Ten Points to Consider as Faculty Transition from One University to Another by Monica Cox, PhD

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Mar 27th, 2017
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A transition from one position to another as a faculty member can be stressful and overwhelming. I experienced this firsthand a few months ago when I decided to transition to a new position at Ohio State. As I planned my departure, I searched on-line resources for a transition checklist or for guides to facilitate my move. I asked people in various offices on my former campus for advice about what I needed to do to take care of every issue that might be relevant to me.

Although numerous orientation resources are available for new faculty, few transition materials are available for these same faculty. One of the most comprehensive general faculty departure documents that I found was created by the University of Virginia. I located a few other resources by conducting a Google search for “faculty departure checklists” and for “faculty departure offboarding.” Many of these checklists were housed in Colleges of Medicine.

Some people may say that it’s not the responsibility of the university to assist people in their transitions. Yes, I understand that this person will no longer be affiliated with the university. I also acknowledge that a departure may not be a positive reflection on a unit or a university. When a university offers no transition plan, however, it sends a message to a faculty member that he/she was just a (fill in any identifier here). It also might make a faculty member wonder about the sincerity of the relationship in the first place.

If I had invested thousands, if not millions of dollars, in something or someone, wouldn’t I want to remain connected to that person in some way so that I could retain some aspect of the investment that I made? Without a clear transition plan and assistance post-departure, bridges are burned, and the likelihood of ongoing relationships and accolades or recommendations for future faculty recruitment in that organization are diminished. How short-sighted it is when organizations are more anxious to remove a faculty member from a directory or website than to assist that faculty during a professional transition, particularly when that faculty member’s students still remain at the university! Such behaviors are harmful since that faculty member most likely brought some level of visibility to the organization at some point in their career.

In a last ditch effort, I decided to solicit my Facebook friends, many who are faculty and administrators across the world, for transition resources. Many of them agreed that such a resource was needed but did not exist. A few of them suggested that I write one. For that reason, I’ve compiled a list of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the past 6 months of my transition.

  1. Check your voice mail messages and document any pertinent information for future use. You may have saved messages during your time at your institution, and now is the time to retrieve them. If you have to, make sure that you send e-mails or make calls to people who may not be aware of your pending transition.

  2. Contact your Institutional Review Board (IRB) to identify what needs to occur with current projects. Human subjects research is no joke. You must make sure that your research is conducted with integrity even as you transition. Call your institution’s IRB office to make them aware of your move. Some of your research options might be to close old research studies, transfer the Principal Investigator (PI) status to another researcher at your current university, or transfer your research to your new university. If you have students who are still at your current university, resolving IRB concerns is of the utmost importance.

  3. Update your professional magazine/ publication subscriptions so that your mail goes to your new workplace. Journals and other publications may get thrown away if you don’t do this, so try to update your information as soon as possible.

  4. Extend your e-mail access until you can download your in/out boxes to portable media. Before you leave, sign any necessary paperwork to retain e-mail access until you can transfer your messages. Talk to an IT professional at your current or potential job so that you can store your email in a secure location. Complete the process before you lose access to your account.

  5. Turn on an “Out of Office” notification so people know that you have left your university and can get in touch with you. Instead of relying on people at your old job to refer your old contacts, be proactive about informing others of your new location. Below is sample text that I used.

    Greetings! I am no longer employed at _____ University. As I transition, please direct business-related correspondence to me at (new e-mail address) or call me at (insert telephone number). Regards, (New Contact Information)

  6. Determine if your moving company will pack up your work office as part of a move to your new institution. If you are moving from your current city, it is worth seeing if your moving company can pack up your work office as well as your home. If you have time, throw away old materials prior to your move so that you don’t have to discard them in your new location. Clearly label boxes that distinguish your work office from your home office.

  7. Talk to the information technology group at your old university to determine equipment transfer/ buy back rules along with your data storage needs. It’s important to identify what needs to happen with your equipment. If you need to remove identifiable data from laptops, do so. If you plan to buy new equipment at your new institution, create an inventory of your needs so that you can purchase it without interruption of your research. Finally, make sure that you transfer your equipment safely so that it is not damaged in the transfer.

    For those of you who work with on-line data or large electronic files, discuss your data storage needs and make sure that you transfer your new data only after you have retrieved your old data. Determine the storage size that will meet your needs, and move forward acquiring your necessary storage resources.

  8. Contact your sponsored programs office to see what you need to do to transfer grants or to spend remaining funds. This has been a major issue for me. If you are working with other researchers, you need to communicate your transfer needs regarding money and other grant-related resources. Being on the same page is important, so think about possible group dynamics across team members when you initially form your research teams.

  9. Determine what faculty status you need at your former university to co-advise current graduate students after your transition. This is another biggie for me. Since some universities will not allow you to advise your former students independently, you need to identify a potential co-advisor. This person needs to possess a complementary perspective about advising and should be a good communicator, since you may no longer have access to resources that will inform you of relevant departmental dates and activities. This person should also serve as your “legs” to the business office or to other on-campus resources that need to be accessed once you can no longer physically contact people quickly on your old campus.

  10. Contact your financial adviser to transfer your retirement saving to appropriate accounts.  After working at a university for numerous years, it’s important to transfer your retirement savings properly. I highly recommend talking to an independent financial adviser about how to manage remaining funds at your old institution and to determine what new plans you should enroll in at your new institution. Pay careful attention to any deadlines for retirement (and benefits) enrollment at your new university so that you select the best options for your future.

In conclusion, universities need to create transition plans for faculty, because by the time a faculty member leaves, students and other resources are topics of discussion. Although the reason for the departure may be unpleasant to one or multiple parties, they must have a plan for moving ahead in an amicable way post-relationship. ‪ By clearly laying out the expectations for faculty post-departure, the likelihood for reducing inconveniences to multiple parties decreases. Without clear plans, a faculty transition can increase the likelihood of overlooking important tasks that could affect others negatively. Proactively is always a great choice.

Monica F. Cox, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. In 2011 Dr. Cox became the first African-American female professor to earn tenure in the College of Engineering at Purdue. In 2013, she became founder and owner of STEMinent LLC, a company focused on STEM education assessment and professional development for stakeholders in K-12 education, higher education, and Corporate America. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Monica F. Cox, log onto her website www.preparedtobeapioneer.com.

And if you want to get your current semester organized or prepare for the next, I highly recommend If You Do Nothing Else This Semester. With the strategies I present you will get the strategies you need to not only have a successful semester, but a successful year.

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