Klaas Wynne Klaas Wynne 26 November 2010

Moving to a new job

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Posted in Research and education

I haven’t posted to this blog for while. There has been a perfectly good reason for this: I have been busy in the past year applying for and then moving to a new job. Now that things are settling down a tiny bit, I thought that some of you might be interested in some aspects of that.

Maybe it’s useful to tell you a bit about my scientific career. It’s quite ordinary, mind you, but then that makes it more not less interesting. I started out in Amsterdam. Went to nursery, primary school, high school, and university in Amsterdam. The choice to go to university in Amsterdam was guided by the (perfectly sensible) idea that everything outside of Amsterdam sucks. Then I also did my PhD in Amsterdam and it started to dawn on me that it was time to see something of the world. I did my postdoc in the US (Philadelphia) and stayed there for five years.

At the end of my postdoc, I started looking for jobs. I had a few interviews at US universities but times were though and one job I really quite fancied disappeared because of financial reasons. In my final year, I had two opportunities: one in the US and one at Strathclyde in Glasgow in the UK. As these things go, Strathclyde said at some point: “you have to say yes or no this week or the job disappears”, I said “yes” and landed my first proper job, and I have been there for about 13 years.

At one of the Universities where I was interviewed before, somebody told me something along the lines of, “we may not be the greatest university but you can prove yourself here and move on to bigger and better places”. So, that’s the thought I kept in mind: you can start in one place but move on to another. But is it really possible to move to another university? I am sure that the degree of mobility varies from country to country. The Americans tend to be exceptionally mobile while the Europeans are much less so. All I can tell you about is the UK. Over the years, I did see job openings in other places but never really went for them. Early on, I had a pretty good offer to come and work at a Max Planck but the whole deal fell through (the new Director decided he did not want to go to Germany after all). I had an offer to become a Reader (in between associate and full professor) somewhere in the UK but I didn’t go for it. The problem is that moving is disruptive: to your research and (if you have one) your family. So, as time progressed moving became more attractive as well as harder.

At my university, I moved up the ranks from lecturer, to senior lecturer, to reader, to professor. But, as somebody in my own department told me, a “home-grown” professor is not as worthy as an externally appointed professor. Another reason to move. Of course, when you stay in the same place for a long time, you may end up focussing on its negative aspects while ignoring the good ones. Then there is one final issue: it’s just simply good to move. A new environment, new people, new ideas, new ways of working are just goddamn healthy, irrespective of how good your current department is.

So, when a job opening came up at Glasgow University it just made perfect sense. Glasgow University is only 2-3 miles away (about 3km) but still a very different place, a different environment, with different students. I could have my new environment while my kid, Guus, could still stay in the same city and my wife (and Guus) could be close to her (their) Scottish family. I think I will have fantastic new opportunities in my new job and will be able to do some great science. If this all sounds great, be warned: it ain’t all great. I may say something about the disruptive part in another post. Still, I would highly recommend not staying in the same job for too long.

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  1. Unregistered

    27 Nov 2010 2:09, David Stern

    Mobility in US academia is low after getting on the tenure track. UK academia seems much more mobile.

  2. Ad Lagendijk

    27 Nov 2010 9:34, Ad Lagendijk

    My experience is that local managers and deans always think they have “got” you and never volunteer to improve your position. That somebody would want to leave is not part of their horizon. So even if a scientist is not unhappy in his position he (or she) should always make clear to the outside world that he is available.

  3. Klaas Wynne

    27 Nov 2010 10:58, Klaas Wynne

    @David: Of course, mobility is low everywhere. It’s only a very small minority that goes through the trouble of moving. A few of my US colleagues have moved after they got tenure; still, the vast majority did not move in the past ~15 years. @Ad: I would rather not say anything about the dean at my old place. I’m sure deans have a tough job too.

  4. Otto Muskens

    29 Nov 2010 12:42, Otto Muskens

    Klaas, you mention that you made a career path through senior lecturer to reader. I always thought that in UK one goes either on a research-driven (reader) or teaching-oriented (senior lecturer) path. However, I was recently made aware that the senior lecturer route can be used as a career advancement ahead of readership. Could you comment on how this works nowadays?

  5. Klaas Wynne

    30 Nov 2010 15:06, Klaas Wynne

    At the time I was promoted to SL, this was not mentioned and instead some people told me later that their university did not have the Reader grade. More recently, I have heard somebody mention that SL is for the suckers who want to be ‘good citizens’ (i.e, such as being good at teaching) while Reader is for the research stars. I personally think that this is quite rubbish: a good academic is good at both research and teaching. The shining example is, as always, Feynman.

  6. Unregistered

    30 Nov 2010 22:18, David Stern

    My understanding is that SL is equivalent to Associate Prof in the US. Reader and Professor are equivalent to Professor in the US. Some people never get promoted above SL, same as “terminal associate professor” in the US. Some people also never get promoted above Reader. But they might be quite good researchers. Here in Australia Reader is usually called Associate Professor now (except at UWA where it is called Professor and SL is called Associate Prof). So there are not two tracks, just a system with 4 academic ranks. In the US there are endowed or named chairs which is the equivalent of professor in the British system.

  7. Unregistered

    21 Mar 2011 14:11, Academic Jobs

    You say that an outside appointment is viewed with more respect than an internal appointment, I think it depends on the individual really.I do agree that a change of scenery is good for the gray matter from time to time, best of luck in Glasgow

  8. Unregistered

    9 Sep 2011 2:20, Paul Lane

    What an interesting path. I spent 4 years myself as a lecturer in the UK (Univ. of Sheffield) before returning to the US. I’ve been at the Naval Research Lab for 8 years, though will be trying to move along soon. Sadly, internal decisions have made it difficult to do basic research.

    Incidentally, I have a visitor oriented EPSRC grant proposal in with the head of Chemistry at Strathclyde. His group synthesizes new materials and wants to build up a characterization apparatus. With a little luck (and a few favorable reviews), I get to visit Glasgow for a few weeks.


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