Over the years, I noticed that we’d hired some terrific faculty at the University of Washington who came directly from industry. These faculty members have quickly gotten up to speed, and they’ve loved their new academic careers.
It occurred to me that this would be a great way to get more women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math. The result is a unique workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation, called On-Ramps into Academia. The goal is to help women researchers who hold PhDs in science, engineering or math apply for academic jobs.
If you’re a woman working in government or industry and you haven’t already considered an academic career, here are some reasons that you should:
• You’re your own boss. You get to work on what you want, provided you can find funding.
• You get to drive your own research agenda. If something seems interesting to you, you can go work on it. You don’t have to run it by a boss.
• Tenure. The economy has proven that tenure is a value and unique asset.
• Teaching. If you don’t think that you would love teaching, then a faculty position is probably not the right thing for you. Teaching is hard work, but rewarding and a lot of fun. If you want to have an impact on diversifying the workforce, it’s an opportunity to mentor students and change the climate of the university compared to when you were there. And if people helped you in your career, this is a chance to give back.
• The opportunity to collaborate with students. You get to work with some of the brightest young people in the country. The bar keeps going up — the students just keep getting more amazing. You can really feel the impact of your work because you’re helping to shape these students’ futures.
• The opportunity to collaborate with other faculty. A campus has some incredibly impressive people with whom you can collaborate, and work on things that you may never have dreamed of.
• Flexible schedules. People joke that you can pick the 70 hours a week that you work. But because you’re your own boss you can pick and choose your hours, giving you the opportunity to manage your own time and schedule.
• Pass on expertise. Your practical and real-world experience from industry will be really valuable when teaching, research and mentoring students.
The best candidate for making the transition to academia is someone who has continued to publish. To apply at a research university, it’s crucial to be still actively engaged in research. If you have done some work on the side with students, or have taught an occasional class, that can also help but it is definitely not required. If you’re interested in a teaching university, you need to feel that you would be a strong teacher. Colleges and universities are looking for people who are willing to make a difference in higher education and would genuinely enjoy their faculty role.
If all this sounds like something you want to try, the On-Ramps workshop will expose you to people who have successfully made the transition and you’ll hear personal stories of what has worked. You’ll get practical advice about how to leverage your industrial experience. We’ll have a CV workshop, where people will work with you to ensure your CV looks more like an academic CV than an industrial CV. You’ll be able to network with women in similar situations and you can support each other as you apply for jobs. After the workshop ends, you’ll be sent postings of academic job opportunities.
Women in senior positions in industry may want to consider applying for a departmental chair or dean position, where their leadership and management skills would be an asset. At this year’s workshop, Cherry Murray, who became dean of Harvard University’s School of Engineering after working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Bell Labs, will talk about applying for academic leadership positions.
I think it’s a good thing for more women in science and engineering to become professors. If there are more women in science and technology university faculties, it will inspire more young women to get PhDs and we’ll ultimately have a greater pool of women to hire for both industry and academic jobs.
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