Sunday, 1 July 2012

"If I Ever Get Into Administration, Just Shoot Me!"

Yes, I said that, first in the late 1980s and several times thereafter (but not since 2005). My wife, Stephanie, continually reminds me of that. As a professor who was having a lot of fun doing teaching and research, it was inconceivable to me that I would ever give this up to “push paper”.

I don’t really know why I took on the position of Chair of the Department of Computing Science in 2005, but things became clearer in 2008 when I agreed to become the Vice Provost and Associate Vice President for Information Technology (longest title at the University of Alberta; size matters!). Today in 2012 I understand why being Dean of the Faculty of Science appealed to me.
  • Have impact. At the risk of being controversial, most research has little impact. Being an academic leader – as Chair, Vice Provost or Dean – can have enormous impact, especially if you’re prepared to create a vision and carry it out.
  • Help others. I'm know this sounds corny, but it's true: as a Chair I discovered that some of my actions helped others to succeed, and this gave me great satisfaction. 
  • Opportunity to learn. My first seven years in administration have been amazing learning experiences. I love to learn, and the opportunity to discover more about biological sciences, chemistry, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and statistics, physics, psychology, and computing science is irresistible.
  • Being challenged. As a researcher, I build high-performance (super human) game-playing programs. Administration is a much more complex game (e.g., the rules keep changing). Whereas having a computer win or lose at checkers affects few people, administrative decisions can impact people's lives. The stakes are high – you've got to get it right.
  •  Feed the ego. Some academics jump at the chance to become a Department Chair as a way of stoking their ego (Academics? Ego? Go figure). While I am not immune to the guile of ego, this time around it was an insignificant factor (that's my story and I'm sticking to it).
Whatever the reasons, the die is now cast. As of today I begin my appointment as Dean. I’m sure I made the right decision since I’m excited about my new job. 


  1. Well, I for one am glad that you've decided to stick with the administration thing a while longer, and I'm looking forward to whatever opportunities allow us to cross paths down the road.

  2. Great analysis, Jonathan. We became scientists because we like challenges and we like the challenges of difficult problems. Administration offers all of that -- in spades.