a personal note on randform

As already indicated in a previous post, we are moving. Tim – who was working here as a full professor at the department of mathematics at Kyushu University decided to accept a position as an associate professor at the Technical University of Munich.

Me, who had a 2 years position as a visiting assistant professor at the same department accepted now a 6 months position as a “Wimi” (short form for wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter – scientific assistant) at the department of physics at the Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. I will supervise the exercises for the quantum computing lecture of professor Matthias Christandl next semester. After that I am not sure.

In Germany it is very uncommon to hire couples at the same department. In fact – when once applying together for two jobs at a math department in Germany – we were explicitly told that it was undesired to have a married couple at the department, as a married couple would disturb the subtle balances within the organisatorial frame work. There are few exceptions though.

Luckily in Japan this was different. So the decision to leave was not easy and there were various complicated reasons for accepting a “lower rank” position. In principle we would have liked to stay longer at Kyushu University.

Colleagues over here had the idea of establishing a “faculty exchange”, i.e. faculty from partner universities would come and teach for a semester. This means that one could go on a longer term visit at a university without necessarily taking off on a sabbatical (which is usually not so often possible). Plus students may have the opportunity to listen to courses, which are usually not offered. I could imagine that this exists already somewhere, but I don’t know about any example of that kind.

Given the corresponding teaching load is not too heavy this would also allow for much easier collaboration on a joint work. Sofar people usually need either to use a sabbatical for that purpose, or they apply for something like the Oberwolfach program “research in pairs” or they try to be at the same conferences.

Allowing for a lower teaching load seems to be more costly at first sight, however in the long run one could imagine that this solution may even be cheaper since people are not anymore so much dependent on conference hopping.

Of course there is always a bit of a danger that people like it much better at the other university and just stay there, but if they are in principle content with their home university this danger seems to be not necessarily bigger as it would be without the exchange. In particular people might even be more than happy to return after their semester at a foreign university.

A positive side effect of such exchanges may be that any such trip provides so many new impressions, that a lot of people maybe travel less far in their vacation time, which would lead to a better carbon foorprint in academia. Experience would tell.

If there exists a well established regular exchange program then the organisatorial work could be much smaller than it was in our case (which meant among others finding appartment, schools in Fukuoka, furnishing and cleaning out the appartment (were we got great help from people here), finding a new appartment and schools in munich (where this hasnt been yet working out, as of today) (were we had help from the department at the LMU and the double-career office at the TU) etc. A specially for semester visits reserved appartment like at a university guesthouse could also be used for midrange visits. Unfortunately it seems the universities of Munich have no useful working guesthouse.

A car may unfortunately be necessary in the US. Funnily in the US you usually need a car in order to buy a car (which was quite a problem for us, when we moved to the US).

One should also think about offering childcare for such visits, so that a colleague could also bring his/her kids or that a spouse could work too or at least learn a language. Childcare should be affordable. I say this because in Amherst my whole UMASS salary went into three days of childcare.

supplement (Oct 3, 2008): details can be found in the comment section

How did we manage that like on a teaching day? Well we could convince the math department to give us different teaching slots (Tim and me were teaching the same course), so I would go by bike in the morning, teach, at noon Tim would come with the kids (who couldnt be left unattended at that time) by car, I would hop into the car go back with the kids and Tim would teach. I would call this a suboptimal solution.

The paperwork involved with such a stay may be easier too, in that people will be more informed on what kinds of visas, working permits, alien registration, school registration, health insurance, bank accounts and – Exactly ! – Tax declarations should be involved (no I currently dont want to think of our japanese german tax declaration…..). As a matter of fact the english of people who work in these kinds of public offices is often not so good.

7 Responses to “a personal note on randform”

  1. nad Says:

    Someone was asking for the details of daycare prices in the US per email.

    So here come the details:
    We had a private daycare, however the prices were not much different from the public ones. Although the classroom teachers worked already for a salary of only about 8$/hour, the daycare center needed to ask for a monthly tuition of 330$ per day and per child, if I remember correctly.

    Since my salary was 22500$/year* this pays -after taking roughly 30% off for taxes and insurances- for the tuition of roughly 3-4 days (for two kids). For those who would like to know more: our former daycare (which is very recommendable) provides a tuition calculator.

    *yes-this was only half of a post doc salary, i.e. I was only payed for the teaching part.

    But luckily for the research part I had a grant from Berlin. However the grant from Berlin was not long enough for the whole postdoc time so I needed to convince the math department to give me a whole postdoc position for the rest of the postdoc time. I finally could convince them, however from one day to the other a Massachusetts-wide spending freeze was imposed, due to the 2003 invasion of Iraq so that they couldnt hire me. Hence we went back to Berlin. You wouldnt like to be in a country which is involved in a war anyways.

  2. tex Says:

    Well but two spouses at the same department could bring problems, you can’t deny this.

  3. nad Says:

    I guess what you have in mind is that there could be a possible conflict of interest. Like if a spouse hires the other spouse. It’s clear that if you are the owner of a company you sort of make the rules, but it is also clear that if you are e.g. at a public institution then in this case there could be a financial/emotional interest obstructing the general public interest to hire the “best” candidate.

    However important point here is that the relationship (of a married couple) is open – so a possible conflict of interest could rather easily be avoided if e.g. an independent hiring commission would hire.

    Likewise it should rather be avoided that spouses are in a direct hierarchical dependence , like the case where one is the boss/supervisor of the other since this again could lead to a conflict of interest such as that the spouse gets more promoted etc. If there is no hierarchical dependence, like it was in our case in Japan or like it is e.g. the case for more or less equally ranked employees of Walmart I actually dont see big problems with relationships at one workplace.

    Things could actually be worse if a relationship is kept secret. one could imagine that this actually could rather often be the case e.g. for homosexual relationships due to the still existing societal biases. Or even worse such a secrecy could be due to pressure, like the fear to lose one’s job. As I tried to explain above if a relationship is kept secret people may run into conflict of interests. So at a company one should think about instruments to deal openly with these cases and provide ways to get easily out of a problematic situation. This by the way should especially be the case for abuse.

    Forbidding relationships between employees is in my opinion rather furthering secrecy (and thus the above mentioned problematic situations). People fall in love. This is not forbidden.

  4. Al Aziz Says:

    What if your husband is in a conference comittee and chooses you as a speaker, isn’t that a conflict of interest?

  5. nad Says:

    >Al Aziz: What if your husband is in a conference comittee and chooses you as a speaker, isn’t that a conflict of interest?

    It’s good if you people are getting interested in discussing these kind of issues!

    Since sometimes there is no easy answer for these kinds of conflicts and things have to be sortet out on a case-by-case analysis.

    However in the case mentioned by you one can infer that the emotional/financial gain -if it exists at all- is not so big if Tim and the rest of the committee would invite me. In fact it is much, much more stressful to organize a conference trip together, since we have to care about kids. And the gain of being able to mention this one conference on a CV is not so overly great (if not bad see below). So there is no real big conflict of interest in this case. The academic interest, i.e. wether it would make sense to have me as a speaker at that conference clearly outweighs (and should outweigh) the other interests.

    Things would look differently if it would be only Tim who invites me to a conference and my whole CV would list only these kind of talks. But again -especially since people know that we are married- this would look pretty bad for me…:). So we would rather try to avoid that kind of constellation.

    Tim and me actually wrote a paper together and we were long discussing the issue that it would look much better on a CV if each of us would publish his/her results seperately. However scientifically it made much more sense to publish the results together.

    By the way similar conflicts of interest can also occur in a friendship. So if I say “relationship” I do not necessarily mean sexual relationship, but any kind of human bond.

    Like if a politician appoints his relatives then this can be problematic.

    Nevertheless problems with protectionism within a hierarchical dependence are actually often more harmless than the reverse which are cases of arbitrariness and abuse.

    Here it is may be even more important that these cases can be discussed openly and that people can get help. Like what if an employer feels rejected and wants to fire you? And again here “feels rejected” can already mean that you critized a little too much and that your principal is disappointed that you didnt display your full obedience. But it could also mean that you are a complete trouble maker who cant be integrated into the workflow of a company. In these cases usually your collegues know quite well whats going on and one should think about instruments where they could interfere without facing great disadvantages themselves. People react very differently to rejection, in fact some make the conflict worse by becoming aggressive and so on.

    In particular if it turns out that the conflict cant be resolved, the two parties should better be seperated in a decent way -at least until things cooled down. And -letting off an employee onto the street is in general not a decent way.

  6. Al Aziz Says:

    Thank you for answer. I come from a different background and the academic world is interesting for me.
    Scientists have all these conferences in honor of a person, like how I understand where this book is from:
    so I am asking me would a conference committee invite enemies of a honorary person to a conference ? I don’t think so! But what with science discussion?

    Companies fire people also if they do not critizise so I think rejection is not so important.

  7. nad Says:

    @Al Aziz: Scientists have all these conferences in honor of a person, like how I understand where this book is from:
    so I am asking me would a conference committee invite enemies of a honorary person to a conference ? I don’t think so! But what with science discussion?

    I don’t know which background you come from, but an “enemy” in the academic world is usually not someone who kills…:) or severly harasses, so in principle one could invite “enemies”. But you are right it could also be the case that people tend to avoid that. The scientific discourse may still be interesting enough, since usually conferences in honor of someone suggest that this person made major contributions to science, so such a conference usually reflects the findings of a certain scientific school or direction.

    @Al Aziz: Companies fire people also if they do not critizise so I think rejection is not so important.

    Actually people in non-permanent jobs don’t even need to be fired…:)
    For an answer to you question please see this randform post

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