In the past few months I’ve had four close collaborators leave. Three went to industry to get fat paychecks and the last went to a different teaching hospital. So I will still be working with the last one, but without being able to walk to the next building, our partnership will slow down by a good bit. Of the other three, two are replaceable and the last will be tough to replace because they made me physical objects that I combined with my research. I will be missing a big swath of devices necessary to complete one of the three aims I’m preparing for the next big NIH deadline. So I’m scrambling to find another researcher somewhere in the country that can set me up because I’m definitely not in-the-know enough to make these microdevices myself. I found a sort-of foundry that can make these, but they’re relatively unproven and I don’t want to throw grant money their way and get them on my grants unless they can prove themselves. I have one month to get their stuff working with my stuff, and considering the pace of research right now that is going to be a tall order.
I understand people leaving: industry pays very well, research funding has been at very low levels, and our teaching loads have gone up. I just wish I would get a little more of a heads-up. The researcher I need the most let us know two months ago: right before the semester started. On top of this sudden shortage of faculty for research, we’ve had a big influx of students in the push of our department to get larger. So a few us of have an extra class. The department has put a call out for some lecturers for next semester since we won’t be able to fill these openings in time.
I can’t blame these folks for making this move and also for the timing, but it would have been nice to at least have an off-the-record heads-up that they would be gone with maybe some transfer of protocol. I maybe should have seen the writing on the wall because the three that all went to industry didn’t have any grad students or post-docs and just did bits of research when they could since their funding had dried up a couple years ago. That’s always been a fear of mine: losing funding then becoming irrelevant and having to scoot back over to industry. But right now I just need to focus on developing course material for a class I’ve never taught before.
3 thoughts on “Departed faculty”
Quite a few people have come and gone since I became faculty. Even people I’ve considered friends or friend-adjacent have up and left for greener pastures without pomp or warning. Nobody thinks what happens to those who stay behind. However, those who leave (or retire) are also forgotten shockingly easily. The machinery keeps chugging along regardless. What happened (or didn’t) happen after some people moved or retired is a big element in me having divested form my work. I am not pouring my heart and soul into the institution. The minute I’m eligible for retirement, I’m retiring.
Having to pour your heart and soul to make it as a faculty member is something that I ended up resenting. It leaves little space for other things. I didn’t mind as a younger faculty, but that changed with age and by becoming a bit more cynical.
I’m definitely leaning the same direction as both of you. I’m at a point now where I’m going to lean more towards collaborations that I don’t necessarily need, but are nice to have. To pretty much have to eliminate half an aim for my next grant is leaving me in a scramble.
What I have realized even going back to my industry days is that 99% of employees are replaceable and ultimately forgettable. But I’ve never forgotten a close friend. It’s tough not to pour oneself into the work, but as I do get older and realize where my priorities are I realize more and more that the work doesn’t matter so much, and the more time away the healthier I feel. I totally feel you, X, on the minute retirement can happen that it’s going to be taken!