Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘Snowbird’

Snowbird: Working with your Dean

In academia, academic management on June 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Oh, I forgot to post this after Snowbird, and it was such a good session.

The final session at Snowbird that I attended was one on working with your Dean. It was hosted by nine Deans from various schools (i blogged about this once, but there was more that I thought would be useful to add). It was open to non-chairs, and I went along because I was curious. Academic management as the reader of this blog knows is a topic I find very interesting (in no small part due to tenure, the different financial structure of the University, and what the processes by which it occurs reveal about the nature of the organizational structure and culture in place).

The session begun with the Deans answering some questions.

  1. What’s the best way to request funds for faculty hires? You need to have a plan, data that supports the plan showing how this hire would support the mission of the department and school. Make it a partnership with your Dean.
  2. What makes a good chair? Someone who is an open communicator with staff and faculty, someone who is informed, able to build consensus, create and maintain an inclusive environment, able to manager interpersonal conflicts, can plan strategically, and makes decisions/plans that are consistent with the mission of the School. Someone who is provocative (?), who listens and empowers the faculty, who focuses on student needs, who can solve problems, who is honest and reliable, who is open and honest, who supports the Dean and School in public (who is supportive generally in public, and saves occasions to critique for more private settings), who has a sense of humour, and wants to have fun in the job.
  3. On leadership style. Approaches the Dean, is a calm leader, and recognizes that the job requires leadership in faculty, students, education, and the university. Should develop your own vision for the organization, be a good communicator, and care about the people under you.
  4. What to do when you need help? There are different forms of help. One is to get a sounding. Another is to ask your boss to play a different role (good cop versus bad cop) for example. Some phrased it as piracy, policy, publicity: You want help when any of these occur. Piracy is when resources you need are not yours to allocate, i.e. you need to approach your Dean for help. Policy is when the precedent set by taking a decision would have implications beyond the scope of a Chair. Publicity is about managing the impression of the unit w.r.t. to the University (and probably also the media).

Here’s the other things I thought were interesting to note.

Working with the Dean is a partnership, the Dean is an enabler for the Chair. But at the same time, the Dean needs the partnership to help manage up to the Provost/President. Sometimes this involves helping the Dean understand the value of the discipline the Chair represents for the University. Done through accomplishments and productivity. Another thing was to be collegial across the departments that the Dean represents. Cross-cutting programs or shared degrees that benefit more than one department represented by the Dean were offered as a good example of this. I liked the idea that it was important to balance advocacy with collegiality.

Does the chair ever go to the Provost, yes, but the Deans seemed to think that it was a good idea that the Dean be advised, possibly suggest, that that occurs. In other words, don’t surprise the Dean that the Provost has been contacted. That makes quite a bit of sense to me, seems like any normal management chain. I’m glad that there’s something about academia that seems similar to the world of business. And another one in that regard is that each Chair-Dean relationship is different, each working style is different. Oh, and of course, creating a world of us versus them is not helpful.

There was some discussion about the Chair’s interaction with Associate Deans, and the roles of Associate Deans more generally. I didn’t really capture all of this. Sort of ironic.

Women are more likely to leave if they receive an alternate offer than men are. Apparently there’s scholarly evidence for this. This came up during a discussion of how various institutions handle retention issues. Are they pro-active, trying to close imbalanced salary gaps, or do they wait for the suitcases to be rattled (which seemed to be the less popular model). At some institutions, there are retention clocks so that people can’t keep coming back for raises each year, for example.

There was lots of discussion of dual career. The impression I had was that the era of the faculty member with the stay-at-home partner was largely over. Deans were saying that everyone was a dual career partnership. That’s not to say that everyone is a dual career research partnership, but that to recruit effectively its essential for Universities to help find the partner valuable employment.

I loved these sentences. Thank you for sharing this with me, multiple people are involved here so I will need to discuss it with each stakeholder before arriving at a decision. You have to do what you have to do. Thank you for sharing this with me, exactly what action are you seeking from me. I am sorry that you are upset by this.

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Snowbird: CRA in Washington D.C.

In computer science on July 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

How do you make the case that the Federal Government should allocate discretionary funds for Computer Science research? This is a question that I’ve wondered about, but Peter Harsha’s talk at Snowbird was the first time I felt I understood what an answer to it would be. His talk, in short, was amazing. I enjoyed it, not just because he’s an exceptionally engaging speaker, but also because I felt that it was a useful combination of explanatory and fascinating.

Peter Harsha represents the Computer Research Association in Washington D.C. (he has a great blog also). I can’t possibly capture all of his talk, but I will put some thoughts down here. I want to also direct the reader to the article “Making the Case for Computing” which also discusses how Peter and Cameron Wilson, from the ACM, make their case.

First, I learnt about the type of work that people like Peter do for Computing, in other words what the CRA’s policy foci comprise. First, they work on raising funds for, and setting priorities for Computing research. Second, they focus on access to computing talent, which includes focusing on STEM and also understanding how immigration policies affect Computing occupations (speaking as a visa holder, thank you). Third, they also look at impediments to research, one example might be any changes in export control rules.

Perhaps it is because I am a foreigner that I did not know and consequently learnt that the Federal budget comes in two forms, mandatory and discretionary components. Research funding for agencies like the NSF, DARPA, Homeland Security all come out of the discretionary piece. There are a number of appropriations bills (i.e. the documents that specify the allocation of funds among the various pieces). I think that number is 12. Homeland Security, which includes HS research, has its own appropriation. The National Science Foundation’s budget is located within the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriation. DoD’s budget lives in the Defense appropriation, while the NiH’s budget is to be found in the Labor/HHS/Education appropriation. If I understand the process correctly, the President makes a budget that he sends to Congress who then review/change it, until an agreement is reached. So, what I learnt about changing the budgets was that say, for example, someone wants to up the NSF’s budget (yay), then it must come from somewhere else within that appropriation. It’s not possible to, for example, take from the NSFs budget to up the NiH’s budget because these agencies are in different appropriations.

Next, Peter talked about how they make the case for Computing, what’s the story?

Simply put the story is that Computing changes everything. The history of the field is compelling, not just because of the sheer number of scientific advances, but because of their role in advancing other sciences, business, society and so forth. Computing matters because its innovations reach beyond the discipline itself and into every part of human existence. That’s not what he said, that’s my paraphrasing.

Looking forward he suggested Global Development as one area of advancement that Computing could play a role in. That really cheered me up, I agree completely!

He also made the observation of how Federally funded research is at the center of the IT R&D ecosystem. I was reminded of another presenter at Snowbird who said that the NSF funds about 86% of all research in Computing in the United States. That’s much higher than other sciences, who have more distributed models of funding (ones spread across more agencies, and possibly other sources). Taken together it seems that the IT R&D ecosystem relies on the NSF in particular.

He also explained the processes by which they make the case for Computing. One way is to provide Congressional Testimony. But they also host events, and partner with other people who are also vested in making the case for Computing to host events (which also includes being part of larger science advocacy committees). They also use the press to help make the case. He said that CRA has a good brand, which helps. Finally he invited the audience to get involved, and explained how important it was for the Computing community to be involved in making the case.

I can’t possibly cover all the details, but he also provided the audience with detailed insight into how the appropriations and bill-setting processes work. It was mind-boggling. I think the key take away I got from this is that the government is where Politics meets politics. I don’t mean that pejoratively, rather I accept that all human organizations are comprised of people with goals that drive their actions and that in this case those goals are Political (on behalf of the citizenry that they represent) and their pursuit creates politics as inevitably there are collisions of belief and objectives. Winners and losers you might say. It was immensely helpful to understand the processes through which these agendas are executed over appropriations. I now know about the processes of motion to recommit with instructions, and line item voting.

He ended by highlighting how key members of various science and technology committees are retiring or likely to be replaced. That was sad, but perhaps not as sad as the observation that the Federal budget is tight, and looks like it will get tighter over time. He asked us to be involved, to help diversify the resources that the community draws on, and also to participate on more national advisory boards and so forth. I wish he had thoughts on how to be visible enough in order to be invited, but perhaps that’s just a silly question on my part.

He also asked us to sign up for action alerts, occasions where petitioning our representatives and senators to make the case for Computing. The CRA has an alert system here. Another way to be involved is to attend Congressional Visits, where community members go to DC and meet their Congress members at a hosted event (I think that’s what I understood it to be).

Snowbird: Faculty Hiring Gridlock

In academia, academic management, computer science on July 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Day 2 at Snowbird included attenting a panel on faculty hiring processes. The concern that triggered this panel is that there’s a gridlock associated with faculty hiring and that this is not good for departments or for the candidates themselves. The problem as explained was that faculty slots actually go unfilled, even in a tight market, because late offers mean that candidates accumulate offers (while waiting for that last late offer hopefully). When the candidate decides and other offers are turned down it’s too late in the hiring season for the Universities with unfilled slots to recruit in that year.

One presenter showed evidence that last year of the 114 slots that departments had (113 departments interviewed), only 71 were filled. There was a widespread belief, one that I concur with, that this was detrimental to the Ph.D.’s searching for appointments.

There’s a solution on the table, it turns on several parts. First, move all the deadlines earlier, submission of applications and the time of first offers to April 1. There was some discussion of which was more important, and the backend date seems to be the more important. Second, inform candidates who will not be interviewed early so that they can make alternate plans rather than waiting for things that never come. Third, to have deadlines for telling candidates who were interviewed that they will not receive an offer and also to have deadlines for how long offers are open. I should add that the solution was not proposed as “law” but perhaps more of as a set of guiding principles…

But there are logistical constraints. One challenge is that earlier application deadlines can be difficult because sometimes Deans/Departments don’t know whether they have positions. This is especially true in difficult budget times. But, during the discussion several other fascinating deadlines and complications emerged. Semesters versus quarters seem to have a significant effect of the hiring schedule. For example, May 1 first offer deadline is better for people in semesters since the faculty are around until the middle of June than it is for those on semesters whose faculty disappear by the end of May. That a difference exists makes it hard to lock down certain dates. And of course, it’s interesting how the summer arrangement (i.e., where faculty are not paid by the institution but through their own grants) also complicates the hiring process (by reducing the amount of the year in which it can be conducted).

Another piece of the solution proposed was to tell candidates earlier that they are not going to be interviewed, or for those who do interview, that they will not receive an offer. This runs up against legal concerns in some Universities, who do not permit rejection letters to go out until the slot is filled. I did not know, but I learnt that Universities in the AAU are required to make offers to tenured faculty by April 1, and some pointed out that perhaps we should take that deadline and make it a goal for all offers.

One final observation that fits into the “you can tell you’re working with Computer Scientists” category was the number of people who described this as a game theory problem, and applied such approaches to the understanding and resolution of this problem.

I attended since I was curious about what the problem was, and how one might propose a solution that needs to be coordinated across institutions, and this panel was valuable for understanding that process.

Snowbird: Thinking Big in Computer Science

In academia, C@tM, computer science, discipline, research on July 20, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I’m in a session at the CRA Snowbird conference focused on thinking big in Computer Science as a means to pursue large grants. The session is organized by Debbie Crawford at the NSF. There were a range of speakers who each took a turn to provide their thoughts on pursuing large projects.

The first project is about robotic bees, the research to create them (it’s an NSF Expeditions). The problem set up is lovely. 30% of the worlds food requires pollination by bees. But bee colonies are dying. Can robotic bees help? It is simple to explain (and not to answer) and very compelling. Then there’s the team structure. They have 10 or so faculty in different research areas/disciplines, but all with core interests focused on robotic bees and other insects (I think that’s what I took away). Of course this suggests lots of related and prior work by the team members. Additionally they are all collocated, in Boston, with one person in Washington DC. Finally, collaborations existed among various team members also existed, so although the whole team had not worked together they all had some experience of working with other members of the team.

The process the Robobees team used to create the grant was a brainstorm meeting, collocated, purpose of which was to generate the outline for the Expeditions grant. They used the outline to divide the work, with each PI contributing text and figures where appropriate. Then a smaller number (guessing the lead PIs) integrated the text and circulated the document for feedback.

The next person to speak was from the DoE. I didnt personally get quite as much out of this talk as the others, I am sure that was due to my interests. What I did take away was that the DoE has lots of opportunities for computing, ranging from architectures, systems software, operating systems, programming languages, as well as the fields that make up computational science and engineering. If I was surprised, and perhaps I shouldn’t have been, the DoE is also focused on networks and remote collaboration tools to support distributed science.

The next person to speak was from DARPA. He talked about how to win (a DARPA contract).

In order of priority, he began with ideas matter. There’s a paper called the Army Capstone Concept that potential investigators should read. He asked the community to aim higher and bolder. He didn’t speak to this point, but I thought I saw on that slide it also said that the idea must be doable. The previous DARPA plenary said that it was alright to aim high and fail (at least initially) so I’d have liked to know more about doable. Second, it must fit the DARPA mission. Third and fourth were cost realism and the proposers’ capabilities and related experience. With respect to related experience he emphasized more than once that it should not just be your stature, but actual experience. He also said that it sometimes helped to write your proposal in parts, with budgets for the various parts because that can help in contracting (they may ask for some but not all of the parts I inferred from this, so modularity is advisable). Finally he emphasized engagement with the Program Managers, before the BAA and after the grant is awarded, he also reminded the audience that they read a lot of proposals, which I took as a reminder to make it engaging and interesting to read.

The next speaker came from the University of Michigan. He provided the experience of someone who has run large centers, and therefore has been successful in raising money for them. He did a great job of providing the faculty/lead PI perspective as well as suggesting what department chairs should do to help faculty who want to write large grants. He began by saying that not all faculty are interested in writing large grants and that in his opinion it’s pointless trying to encourage everyone to do so. Instead, find those who are willing and support them in doing it.

He argued that the reason to write large grants is the visibility and impact for both the individual and institution. Another value he highlighted was that a large effort can create a locus for other activity. So, a large center can spawn and facilitate related research efforts. But there are challenges. One is interdisciplinary. Not just external to CS but also among the specialities of CS. So all the challenges of doing interdisciplinary work apply. Another challenge is that you have to have complete coverage in the space you are proposing around, you have to plan for it from the beginning and the PI has to ensure that any gaps are filled, even if he gaps that need filling are not attractive research to the person that takes the ultimate responsibility. I had the impression that what he was saying was that one of the responsibilities of the PI was to fill those gaps.

So what can department chairs do to help? Reductions in teaching load, staff support, and institutional support. And recognize that the time spent can diminish ongoing research activities. Also since it requires resources, pick the best opportunities. And if you are successful recognize that you get a part of the action, because the large projects will span units and institutions.

Finally a CISE NSF person spoke. She mentioned two large center programs the ERC and the STC, as well as a center-like entity, university-industry centers for partnership. CISE has a center-like program called Expeditions, the current round of which will be announced next month. There’s no restriction on topic, but it should have impact on CISE, society, and possibly the economy. They look for something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, if they could have funded ten small projects instead of one large one it is not compelling. Expeditions was partially designed to fill a gap created by DARPA (but there was an observation that it might now be a gap that the new DARPA is filling).

Expeditions is also a mechanism to engage the Computer Science community to engage more in center like activities. The NSF representative observed that Computer Scientists participate less in (I presume this means lead) less ERC and STC centers than other disciplines. Expeditions is a launch pad for potentially taking things to a center activity when the Expedition is done. An interesting note, the number of submissions has dropped massively for Expeditions, 68, 48, 23 in the three years that it’s been active. Finally she noted that some Expeditions had lead PIs that were not Full Professors, noting that Assistants and Associates did succeed with these efforts.

Snowbird: Democratizing Innovation

In academia, C@tM, computer science, discipline, research on July 19, 2010 at 11:35 am

Just finished listening to a talk by the deputy director of DARPA. It was one in a series of talks about the “new” DARPA, which in this case was positioned as one that’s going to align more effectively with the culture of Universities.

Much could be said, but I want to focus on one aspect of the talk. One of the thrusts within DARPA is focused on understanding what social networks make possible. He talked about the Iranian election and how technologies were used to mobilize people in protest. This was part of a discussion about democratizing innovation.

What is that? My understanding is that it’s a focus on how social networking technologies make it possible for large groups to mobilize around shared interests (ideological, political, religious, entertainment) that are not related to geographic borders. Technologies are creating new borders, new edges, that DARPA needs to understand.

And this reminds me of Computing at the Margins and Global Development. We need to understand these edges too… It’s not just building technologies for those who have none, but leveraging what’s already in use to develop it further. But, I think that we’re also very actively attempting to change the boundaries, by bringing more people into the digital society. I’m still pondering the implications of this, while listening to the DARPA director discussion human motivations and the need for sociologists and so forth to understand how social networks work.