One thing I learned about myself in grad school is that I’m much better at a task if I think about why I’m doing it first. I mean this in the teleological sense – for example, what is the purpose of making students submit a proposal of their intended thesis topic? A failure to consider the question led to an additional month of work writing an “appendix” to my proposal document. To be fair, the list of experimental parameters is now coming in extremely useful for my thesis, but it was none the less wasted time. I would like to avoid this trial and error process for something as important as starting a department. While no plan survives first contact with the enemy, it is the planning and not the plan that is crucial anyway. The purpose of this post (see what I mean?) is to identify, if only to myself, all the different roles I think I will be playing at Oxy, and the responsibilities associated with them.
Instructor The obvious role that I will be playing is as a teaching faculty. In fact, I already know the courses I will be teaching: half of intro to cognitive science (I will be co-teaching the course) and a Topics in AI class for the fall; again half of intro to cog sci and two credits of CS 1 for the semester after. The obvious responsibility for the obvious role is that I have to make sure the students actually learn something. I’m fairly comfortable with this – teaching is not a new responsibility for me – although I’ve had a lot more thoughts on how this fits into a small liberal arts college, which will be the topic of the next several posts.
Researcher The goal here is two-fold: I have to both publish enough that I have a strong case for tenure, but also involve undergraduates in research. The exact overlap and contradiction between the two is not yet clear to me. I’ve heard from multiple sources that involving undergrads in research is often hit-or-miss, and that getting a publication out of a project is an exceptionally good outcome. This picture is further complicated by the fact that I am starting a department – meaning that there will not be computer science majors for me invite for research. This is the aspect of my job that I spend a lot of my free time on: how can I simplify my research such that an undergrad can contribute, yet have it be sophisticated enough that I can publish with the results? I suspect I won’t have a good answer until several semesters in.
Mentor Another role I have to play is as a mentor to undergraduates looking to major in, or at least interested in, computer science. Part of this is advising students as to the courses they should take; this should not be an issue, as long as I spent time understanding Oxy’s graduation requirements. But I also want to be more ambitious here: what can I do to help my students developing into interesting and awesome people?
Faculty The role of being a faculty is subtly different from being just an instructor. Being a faculty means I am part of the college system, and will have to work with other faculty on various administrative duties. I’m not yet sure what this entails.
Department Chair And finally, the namesake of this blog. Off the top of my head, the role of the department chair is to deal with issues that affect the bigger picture. Some of this is about curriculum, although for a small liberal arts college, I suspect that responsibility is more distributed than at a research university. Other aspects of this role are common across disciplines: making sure there are enough faculty for the courses, dealing with hiring new faculty, organizing departmental events. But the ones I spend the most time thinking about are more specific to computer science: developing a welcoming atmosphere for minorities, providing support for students unused to computer science, all building towards a diverse student population in the major.
This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a solid foundation for further consideration of my goals. I expect I will explore many of these responsibilities in future blog posts; then, when I actually start at Oxy, we can see how it holds up to reality.