Nov 08 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Since this last week has been chock o' block full with fires to put out and I'm doing the whole short posts thing, I'll pose another question to the masses.

Can departmental culture be changed in the short term?

Specifically, I'm thinking about people's willingness to engage outside guests. When I first began as seminar organizer for the department I took the Build It And They Will Come approach. So I built It and they came to look in but rarely stayed. Then I thought I might Engage Them And They Will Be Invested, but those investments yielded a low return. More recently I've gone to the Stuff It Down Their Throats And They Won't Be Able To Ignore You, which has been slightly more effective, but my capacity for stuffing is finite.

So how does one attack apathy and stab it's nebulous body enough times to slay it? Does it have to be from the top down? bottom up? From the side, slightly left of center?

I am nearing the point of being assimilated.

10 responses so far

  • aProfessor says:

    I'm afraid that there really is no way to change the old people in your department. Your best bet is to keep engaging the younger profs. Then, like in science itself, things will move forward when the old people die. *sigh*

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    One of the things which was a great disappointment to me was the low level of intellectual engagement in my department. There was some, from time to time, and some colleagues did have scientific interests to discuss. However, there is a fair percentage of people who have very narrow interests and are not interested in anything outside that narrow area. Also, I don't see a good correlation between age and intellectual interest. One just has to keep trying.

  • CoR says:

    Let me know when you figure this out....

  • studyzone says:

    I can only respond to the minor issue of seminar series. When I was a grad student, one of the departments had a faculty-led weekly seminar series that was poorly attended. Because the dept. chair felt that money was being wasted on speakers no one listened to, they scrapped it. Some time later, some senior undergrads and grad students approached the dept. chair about a student-led symposium, which was approved. Students put together a great symposium, with several big-wig researchers giving keynotes, and there was great turnout, from both faculty and students. This symposium morphed into a weekly student-led seminar series that is still well-attended, from what I've heard. So, I guess the moral is, if you want to foment change, get the students to do it?

  • We have had that issue here too. Some of our seminars are student organized and we bring in some big name people and a few alternative careers people. The faculty will gladly show up to meet scientific mover and shaker, but for seminars from scientists who are not the prototypical PI, they could give a flying fuck about showing up.

    The apathy has even reached the PI's that organize the seminars whereby now, you can tell that only a few are extending invitations to get people in to talk to us. Its so sad and amazing how fast our departmental culture has shifted in just three years, in such a negative way.

  • LD says:

    I talk about this with people quite a bit. If you are in a positive culture and are a newcomer you get assimilated into that, and if the other, well then people like you end up throwing up their hands at some point. Luckily the culture is positive where I am, but that said, I don't take it for granted. I work hard to keep it that way. Don't give up. Just don't give up. Keep trying to turn the tide.

  • postdoc says:

    How timely. I'm facing the same situation. Lots of culture shock.

  • JaneB says:

    I used to be a keen seminar attendee and now, well... less so.

    Because I am overwhelmed by how much there is to do, and a lot of that is not obvious to do list items but students dropping in for various reasons or improvising to get around lab problems we don't have the cash to buy our way out of or faculty demanding more paperwork at short notice. And seminars are the easiest thing to drop out of the day - classes matter, submitting deadlines are real, but missing a seminar is as simple as getting a call as you're leaving your office and then deciding that walking in late would be kind of rude and using the hour for something else...

    It's not ideal. But it's the reality here - though we aren't R1 equivalent, we do have a lot of active researchers and good, funded research, yet the demands keep piling up...

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I've seen similar. I think this is first and foremost a symptom of the change that has been brought about by grant pressure, scooping competition, pressure to chase high impact, etc...things that drag us away from traditional notions of scholarly advance in science.

    Second, it is a symptom of greater sex equality in the work and home life. Seminar attendance, particularly at 4:30pm, just falls far down the list and is te first thing to be optioned out of the schedule.

    Trainees? I don't know wtf their problem is these days. I used to attend all the series/dept seminars when I was a postdoc...

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Or, what Jane B said...

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