The three most important members of your department


Everybody matters. But on a day-to-day basis at work, there are three people who have a lot of power. They can make things very pleasant, or the converse.

Here’s a slightly premature Thanksgiving. Unless you’re Canadian, which would make this a late Thanksgiving.

First, our departmental administrative assistant is five steps above spectacular. When I say that I don’t know how she does all that she does, it is not hyperbole. I truly can’t imagine how she handles all that she does, and she does it so well. She schedules, she allocates, she does politics, she is a central information center, she shares, she supervises, she tolerates, and she handles. She won the university-wide staff award this year. If we put in a bid for her every year, there’s a very good argument to be made that she should win every year.

Second, our techs who set up labs are not only models of effectiveness, but they are masters at making do with few resources. Not only do they fix problems when they come up, but they are even better at anticipating and avert them before they happen. They’re excellent teachers on top of all of this, too, and our students benefit so much from working with them. Our senior tech in the department won the university-wide staff award, the year they invented the award, two years ago.

Third, my chair. He protects us from unnecessary bureaucracy as much as possible, and he arranges our teaching schedules, taking us into account as human beings, and to maximize our efficiency in teaching. He has to deal with all the crap that we don’t want to, and he doesn’t like it any more than we do ,but he does it as a service to his faculty to help the department serve its students well. He works hard to make opportunities for our students and he sees how being in charge of stuff, done right, really can make a difference. My chair is spectacular. Somebody needs to give this man an award.

I have an exceptionally collegial department, and it’s a privilege and a pleasure to work with everybody. I’m grateful, and a little humbled, because the folks I listed above do their job to facilitate what faculty do in classrooms, labs, and our research programs. This work is inadequately appreciated, and when it’s done well, it’s not even obvious. Labs are set up with things I didn’t even knew I needed. Paperwork glitches get resolved without me being aware they happened. Phone calls get made on my behalf without me even putting in a request. These kinds of things are priceless, and I’m ever so thankful.

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