How to Make the Most of Being Department Chair

How to Make the Most of Being Department Chair

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With the start of the academic year come many changes to most university departments – new students, new courses and, every so often, a new department chair. If you happen to find yourself in the lucky position of holding this post, it’s important to be aware of the plethora of responsibilities and advantages that come with the job. In this article, we’ve gathered helpful tips and reminders from a variety of sources to create a comprehensive list of what you need to know to make the most of being a department chair.

  • Highlight the positive

Although it may sometimes seem like a key component of your job as department chair is to deal with the dirty work that no one else wants to take care of, the best way to make the most of your position is to slog through the dirt (as we’ll address in the next point) and focus on the positive. For instance, it is important to recognize the honors your colleagues receive. If someone in your department receives an award or significant grant, highlight their achievement in a public fashion. They will appreciate it, and it will inspire and motivate others in the department, thereby bringing more positive recognition to your discipline.

  • Accept the negative

Yes, being department chair means taking care of tasks such as hiring and firing. As Dr. Michael Munger points out in his article on the subject, sometimes firing a toxic staff member can significantly improve the work environment for everyone else in the department. As chair, it’s your responsibility to take the time to recognize such an issue and take care of it in a sensible, considerate and timely manner.

  • Broaden your friend circle

The transition from just being an academic to also being an academic supervisor can be difficult. There is no need to break ties with your friends in the department, but you may find it helpful to seek out new friendships as well. Since you will be completing evaluations and creating assignments for your colleagues within your department, spending too much time with specific individuals might lay foundation for claims of favoritism. As Dr. Rob Jenkins emphasizes in this article, forming new friendships with other department chairs or members of the administration will help create a support network of people facing similar tasks, while also steering you clear of possible complaints regarding favoritism.

  • Create trust

Being a trustworthy department chair is twofold – you must create trust by listening to your colleagues and not divulging any personal information they may come to you with, yet you must also gain their trust by doing what you say you will do. By keeping any promises you make, you will make clear to your colleagues that you take the position seriously and care about their interests and demands.

  • Address the right issues

In order to maintain the trust you build amongst colleagues, you need to address certain issues while quietly getting rid of others. If you know the loud complaints of a certain colleague will not lead to anything positive for the department, take the time to figure out the best strategy for addressing his or her grievances without creating space for a flame war. Opposingly, a good chair also spends time on the quieter issues that can have a big impact on the department, such as landing grants, creating long-term plans for the trajectory of the department and mentoring new colleagues.

  • Set personal goals

Although it may seem that you are suddenly a slave to the department, it is important to take the time to recognize how your time as chair can also affect your personal growth. In order to do so, many people suggest writing down a brief list of clear goals that you would like to achieve while you are chair. Reflect on these personal goals throughout your time as chair and build on them if and when it seems appropriate.

If you’re not quite at the department chair level just yet, perhaps taking a look at our article Teaching Tips for New Professors would be more helpful for you. Or, if you’re still searching for the right job, head to INOMICSand browse through hundreds of positions based on your specific interests and qualifications.

Photo credit: Boston Public Library


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