due to their lack of experience, or if they would have failed no matter what. But there is something nice in knowing  the job above you well enough that you feel confident you understand the parameters and know you can do the job. When you skip that position to one above it, your understanding of the job, and your confidence that you will be successful in it, is more limited.

Yet, perhaps this is a particularly female way of looking at moving up. Many male leaders I see have no compunction against reaching for a much higher position, skipping steps along the way. There seems to be a different approach to taking on leadership positions, a "Sure I can" approach, rather than a "I'm not sure if I can" fear. They seem more comfortable blustering and fumbling their way through until they have figured out the parameters of the new position and made it their own. It is almost like watching people walk up stairs; women usually take them one at a time, while men are more likely to move more quickly taking two or three at a time. While I tend towards a more direct, masculine approach in interactions, something about this process of moving up in administration has me acting like a more traditional woman.

Perhaps some of my reticence is rooted in the way people react to my pursuit of higher adminstrative roles. Many people, even my academic friends, have talked about how ambitious I am. Others who aren't my friends imply that it is weird, self-aggrandizing, or some kind of power grab on my part. Perhaps it is those messages that make me a little more nervous about trying for a big move; nothing looks more like hubris and a hunger for power than a big leap ahead.

I wonder sometimes how one knows s/he is ready for such a big, stair-skipping move. I have gathered some recent proof that I may be ready:
  1. Other professionals in my life--friends and colleagues, including a few who hold that position--think I could do the job.
  2. People applying for these positions have qualifications similar to mine.
  3. I have ideas about how someone in that position could do the job well.
  4. I have friends and colleagues who have that job who would be willing to mentor me if I got such a position.
  5. I have other colleagues who have told me they would gladly come and work for me if I took that position.
  6. I am unsatisfied in my current position and want to be in a position to be doing more and operating on this level.
So, with all of that knowledge, I am trying to adapt to this new perspective, this idea of moving ahead more quickly. I know I am ready for something new and different, a new challenge that would allow me to grow and develop as an administrator. I want to shape something new, make contributions to the development of a program--its faculty, staff, and students. Perhaps now is the time.

Have any of you skipped steps in your path to administrative jobs in higher ed? How did you manage your self-doubts?


Anonymous said...

I hear some of my own experience in what you have written. You are clearly very capable of taking on a higher admin job; I wonder if some of your self doubt is simply routed in the standard gender role issues? You;re a woman, therefore you are "weird" to want power, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lesboprof. I haven't read you in the past -- came over to your post via Dean Dad -- so don't have much context about you. With that disclaimer, I offer a consideration.

I see so many senior administrators who started their admin job when they were still associates and then never made it to full -- the admin job sucks too much time away to pursue their research. It seems to be especially true in the humanities where you can't turn work over to lab staff.

All is well for them until a change of leadership comes along and they find themselves back on the faculty - now way out of synch with their peers and pretty much unable to recover their research programs. As institutional knowledge of their past administrative contribution fades, they become marginalized in their home departments. I'm painting a bleak picture for argument, but not a fictional one.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly the feeling you're talking about. I recently applied for a teaching position in a discipline that, while I've spent the last three years studying it (including 2 years in a PhD program that I didn't finish) I hold no degrees in whatsoever. But I met the minimum qualifications of a master's degree (in another field) and X many hours of courses in the subject, so I said what the heck, and applied.

I figured, in this job market, with the glut of PhDs in this area (3 major universities), that I had no chance - but I got a call for an interview anyways. I still think I probably have no chance of getting the job, but since I didn't think I'd even get an interview, I'm already ahead (and obviously am either underrating myself or overrating the candidate market locally).

There's another position of the same type accepting applications for a place that's even closer (30 minute commute rather than an hour plus); I'm going to apply for it, too. You never know.

I think this falls under the whole, "give them a chance to say yes to you" thing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the anonymity, but reprisals can have long tendrils. Here's another consideration: lately administrators have hit on a new way to cover up budget problems by endlessly re-scrambling search committees, asking for more choices even after apparently "final" interviews, and keeping the cheaper interim fill-ins (mostly retirees) in place way beyond expected limits. If there's even a hint of that at your "dream" job, you might try contacting the search managers and offering to enrich the competition, no matter what stage it seems to have reached. Even if this job turns out not to be your Kismet, that gesture can open surprising doors.