I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we choose to stay or leave certain academic positions and how these decisions affect our career trajectory. Related to that, here is my very simple advice for universities big and small, public and private:
1. If you want to keep good people, you must treat them with respect. It’s cliche, I know, and yet extremely important. It relates to things as complicated as improved intellectual property rights that give academics more credit and more control over the fruits of their labor, to simple but essential things like making sure employees are paid on time and have health coverage.
2. If a university wants world class research, it must provide an environment in which researchers can thrive. Here, I don’t necessarily mean financially. I recognize there are many universities that can’t provide multimillion dollar startup packages, or state-of-the art microscope facilities. But they can provide competent (and maybe even friendly) people who are willing to help you submit that grant proposal. They can provide basic building maintenance so that the facilities the university does have are clean, safe, and functioning when needed. And they can provide intellectual opportunities, such as workshops and seminars to foster ideas and research collaborations.
3. If a university wants to make money, it must recognize that its ability to do so depends on its academic reputation. That reputation, in turn, depends on how well the university does with respect to items 1. and 2. If you do not have good people or good research, you will bring in less paying customers. Period. I find it sad that a university would be interested only in profit, but even if it were, fostering a good academic environment is a way to meet that goal.
These pieces of advice may seem glaringly obvious to many, but if my experiences and that of many others I have talked to are any indication, there are still many universities who just aren’t getting it.