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What You Should Know When Taking a University Job? 384

Posted by Cliff
from the how-different-is-it-from-the-commercial-sector dept.
FyreWyr asks: "I've been working professionally for more than 10 years, and recently returned to school to refine my skills, and potentially, to change careers. In the meantime I'm seeking income from my University in the most practical fields, i.e., my old technical career (programming, networking, etc). So, a programming job has become available, and with it, questions. While I've done my share of business consulting, I've never worked within a University pay system, and further, project interviews have not revealed a clear project scope. Wanting to accept the project, I'm now working on a basic project overview WITHOUT compensation so that I can (get it reviewed, and) kick out an appropriate time estimate and salary. Can anyone provide 'wish-I-would-have-known' issues regarding the politics, expectations, and monetary realities of working for a major department within a large University?"
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What You Should Know When Taking a University Job?

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  • by rd4tech (711615) * <emilijan&cpuedge,com> on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:19PM (#12773928) Homepage
    (1) smile, nod... repeat...
    (2) While doing (1), watch out carefully for impossible/stupid features proposed by the middle management
    (3) Return to (1).
    • (4) If anything goes wrong, blame it on the guy who doesn't speak English.

      Ahh, Tibor...
      • Working for a university is like kissing your sister. Technically and theoretically it 'counts' as experience but honestly nobody is going to give you credit for it.

        Here's the trick - anybody who is somebody went to college and either worked at one of those 'student-work' jobs where they got to goof off for minimum wage, or knew someone who did ... and when you say you 'work for the college' that's the first mental impression they get - and it is going to be a hard sell to overthrow that image. Well that
        • by Coocha (114826) <coochaNO@SPAMvt.edu> on Thursday June 09, 2005 @11:34PM (#12776914) Homepage
          Since he's returning to school and has some experience in the private sector, I beg to differ... This probably isn't a student-employee-type job, but more likely a salaried position. I've done both, and while I agree with you about student employment, there is most certainly more credibility associated with a salaried position, especially of a technical nature. As a programmer, he will [hopefully] have a chance to work some fairly groundbreaking or research-associated projects, although he did state whether or not this is a major research university he is courting.

          I've had my salaried university position for 6 months (just had my performance review today, and it went quite well), and although my department is pretty laid-back, I think it's safe to say that it's not too bad. You actually have to work hard at sucking if you want to be fired. However, if you feel 'stuck' or want your job to provide more value than a paycheck, don't be afraid to network with faculty and staff to broaden your horizons or to find the position that most closely matches your interests or field of study.

          Another thing -- beware faculty. My position involves development of course content, advertising material, etc (We are a video-production-oriented dept.) so I deal with all sorts, and I must say that many (not all) professors walk in with an ego so large it becomes the biggest setback to reaching a deadline or goal. Be accommodating in situations like these because they WILL NOT. Just leave your ego at home when you come to work in these sorts of scenarios.
    • Re:Same as any job (Score:4, Insightful)

      by twiddlingbits (707452) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:25PM (#12773989)
      You will be working with Management that does not know anything, and will have student help that does not know anything yet you will be required to bring the project in on time and on budget. You will be required to make sure the "students" come first and then the professors and then the administration and then maybe your project when scheduling test time before deployment which means you'll get some test time about 1AM Christmas morning. On the other hand if you are even reasonably competent, don't molest the students, be nice to the profs, suck up to the Administration you have some very good job security but the pay will suck.
      • Re:Same as any job (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pdbogen (596723)
        As "student help" that -does- know things, I take a bit of offense to this... but not too much. I'll go back to setting up servers for my department, now...

        (To add something constructive overall, though: Professors are used to having students: I.e., by and large every professor considers himself the president of his own little corporation..)
        • I worked at a non-profit attached to my university while I attended.

          It's even funnier when the managers of the other departments think that you should be in charge of your department instead of the incompetent, grasping person that was hired as an IT manager.

          But then, you have to consider that this was the guy who wanted *nothing* automated so he could justify having a bigger staff. He actually expected me to go from machine to machine (there were about 200 desktops) and check to see if they had been inf
      • by hoggoth (414195) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:43PM (#12774195) Journal
        > don't molest the students

        I'm out.

        It was either get a job at a University or play lead guitar in a band. Now I guess I'll have to learn how to play the guitar. A little.

      • Re:Same as any job (Score:5, Interesting)

        by croddy (659025) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @08:00PM (#12775450)
        What?

        I work in the systems division of the general libraries of a major research university, and it's easily the most exciting and positive environment I've ever worked in. We get to work on a variety of projects, of different sizes, and based on different technologies. A lot of our developers are making a living and pursuing research interests at the same time. We regularly make open source releases, and our student employees are very skilled.

        Your descriptions of incompetent management and poor priorities, honestly, are so foreign to me that I have a hard time believing you've ever worked in such an environment.

        • Re:Same as any job (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Minwee (522556)
          I'm going to go way out on a limb here and suggest that maybe the two of you aren't working for the same University.

          There is more than one, you know.

    • Re:Same as any job (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rei (128717) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:34PM (#12774094) Homepage
      If it's anything like where I work:

      1) The stress level is a lot lower than commercial work. You're not going to get mandatory overtime, people have more of a sense of humor (sometimes, myself and others will randomly add drawing onto a whiteboard in the break room during our lunches, so the next time you see it the image has evolved), and you generally don't have an axe hanging over you all the time (although, if you're paid from grants, there is more risk). True flex hours are common, dress codes are more lax, etc. The main issue that people care about is that you get the job done, and do it well, within the deadline.

      2) The administration is a huge bureaucracy. It will take forever to get travel reimbursements, requested information, and even changes in employment status. It limps along, though.

      3) Salaries are low. Benefits are high. Workplaces tend to be tolerant (race, sexuality, etc) and in general liberal (depending on your views, this could be a good or bad thing; for me, it means I can adorn my office bulletin boards with antiwar/pro-civil-liberties posters, and only get good comments about them :) ).
      • by Anonymous Coward
        When I was at University the chicks were hot, mature babes. Now, as a longterm University employee, the chicks look like my daughter. I want to make sure they are wrapped up warm instead of wanting to get their clothes OFF. :-(
      • Re:Same as any job (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I used to work at a public university. I agree with the parent post about point 2 (slow, lumbering beauracracy) and point 3 (liberal workplace.)

        However, where I worked, point 1 was not true. It was stressful. You were working with a lot of incompetent people (compared to the private sector jobs I've had) and that in itself was very stressful. They don't know what they're doing, or what you're doing, but that doesn't necessarily mean they won't have very specific opinions on how you should do your job.
        • I suppose that depends on where you work. IT departments usually aren't bad, but don't pay well at all and seem to fire their best people when they have budget cuts. Academic departments are usually pretty good and have intelligent people there (there aren't too many really stupid professors out there). Administrative departments are probably worse, since they are filled with bureaucrats and politicians. It really depends on the school, though.
      • Re:Same as any job (Score:2, Interesting)

        by zuzzabuzz (561231)
        I wish I'd fought for a higher starting salary. Due to #3, and the volitile nature of state funding, raises are not all that amazing (if they even happen). Your starting salary should be as high as you can wrangle it. Due to point #2 though, they may say their hands are tied and that will be that. Play up EVERY bit of education and experience you have. They can usually work with that. #1 is right on with where I work to. A nice (overall) environment to work in...just not as competitive with salaries as
  • You should (Score:2, Insightful)

    by p!ngu (854287)
    ...know if it was once the set of a "College Girls Gone Wild" movie.
  • by $criptah (467422) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:21PM (#12773945) Homepage

    Freshmen hotties, drunk sorority chicks, raging parties that involve underage drinking and streaking.

    Holy shit, what the fuck am I talking about? I am getting old :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:21PM (#12773954)
    Imagine, as a Linux Administrator with over 7 years professional experience, you are put under the technical guidance of a physicist with 0 years professional experience as a system admin. Yeah, the University scene can truly suck.
    • If your ega emmits the capital letters everywhere, maybe its no wonder you were left behind, Mr. Linux Administrator.
    • Actually, I have had a completely different experience so far. I had been working professionaly for 3 year when I decided to join the sys admin group at my university. Guess what the professors I have dealt with in the couple of months are all very "Linux savvy". At couple of professors, I directly deal with know what I am talking about and do respond accordingly.

      But that doesn't change the fact that things move along at a slow pace. Which is not bad at least for now for me. I usually get response to my em

      • I was pleasantly surprised by the Linux/OSS use at my university - or, at least, in the lab where I work. Almost all of the desktops are RHEL 3 or 4, our main servers are Rocks, the database of choice is Postgres, etc. Our software is developed with Linux as the primary platform target for our users (scattered all over the world), with SGI and Mac support as secondary, and windows treated as an eventuality.

        The net connection is nice, although I mainly just use it to post to Slashdot when I'm waiting for
      • The LUG I was a member of for a few years included a professor who could only run the software he needed to do his research on a Linux box. Actually, I suppose it could have been compiled for other unices, but Linux was free and he needed to hurdle no bureaucracy to use it.

        things move along at a slow pace

        HA. Sounds a lot like the environment at the federal factory I work at. I suspect you'd find a simliar laid-backness in ANY public sector job...there's not a driving need to produce or communicate.
    • by sconeu (64226) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:38PM (#12774143) Homepage Journal
      Userfriendly has gotten stale, but this week's User Friendly [userfriendly.org] seems to be relevant...
    • by dillon_rinker (17944) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:39PM (#12774151) Homepage
      Imagine, as a Linux adminstrator with over 7 years professional experience, you are put under the technical guidance of an office manager, an attorney, an engineer, a shop foreman, etc.with 0 years professional experience as a system admin.

      What you point out has nothing to do with the university scene; it has to do with the fact that non-techies hire techies. If this bugs you, I would advise you to commit sepuku, as you encounter analogous circumstances should you become a pharmacist, a tool designer, a landscaper, a remodeler, an architect...

      Don't like working for people who don't know what you know? Then limit your job search to large companies that employ herds of people who do what you do. You will be a cog, utterly replaceable, with no special knowledge or experience. Don't like that idea? Then limit your job search to small and medium companies where you will be THE tech guy, and your boss will not have the smallest clue about how to do your job.

      Welcome to the world of grownups.
      • What you point out has nothing to do with the university scene; it has to do with the fact that non-techies hire techies

        Actually, he said "under the technical guidance", and I can somewhat relate, as I work for a Biotech firm, and that describes my userbase. There are plenty of Computational Chemists and Bio Analysts that think they know how to maintain a cluster. That's great that they run Fedora Core 3 at home. Here in the business world it's a bit different.

        • Here in the business world it's a bit different.

          No it's not. In the business world there are just as many aggressively ignorant "professionals" who piss away millions of dollars mandating "best of breed" and "business standard" solutions because they don't have a clue. There are idiots in any large group of people.

          ---

          Commercial software bigots - a dying breed.

      • What you point out has nothing to do with the university scene; it has to do with the fact that non-techies hire techies.

        However, in most fields, folks have technical managers as a layer between the techies and the non-techies. Thus, the techies are shielded by a set of mgmt folks responsible for doing all the more annoying things (getting funding, explaining to upper mgmt exactly why an idea is nonfeasible, padding schedules such that the techies' optimism doesn't result in broken promises) and the t

  • Charge alot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:21PM (#12773956)
    They feel good paying alot of money, whether or not the end result works well or is anywhere near worth it...
  • Money is tight at a lot of universities.
    Don't ask for anything.
    If you do ask, don't be hurt when they say no.
    • Re:Money (Score:2, Funny)

      by sharkey (16670)
      Don't ask for anything.

      You have to know how to ask. Instead of asking for the University to pay for your housing, ask if you can sleep in the lab.

    • Re:Money (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rovingeyes (575063)
      Agree that money is tight for pay. Even if they had, they'll have to jump through lots of hoops and file a lot of paper work to get you that raise. But on the other hand they always have tons of money for all the toys and certification you want. I recently got two 20'' wide flat panels from dell and a cisco load balancer just to play around. Also I have ordered a sun server to learn solaris as I am not fluent in it.

      Thus my suggestion go ahead and make use of all those facilities and "extras". If I don't ge

    • When you do ask, make sure to ask for everything you could possibly want (so long as you can justify the request). Then, prioritize with the stuff you need in the top of the list. Whatever you submit, expect to get half of, so request double. However, occasionaly you MAY get a windfall and actualy get a complete approval, and if so you MAY get an audit to see if the stuff is actualy used.

      If you are given a budget, spend all of it, if you spend less, your next year's budget will be based off what you ac

  • by NitsujTPU (19263) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:21PM (#12773961)
    If you really want to get the most bang for your buck, get a research position. It will help immensely if you apply to graduate school.
  • by theurge14 (820596) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:22PM (#12773965)
    Err, I mean Parking Services.
    • I went back to school in my 40s.

      One thing that immediately became obvious is that us older students were treated much nicer than the students who were in their teens and twenties.

      For example, I received a parking ticket one night. They didn't see the permit because it was obscured by a permit from another college where I was teaching part time. It took no argument at all for it to be dismissed. All I did was tell them what had happened and they immediately dismissed the ticket without any argument at a
      • This also happens when undergrad's parents show up.
    • I have a parking story.

      Many years ago I was a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. One day I was reading in the school newspaper about how the parking enforcement office had started impounding cars with excessive parking fines.

      I was outraged, and continued reading. The article had a short interview with the head of parking, who discussed the reasons for it (which I don't remember). It then had an interview with a student whose car had been impounded, and he was complaining a
  • Always have a scapegoat it's the motto of universities. Always have a fallguy. Someone you can point the finger at, because realize you will be blamed for something that has absolutely NOTHING to do with you at some point.

    "The program doesn't run on windows."
    "You asked for a linux platform, it's running flawlessly on linux."
    "TOLD YOU GUYS, IT'S JOHNS FAULT IT DOESN'T WORK!"

    believe dat!
  • Could it really be that much different than working for a large, faceless corporation? The same problem seems to crop up wherever one works--dealing with other people.

    Personally, I've never had a job that the most challenging part of the position wasn't learning to get things done by 'working the system.' The technical aspects of the job paled in comparison.
    • Wow. A comment by a grownup. I encourage all you youngsters to pay attention to this guy. I'll chip in my two cents...The HARDEST part of ANY job is working with idiots. (Hint: WE'RE ALL IDIOTS! GET OVER YOURSELF!)
    • by mike_the_kid (58164) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @10:45PM (#12776644) Journal
      Could it really be that much different than working for a large, faceless corporation? The same problem seems to crop up wherever one works--dealing with other people.


      It can be different than working in the faceless corporation. You just have to be in the right group. I'm staff at a large urban university, and it is great.

      First off, I get to use the athletic facilities. That means I can swim 2000 meters at lunch every day.

      Two, its very laid back. I work with a lot of foreigners, and we have a joke about the lab being on "French Standard Time".

      Three, the researchers are no-nonsense and committed. They're used to doing things for themselves, but very grateful if you can help them out.

      Four, lots of comaraderie. They pull all nighters, I don't but I don't punch out early, either.

      Five, great benefits. Tuition reimbursment. Free public transportation.

      Six, good environment. I work in a secured area, but there are always interesting surgeons and brain-scientists around. Fun people.

      Seven, you are expected to challenge yourself. Always good, and I work with some highly motivated, world class scientists.

      Eight, you can do something you believe in, not just something that fills some economic niche.

      Nine, job security. Nobody gets fired (though we all wish sometimes that people were).

      Ten, you get to work with some cool toys. I won't go into specifics, but my lab (about 20 people) spends over $200,000 on technology to work with each year.

      The bad side -- its a beauracracy like any large organization. BUT the resources are there if you have the patience to figure out which strings to pull.

      The bottom line is a university job is like any other. Make sure you have a good boss, and that even if you don't align your goals with hers, you can sleep at night knowing your working toward that end.
  • by codergeek42 (792304) <peter@thecodergeek.com> on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:26PM (#12773995) Homepage Journal
    Make sure you have a written agreement about policies and what you're job is in explicit details and what they are giving you and have it signed by yourself and a Uni representative. This way if they say "oh we never said we'd do that for you", you can save your ass and whip out your contract, saying, "Yes. You did." :)

    Oh yeah and don't forget about the partying ^_^
  • by chill (34294) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:28PM (#12774018) Journal
    Please go thru the last week or so of http://userfriendly.org/static/ [userfriendly.org] cartoons. It will prove enlightening.

    -Charles
  • by ikeleib (125180) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:29PM (#12774032) Homepage
    You will get paid terribly. However, being only moderately competent is enough to hold your job. Since performance and pay are not strongly linked, you can work at a leasurly pace without worrying much.

    Adjust to the academic lifestyle. Your principle worries should be:
    What parking do you get and how much will it cost you?

    Do you get an office? Is it a shared office?
  • Tuition (Score:5, Informative)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:29PM (#12774043)
    If you are or plan to attend school there, find out what the tuition practices are - some schools significantly cut tuition costs, which will more than compensate for the lower salary (especially since, if I recall correctly, the tuition break is tax free). Also ask about the ability to get in there - when I was looking at a Uni job, they basically said "we can't guarantee it, but we do know a lot of people in the school"

    A lower salary, counterbalanced by tuition and other benefits, may be reasonable trade off. Just make sure you will get the benefits before you take the job.
    • Re:Tuition (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thx2001r (635969)
      So right you are! I work for a semi-top tier private school (not ivy league but well respected in rankings and that sort of sphere) and I pull in a modest hourly wage (hourly is great in University land as overtime opportunities abound). My benefits are pretty decent and definitely make the lower than for profit business wages worth it.

      I've also found that if you get your job done well and are a smiling face known school wide then you are all but impervious to being fired. Not that it is impossible and
  • by lheal (86013) <lheal1999@y a h o o .com> on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:31PM (#12774065) Journal
    it's what people think you know. But the biggest difference between a big University and everyplace else I've worked (small business, big business, military, and government) is that at a uni no one is looking out for your paperwork. Not your boss, not the people down at payroll, not your secretary, no one. It's not that they won't help you, it's just that they don't.

    Specifically, make double extra sure that your first paycheck is going to go through. Make sure your appointment paperwork gets from your boss to the department, from the department to the College, from the College to University Payroll, and that you're "in the system" at every step.

    Be a very squeaky wheel, but keep in mind that no one likes a pushy newcomer. I've you're too squeaky, you go from "squeaky wheel" to "boy who cried wolf" (for any future encounters with the paperwork gods and goddesses).

    • True, dat. There's a local community college where, a few years ago, I taught a single course for a single semester. I had the understanding that I was to be paid at the end of the semester for my short-term contract work. (A bit strange, but OK, since it wasn't my primary job).

      Turns out the guy who hired me was retiring at the end of the semester. I went to the payroll department after posting my grades and foud out that I should have been paid monthly all along...turns out that the old guy didn't want to
  • don't work so hard! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tharkban (877186) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:32PM (#12774077) Homepage Journal
    If you're working for the University, forget all that real world experience. Just do what you feel like, look busy, and program something crappy right before they ask for it. That's what I did. Actually worked out suprizingly well.

    I picked a new language for every project I worked on, learning java and perl while getting paid. Not to mention I learned how to raise levels on a mud while looking productive.

    Then again, I was young, not taken seriously, and underpaid. YMMV
    • by Anonymous Coward
      If you're working for the University, forget all that real world experience.

      Okay...

      Just do what you feel like, look busy, and program something crappy right before they ask for it.

      How can I forget my real world experience when you won't stop talking about it?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I worked in industry, returned to school and took a position much like you are doing now. I'm now back in industry, but it was fun.

    Issues:
    1. Scope Creep - like anywhere but with "free"
    2. Extreme Personalities - the Academic world thrives on personality clashes.
    3. Competence - if you are good at one thing they'll want you to do 100, make sure you draw the boundaries in a nice way.

    Benefits:
    1. Very amiable atmosphere
    2. Softer politics - usually they just want you to look stupid, not get
  • I got lucky in that I have a boss who's as much a Linux/Open Source advocate as I am. I was hired on to migrate our department's distance learning system from a Windows/Cold Fusion platform to a Linux/PHP platform. What's cooler is that I pretty much have free reign to do my job in any way I want, as long as the job gets done and I keep in contact with my boss to let him know what I'm doing.

    What I wish I had known before signing on, though, was that no one at this University, at any level (except the ver
  • not too bad... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bariswheel (854806)
    I work as a helpdesk manager/administrator at a major university.

    I have to say I like the variety of people I deal with. We support macs; OS 9, OS X (jaguar,panther, and now forced to support tiger,), win 98, w2000,etc.. and have a pretty heterogeneous computing environment. Our end user base is very eclectic (as opposed to working at a company and being "nick the computer guy", so lots of potential to meet intelligent phd's, etc... Plus a college can foster a good learning environment. Benefits are very g
  • It depends on the size of the University, the role of the department in the University, and the nature of the job. My experience has been with the University of Iowa [uiowa.edu], a 30000 student research university with an attached regional hospital. There are 2 central IT groups on campus (hospital and central academic campus), and about 3000 smaller departmental IT groups. Generally, the larger IT departments are better managed, better staffed, and better funded than the smaller departments. Management also tends to
  • I'm in pretty much the same boat you are in. After working for 8 years, I decided to go back to university to finish my Bachelor of Computer Science, which I pissed away (read: failed out of) the first time due to laziness and having too much fun. One difference this time around is that I'm more mature, and so I'm doing much better academically. The other major difference is that tuition here costs about 2.5 times as much now as 10 years ago! So I, too, am working at the university in the summers to ear
  • by NetSettler (460623) <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:42PM (#12774180) Homepage Journal

    In my experience, the highest order bit in deciding to work for a University is understanding that they sell degrees. That implies that there's a pecking order that is fundamentally related to degrees because they are pretty much honorbound to make what they sell seem important.

    I recall an interview at Stanford when I was just starting out in my career. I'd only ever worked at MIT as research staff since graduating with my Bachelor's, and I was interviewing with a PostDoc there. He was very arrogant and said to me, "I can't tell you what you'll be making, but I can tell you what you won't be making, which is $39K." (This is a long time ago, and the absolute magnitudes will likely have changed, but the numbers are important relatively speaking within this story.) It immediately alerted me to the fact that (a) salaries are dictated by degree, and (b) presumably since he had a PhD and I did not, he was saying that my salary would peak just below his. After this arrogant treatment, you can imagine I was pleased as punch to get an offer of $38K, even though I got better offers from the commercial world and decided to go with one of those. An unanswered question is whether my salary would have peaked at the entry level or if the PostDoc was just confused. But surely equity is going to suggest that your salary won't easily exceed professorial salaries, and such salaries may be publicly findable, so it's worth finding out what your upper salary bound is.

    Incidentally, related to that, Stanford had a thing (at least then, perhaps now) where they had a four day work week and the last day you were allowed to consult to augment your salary. Someone I talked to there claimed to me that often people could double their salary in that one extra day on the commercial world by leveraging the prestige of being a Stanford employee in getting the consulting work. Whether that's true or not again will vary with university and circumstance, but certainly knowing whether outside work is encouraged or discouraged is worth knowing up front, since clearly it can make a serious dent in your pay.

    Knowing, too, what your publication rights are is something you should know at any job, university or not, in case research you're doing wants to be written up in a book, not just a lab paper.

    But back to the University and Politics, the other thing is that if you're not a PhD, then you probably won't get to be Principal Investigator on grant proposals, and that means you'll be constantly in the shadow of someone else no matter how good the work you do is. There may be exceptions to this, but it's worth assuming this is true unless strong promises are made to the contrary. Usually there's the subtle cue that the position is titled "Scientist" and not either "Engineer" or "Associate" that says "we actually respect you rather than merely tolerating you because you can do cool things we need".

    As to salary, the rule I learned is to expect half of an industry salary for a very prestigious University, but to expect it to inch up to larger amounts as the University is less well-known and/or more focused on teaching than research. That is, if you work for Harvard or MIT you're expected to sacrifice half of your salary to just having the coolness of the name, but if you work for Foobar City University, they know you aren't there because of the prestige so they'd better come much closer to industry wages even though you're still expected to cut them a break. And yet, on top of this, if you don't have that all-important PhD, expect them to treat you less well even after you've made this financial sacrifice.

    Note: In fact, MIT treated me quite well as a staff employee. This note might sound like I'm dissing them for a bad experience, which is not so one either account--neither was my experience bad nor am I dissing them. But I am saying that I believe there are limitations to how good it can get in a place like that. Much of the information I've gleaned in here is info I've picked up along the way later in my career from here and there, and I'm just using these names as examples and offering this info in the strongest possible terms not to get back at anyone but on the theory of "better safe than sorry".

  • What to expect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oscarcar (208055) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:42PM (#12774182) Homepage
    Expect the most beauracratic administration you'll ever see. With University systems, the administration ppl are the ones who stay forever and gain more power/control everytime a faculty person leaves and they fill the power void. And the new person to fill the faculty position just accepts that that's the way things work.

    Likely you'll have good job security, but the pay will suck.

    If you are competent and they find you indespensible, then tell them you are doing contract work for other companies and that you need to move to a contract position.

    The contractors generally don't have to follow the crappy pay-scale of other positions. And if you settle for a pre-defined position, then it will have to fit in a heirarchy that the admins will make certain that you are as low on the rung as possible. Be a contractor, and they will think they are blessed to have you spending time there.

    Trust me, I was a full-timer getting paid crap and no voice. They made a royal stink when I wanted a minor promotion. Now I contract w/ University and make the same amount but work 1/4 the hours, and they feel lucky for having me. lol, cause i'm basically doing the same job.
  • During my 8 years with a University during and after college, I learned that schools in my area (Southwestern TN) generally pay about 80% of what you would make in the real world. They claim that they make it up in benefits. While the benifits are miles better than anything I've had somewhere else, I'd rather have more money in my pocket (which is why I'm now working for a bank.)

    Due to the politics at the University I worked at, performance-based raises did not exist. We got something like 1.5% every tw
  • by unixcorn (120825)
    I worked at a large university for a short time about 5 years ago. It was the worst experience of my life. I too had returned to take classes and a job became available. It should have been a great job. The hours were awesome, the pay was ok and school was free. Unfortunately my boss was a complete psycho. I really wanted to work but she didn't want me touching anything! One day she stood in my office door and stamped her foot while yelling about something I did that she didn't like. I finally gave up; I se
  • What I've Seen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @05:44PM (#12774206)
    1: Office Politics in education are an absolute bitch! And while any smart person would want to stay out of them entirely, you can get easily fired for not playing the game if you do.

    2: If you're a conservative, keep it to yourself ALWAYS! If you're a liberal (somewhere to the left of Howard Dean) then it's okay to speak carefully and discreetly -- and after everyone else has had their say first.

    3: You are in the absolute bastion of Political Correctness. A lot of it will be abysmally stupid. Don't ever point that out to ANYONE! Just nod silently and move along. There's nothing you can do about it anyway.

    4: You are in the breeding ground for sexually harassed females in training. Be as respectful to any female -- especially any unattractive female -- as you are to the cop who just pulled you over for doing 50mph in the school zone just as the last points were about to drop off your license.

    5: Diversity good! Affirmative Action good! Repeat this loud and often. And never forget that "Diversity" doesn't really mean true diversity. It means their one and only single definition of diversity.

    6: Try not to have a job that anyone in the university with power will want to take away from you and give to their best friend/drinking buddy/lazy son who needs a job.

    7: If someone tells you that you should be part of the Union, just say yes and hand over your money.

    8: Understand that your lower pay should be offset by better medical coverage, retirement (if you stay that long) benefits, and low cost or free educational benefits (which you should take maximum advantage of).

    9: If there's a probation period, be ESPECIALLY CAREFUL until you've passed it.

    That should get you through the first week.

  • you look at the money, to look at the entire package. Insurance, retirement, etc...

    Right now, retirement and insurance sucks in the private sector. Big time.

  • 1. Every PHD that you encounter will "know" more than you about programming, even if their PHD is in literature.

    2. The bureaucreacy, the horror.
    My experience was as follows. Work month 1. At the end of month 1 get someone who doesn't know you to sign a paper certifying that he saw you working. Deliver the papers yourself (DON'T TRUST THE INTER NAL MAIL AND CARRIER SYSTEM OR YOU WILL MISS THE DEADLINE). Get paid at the end of month 2. Repeat procedure.

    3. Let them know, on a daily basis, that even if you
  • I've worked at a medium-sized liberal arts college, a large community college, and a small college in a large university... i.e. not quite the setting being asked about, but there are some commonalities. I've had some horrible experiences at two of the three places (related to petty politics, anti-productive bureaucracy, and unvarnished medieval bigotry), but overall, I've found colleges to be really comfortable places to work, especially compared to the businesses I've worked for. I think there's somethi
  • I Am Doctorate! [userfriendly.org]

    Depending on exactly what position you have, you'll get this to varying degrees <rimshot>, but you will get it.

  • job at a university (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    As somebody who actually work for a university, here is my take.

    First, remember one important fact: the university exists for education. While I have no idea what kind of position you are really taking, if that is a support department job for teaching/research, remember your job exist so that you can offer the service for researchers/faculties/students so that their educational (or research) experience is more enhanced.
    While this seems a logical simple idea, many non-academic departments have no idea o
  • and I knew someone who worked in a similar field at a neighboring university. I can say it absolutely depends on the university. If you're getting the idea that they don't have their shit together, avoid them like the plague. This is an indication that you'll never get what you need to do things the right way. Or even the half-assed way. The red tape at large, public universities makes most other government organizations look streamlined and efficient. At most universities, perks like health care and pensio
  • by toybuilder (161045) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @06:09PM (#12774446)
    One problem that I had working at the university was that the faculty's budgets came from various sources with strings attaches, creating a nightmare for IT projects because each professor spent directly on their IT needs, and never on the overall IT "framework" -- worse, since each paid for the service "directly", they expected the service to be tailored to them.

    Imagine having 10 different networks, each with its own server and a different way of running backups, and having no way to share resources because they won't let you!

    Argh.

    I left after a year.
  • But here are a few things I've picked up:

    - "Academic Freedom". Learn that term right away, because you will be hearing it a lot. Basically, if a professor wants to surf for goat-on-midget-on-chocolate ice cream pr0n, he thinks he can do it, because he has Academic Freedom. Doesn't matter if he's infecting the whole campus with viruses, he has Academic Freedom. If you're in a position of authority in the IS department, you need to do everything possible to become best friends with as many Deans as possibl
  • I learned the hard way from Lockheed Martin to get things in writing. I was promised tuition paid up front, time off for class, and a large choice of area schools (MIT, etc.). After a year of working there I finally qualified for these benefits only to find out I had pay tuition out of pocket and get reimbursed at the end of the semester, 0 time for class, and a choice of two schools (Lowell and Worcester) the better one being abut an hour drive from work. I later filed a confidential ethics complaint th
  • CHEAP

    I worked for a couple of major universities early on in my career (1980 or thereabouts) and, honestly, I had a ridiculous time trying to get paid for my efforts. I worked as a contract engineer for many years after that (industrial stuff, mostly) but never had any real problems with AR. But universities ... if you don't know someone with some clout that can call their payables people every month and make sufficient noise to get a check cut ... forget it. They'll drag you out Net 180 if you're lucky.
  • A lot of the posts seem to be written by embittered individuals that haven't spent much time on campus. I've worked in both academic (large, public US universites) and commercial environments as a sysadm type. Here are some observations from my 12+ years on campus:
    1. If it is a public institution, accept that you are paid by tax revenues. If there is a budget crisis at the state, expect that your salary will be flat and operating budget will drop.
    2. On the subject of salary, a mid-range sysadmin typically
  • I recently returned to school to work on a PhD after working in industry for seven years. Over the last two years, I've been involved in a number of software engineering projects with scientists and just recently helped hire a software engineer to "replace" me.

    Here are some things I've learned:

    1) If you're going for a degree, don't mix research and software engineering projects. You'll find yourself spending too much time as a software engineer and not enough developing your research skills. It's ok to
  • My Experiences (Score:2, Informative)

    by fwice (841569)
    I work as an undergrad on a co-op [wikipedia.org] for a major office in my university [neu.edu]. I do a ton of research work and programming and work in a very competetive, research driven environment.

    The pay isn't the best (I had received offers for more money), but the people I work with and the opportunities I've received are outstanding.

    Expect to work closely with a professor, a post-doctorate, grad students, undergrads, and all sorts of folks... and forge good relationships with all of them. that reference from the professo
  • Politics are the 1st rule. Second rule of working at the University would be not so much of a rule, but more of a problem.....users have no frickin idea what they want. EVERYTHING takes longer then it should take and the main problem the administration refuses to accept is hat you can't please everyone. I mean where I work (a Large Community College) are main students are obviously local yet our programmers had to make sure that people from other countries with weird addresses worked and everything was s
  • Can anyone provide 'wish-I-would-have-known' issues regarding the politics, expectations, and monetary realities of working for a major department within a large University?"

    Yes, suggestion 1: get better at English. You should've said "wish-i-had-known". That error really bugs me, so forgive me if I'm a little pedantic.
  • I have worked at a major public university for about 5 years now and what have I learned? 1. If you're working for a public institution, pay raises are far and few in between, especially these days. They're like rumors that are about 0.1% truth. 2. Unlike a private firm of any size, a university's primary goal is academics. As such, employees -- staff and faculty -- have lots of freedom to do things as they see fit (as long as its in accordance to the institution's objectives) and most bosses are open a
  • my $.02 (Score:4, Informative)

    by fool (8051) on Thursday June 09, 2005 @07:07PM (#12775007) Homepage
    i've worked at the university of texas at austin [utexas.edu] in several departments for about 8 years doing technical work, and still work for the university now. i have worked for about a year and a half in a couple of startups, and done some conslutting on the side over the past 10 years, so i am not speaking totally from within a vacuum of outside experience.

    i started out as a student worker, with very little (3 months) outside experience, but with a healthy curiosity and a few years of hacking on stuff on my own time. i have since graduated, been promoted 4 times, achieved approximately an 5-fold salary increase, and changed departments twice. i've had a net very positive experience working at the university, and recommend it to anyone who is not already on the dot-com-dollars treadmill.

    however, i think it's a lot like any other job, for the most part--if you can stand the salary, and you like your boss and co-workers and most importantly enjoy what you do, all the piddly shit like appeasing the bureaucracy and occasionally getting trumped by a PhD kind of falls by the wayside.

    since i'm basically getting paid the same thing i was as a worker at the startups i was at (minus sometimes worthless stock options and signing bonuses), i include only the pros and cons that are university specific--for instance, i've always had flex time and an extremely casual dress code (tshirts and sandals have always been allowed), both in industry and in academia. and of course, you have to evaluate your situation; i've always worked for research-heavy departments, but a job at the student union (doing the same kind of work) carries a different sort of interaction potential--not so many people who are actually into learning, more morons and bureaucrats.

    pros:
    - 40 hour work week. i love my work, but even more than that, i love having a life outside of work. i actually get *paid* for any overtime and it is almost never mandatory.

    - great job security. if they even want to fire me for any reason not related to breaking the law, they have to give me a year's notice (they have to lodge a complaint that i am told about, and let it sit for a year before i can be dismissed).

    - cool toys. we get donations of the darnedest things. i was probably the first person in my state to run linux on a pentium pro (got a prerelease box from intel to do benchmarking on. that took a researcher one day, after which he told me to do whatever i wanted with it). we have some huge clusters, and sun is constantly trying to donate interesting (if not amazing) things to us, like a cluster of thin clients and a beefy server to back them up.

    - very relaxed atmosphere; there are deadlines but there aren't many of them and they're rarely hard. nobody has ever said "your failure to deliver on time is costing us $X!"

    - some free tuition (currently a $6000/year value if you play the system for all it's worth), potentially leading to a degree if you want it to.

    - working in an environment where the value of learning is well-understood, and continued education is encouraged and to some degree funded.
    i mostly just enjoy working with smart people, and with people who are motivated to learn about solutions to their problems instead of having me solve the problems for them.

    - access to all of the resources of the university: gym, olympic swimming and diving center, libraries, libraries, libraries, museums, university-only events (mo rocca once came to speak; you needed a university ID to get in, for instance. usually concerts, plays, sporting events, etc are cheaper for university personell in addition to students). as well, the university subscribes to a lot of services (lexis nexis, encyclopaedia britannica online, OED online, online magazine/research repositories, etc) to which i automatically get access.

    - best 401k plan i've been offered. vests after a few years and gives a 2.3% * (years employed at any salary) * (highest average annua
    • Re:my $.02 (Score:3, Interesting)

      by adamfranco (600246)
      Amen.

      I'm only 3 years into a university career, but I couldn't agree more. As you say, while the pay may be numerically lower, the low stress, realistic expectations and great benefit plans make up for that and then some.

      I started off scraping by as an intern at student wages, but have done good work and [after waiting for two years of burocratic slowness] have seen my salary more then double in a six-month period. I'm still not making a killing, but life is good in so many other ways that my desires for
    • Re:my $.02 (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dsmey (193342)
      you forgot to mention one of the biggest pros:

      all of the young eye-candy walking around campus.

      you won't find that working for IBM or Dell.
  • University Poltics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fashla (241597)
    I think it was Philip Roth in "The Human Stain" that said it best. I'm paraphrasing (because I don't have the exact quote) -
    University politics are the dirtiest, because the stakes are so low
  • Hated It! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hasie (316698) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:11AM (#12777846)
    I worked as a lecturer for 2 years and ended up hating it with a passion for a number of reasons. This is a bit of a rant, but most of the posters above are very positive, and I think it is important that the other side of university employment is raised.

    One of the posters above hit the nail on the head: Universities sell degrees. What this means is that the pressure is on to pass students no matter what. This means that students that know nothing get degrees. I heard of a case where a student went to one of the senior staff members and asked to give his degree back because he had realised that he had learnt nothing! I eventually got sick of being told to adjust the marks to pass more students. We were given "guidelines" about the average number of students that had passed in previous years. These guidelines then became the minimum required pass rate. Even the senior staff who had been presenting the same course at the same level for decades were forced to adjust marks to lower their standards. My conscience could not let me be part of a system where second year electronics students still do not know the difference between series and parallel circuits.

    Publication pressure was a major issue. Teaching chewed up most of our time, so there was very little time for anything else. Yet we still had to publish 1 publication credit per year. But there was a catch! A journal paper is only 0.75 credits. And the credit for a paper is split equally between the authors. This meant that a person studying towards a degree (anyone without a PhD) had to produce 3 journal papers per year because half of the credit went to their advisor. The senior staff loved this idea because they got lots of journal publications for an hour meeting a week. The young staff had no opportunity to progress because they always had too much work to ever produce enough publications to be promoted.

    Universities are mad about patents and intellectual property at the moment. The upshot of this was that my contract with the university said that anything I thought of in my field of specialisation belonged to the university. Sounds fair? Except that being a lecturer in the department of electrical, electronic and computer engineering meant that that was considered my SPECIALIST field. But that was still not broad enough! The dean of the faculty told me that I was also a specialist in mathematics! The upshot of this is that ANYTHING I did belonged to the university.

    And this included consulting - compulsory to establish university credibility and the main way to supplement one's salary. The university forced us to work through their company for anything we did, and that company took 20% of the turnover (not profit) of the project. The problem was that this included nothing. We still had to pay for lab time, equipment usage, lawyers to set up contracts, accountants to sort finances out, etc.. The best bit was that they collected payment from the client, and only way to get our money out of them was through the university's bureaucracy. Basically to do the compulsory consulting we ended up having to jack our prices up by 20% making us uncompetitive, and having to fork out the money to fund the project until the university decided it was time to pay us the money we had earned. It was basically a way for the university to make money for doing nothing while passing the risk to its staff.

    In the end I was glad to leave. I do more interesting work, work less hours, get credit and pay for the extra effort I put in, and do not have to deal with the bureaucracy and politics any more.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun

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