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What You Should Know When Taking a University Job?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the how-different-is-it-from-the-commercial-sector dept.

Businesses 384

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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Same as any job (2, Funny)

rd4tech (711615) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773928)

(1) smile, nod... repeat...
(2) While doing (1), watch out carefully for impossible/stupid features proposed by the middle management
(3) Return to (1).

Re:Same as any job (2, Funny)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773939)

(4) If anything goes wrong, blame it on the guy who doesn't speak English.

Ahh, Tibor...

Re:Same as any job (4, Insightful)

twiddlingbits (707452) | more than 9 years ago | (#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 (2, Interesting)

pdbogen (596723) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774131)

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..)

Re:Same as any job (3, Funny)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774195)

> 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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774020)

Are you talking to me?

Re: your sig... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774036)

Your statistics don't show how many times the story has already been posted.

Re:Same as any job (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774094)

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 :) ).

Re:Same as any job (1)

chrisaj5 (733884) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774212)

Mod this one up... this fits my experience as well.

Re:Same as any job (1)

mpathetiq (726625) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774240)

I have had a very similar experience while working in city government.

You should (2, Insightful)

p!ngu (854287) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773940)

...know if it was once the set of a "College Girls Gone Wild" movie.

Re:You should (1)

dextroz (808012) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774145)

Offtopic! Isn't most humor? Fix this up someone...

(Again, only at /.)

Re:You should (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774227)

Well... it isn't especially funny. It doesn't deserve to be modded down, but no one should waste mod points on making it more visible. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774234)

When I worked at IEG ( we did a shoot in the server room. A very nervous systems admin hovered over the entire thing, and insisted the photog assistants clean everything up with some carbon-tet.

Stay Away From (3, Funny)

$criptah (467422) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773945)

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 :)

politics... and more politics (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:politics... and more politics (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774083)

If your ega emmits the capital letters everywhere, maybe its no wonder you were left behind, Mr. Linux Administrator.

Re:politics... and more politics (2, Insightful)

rovingeyes (575063) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774109)

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 emails in a day or two sometimes even weeks is possible. The key is to push them to do or sign off things. You have to be very proactive and I guess the private sector gave me a good training in that aspect.

But heck a separate room, fat oc-12 line and chicks having problems, it is nice ;)

Re:politics... and more politics (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774178)

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 things to compile or whatnot :P (apart from browsing for documentation)

Re:politics... and more politics (1)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774181)

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.

Re:politics... and more politics (3, Funny)

sconeu (64226) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774143)

Userfriendly has gotten stale, but this week's User Friendly [] seems to be relevant...

Re:politics... and more politics (4, Insightful)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774151)

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.

Working for free? (1)

z-kungfu (255628) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773955)

What are you a grad student?

I work at a major university and get paid. Why would you work and not get paid, did you learn nothing form the dot.bomb?

Re:Working for free? (1)

cide1 (126814) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774047)

I second this. Schools say they are out of money, because they spend money. Lots of money. Make sure they spend some of it on you. They might have to be creative, they have all kinds of way to hide money and move it around, but I would never take a job without a guaranteed paycheck, unless I was getting a degree, or an owner of the company.

Re:Working for free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774061)

Ditto, I work at a large university in the IT department, I'm an undergrad, and I get paid better than any local job I could find. Demand money!

Charge alot (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12773956)

They feel good paying alot of money, whether or not the end result works well or is anywhere near worth it...

Money (1)

Leroy_Brown242 (683141) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773958)

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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774096)

Very true ... we've got one whiteboard between eight people and a telephone system that dates from the mid 80's (1980's that is).

Re:Money (2, Funny)

sharkey (16670) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774156)

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 (2, Insightful)

rovingeyes (575063) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774161)

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 get paid a lot so what at least I don't hate my job and I am not getting laid off any time soon.

Re:Money Ask for to much (2, Interesting)

Little Brother (122447) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774209)

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 actualy used, not what you were alloted. If you manage to do things more inexpensivly that you had thought, upgrade your plan to use it all. You don't get to keep money left over at the end of the year, and any surplus will be deducted from your budget for the next year.

For example, you have a $5,000 budget based on the cost of a server you need to perchase. Between the time you sent in the request (for $10,000 for redundant servers) and the time it came throug, the cost of the server fell to $4,300. If you buy only that server, saving $700 from your estimate, the next time you send in a request for a $5,000 peice of equiptment, you will only get $4,300. If you upgrade a few options and spend $5,000 you will get the full amount next time you make a request.

Counterintuitive to say the least.

Get a research position (3, Insightful)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Tips from the Dean (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773962)


Always... ...check your references.

I think the kids really dig it when I "get down" verbally.

(Bonus points to first person who can identify the gag.)

Re:Tips from the Dean (1)

protolith (619345) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773988)

Doctor Meridith, to Young Mitch, in the movie Real Genius.

One of the best ever made!

Re:Tips from the Dean (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774041)

And we have a winner! :-P

Re:Tips from the Dean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12773992)

Quote from "Real Genius". A true classic!

and pointers too! (0, Offtopic)

Sleepy (4551) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773999)

Always... ...check your references.

I agree... but check your pointers also!!

Yeah I know, bad pun. I'm a karma whore.

Re:Tips from the Dean (1)

matth1jd (823437) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774010)

Real Genius...

Re:Tips from the Dean (1)

wileynet (779280) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774093)

Real Genius... Love that movie.

Re:Tips from the Dean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774135)

Don't you mean that they dig when you get down orally?

Re:Tips from the Dean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774159)

You have the quote backwards. It's

Never... forget to check your references.

Watch out for the Parking Nazis (5, Insightful)

theurge14 (820596) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773965)

Err, I mean Parking Services.

Re:Watch out for the Parking Nazis (2, Insightful)

eric76 (679787) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774169)

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 all. If I'd been an undergraduate, it probably would have required a hearing if what everyone else told me was any guide.

And I often ate in the dining halls on campus rather than head off campus to eat. In one dining hall, the cashier would say "Good Morning" to everyone. But when she saw me, it morphed into "Good Morning, Sir. How are you doing this morning?"

I loved it. That was college as it should be experienced.

You must know.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12773968)

that its not a job, actually.

Always have a scapegoat (2, Informative)

saleenS281 (859657) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773971)

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."

believe dat!

Re:Always have a scapegoat - this reason especiall (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774223)

Always have a fallguy

Because without a doubt you will quickly become someone else's fallguy.

Could it really be that much different? (2, Insightful)

udderly (890305) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773976)

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.

Re:Could it really be that much different? (1)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774228)

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!)

Re:Could it really be that much different? (1)

heck (609097) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774229)

It's different than a corporation. The skills are the same, but its...different.
  • Deadlines do not matter. At all. In a corporation, there is accountability. At most universities I've dealt with, there is little to no fear of consequences. It takes a MAJOR screw up to get canned. Job security is through the roof.
  • As a result of the high feeling of job security, there is a lot more "input" from peons as well as faculty. Some of this is also the nature of universities - things are discussed to death.
  • Politics are different. While there can be times when you need to "convince a big wig" - be it a dean or a college president - more often you are trying to get a "coalition" to agree on the way to do things. But keep in mind that with the lack of accountability, even though the coalition may say 'this is the way it is', if the networking (or operating systems or...) decide they don't like it, they will ignore any requests. (Versus a corporation where once the decision is made by the coalition, you WILL support the decision or else feel the wrath of upper management)
  • Professors think they are gods because of the PhD. Think "treat like middle to upper management". Professors like to provide 'input' which is often contradictory - if not flat out wrong. But do not cause them to lose face - because they will scuttle you.
  • Despite what others have said, money is usually very very tight in most universities. If you are on a Big Budget project, they'll pour money down your throat - but this doesn't sound like a Big Important Project. (Big Important Projects = student registration; finance; etc.)
  • Expect the wierd. Some professor is going to have a Mac Plus because that's what he loves; another will be running some variant of Linux you've never heard of; a third will expect support on OS2. Some department which exists in the hinterlands of the campus will be running Windows 3.1 for Workstation because they never had the budget to upgrade.
  • Just as with any corporation, have you figured out what the architecture the IT department (or other bigs wigs) are sold on? Is it Java on Sun Servers, or Linux and PHP or Perl? Windows and .NET? Your project had better conform. I've gotten in trouble doing projects for universities where I was asked for an Open Source PHP solution (what the budget could support), and found out later that the IT department actively sabotaged the results because they preferred to support .NET. (In a coporation the size of most universities, the "acceptable platforms/languages" are usually well defined. A university is often less...regulated)

Re:Could it really be that much different? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774250)

Always have problems with people? Maybe it's you.

Written/signed agreement (3, Informative)

codergeek42 (792304) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773995)

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 ^_^

Re:Written/signed agreement (3, Insightful)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774033)

Don't let them claim everything you've ever produced in or out of the University...

Solution: Incremental Development (1)

KC0A (307773) | more than 9 years ago | (#12773998)

Sounds like a perfect project for incremental test-driven development. They don't know exactly what they want and neither do you. Decide on a fair pay rate, get an overview of their vision for the whole project, then find out what is most important, and settle on some functionality that you can deliver in a couple of weeks or a month. Then deliver it and ask what they want next. Read "Extreme Programming Explained" if you haven't already, then look for material on "XP for one".

Parts of the project (1)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774001)

Here's some things to expect:

1) Don't expect anyone to know what's going on, even the people who hired you. That's 'the tech department's job'. They're administrators. If they know how to turn on the computer, concider yourself lucky.
2) Don't expect the tech department to know about your project. Or care about it. Or help in any way. You're just a student, after all.
3) Don't expect anyone in any department to know what's happened previously with the project. That was 'the last guy's job'... and the guy before that and before that. You might be a trained professional, but they were students who hadn't finished their CS degree yet. Be prepared to start from scratch.

Yeah, so that's basically what to expect. The administrators are too far removed from the technology to know what you're doing. The in-house IT department can't be bothered with your little project when they have a network to maintain. Anyone who used to do your job was unskilled, untrained, and didn't document anything.

Okay, so it's basically like working for a regular company...

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774003)

What you should know about pronunciation?
Dont ask me.

dunno about other universities (1)

tont0r (868535) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774004)

but programming jobs (from what ive heard from others) are the pits at my university. most of them arent really paid well if you are a student and a lot of them expect a lot out of you. most of them sorta 'prey' off the students who are looking for just getting experience and are willing to work for a lot less. but to them, its not a bad deal because they dont have too many expensives and live on or near campus.

Speaking From Experience... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774008)

Scope within a University setting is actually a fluid. Don't expect them to be able to tell you what they really want -- they aren't quite sure. Fortunately, especially in a state institution, there is no penalty for them not knowing what they want before they attempt to force you to do it.

Good luck -- you'll need it.

university (1)

vapid transit (738521) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774012)

I work for a university. My department researches novel methods of food processing and packaging. In the three years I've been here the most apparent trend has been that the faculty wants to do the most possible work with the least possible funding. So many of my projects have had lofty goals that were not met because: A)the funds we had were not enough or B)the facilities we have are not properly equipped Its hardly surprising that the department I work for is reorganizing so that we're run more like a business and less like a university. The faculty here have been flying by the seat of their pants without "long term" project goals for so long that it's starting to negatively impact our work.

UserFriendly (2, Funny)

chill (34294) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774018)

Please go thru the last week or so of [] cartoons. It will prove enlightening.


Re:UserFriendly (1)

Anonymous Cow herd (2036) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774167)

Er... so working at a university is like reading a poorly drawn cartoon that makes the goatse trolls around here look brilliant and witty?

Re:UserFriendly - Anonymous Cow herd (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774254)

Anonymous Cow herd

That sounds like a Scott Adams pesudonym if I ever read one.

Politics, politics, politics. (1)

Ino (68074) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774025)

Henry Kissenger quote: "Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."

Be aware that the oldest around are also not necessarly the best. As a matter of fact - they may not be even mediocre enough for you to cope with them.

Oh, and laws of physics apply too, floaters tend to rise to the top.

Yeap, it's a shit world.


low pay, but no performance pressure (2, Insightful)

ikeleib (125180) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774032)

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?

university job (1)

dmf415 (218827) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774038)

Working at the University is great. There are no pressures of a big corporation fighting its way through the competition. You can collaborate with other departments to reach a common goal. Universities are usually state funded so you have a pretty good chance of beating the dot bomb eras. Lastly, the pay is 10-20% under market, but the benefits are great! Hey I even got to finish my degree for only $3.00 per semester. Woo hoooooo

My Experiences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774040)

I have worked at a couple colleges here is what I learned:

1) Every faculty member will assume they know more than you, period. It doesn't matter if they understand or not they will make the assumption.

2) The administration (for the most part) is made up of faculty members who have been elevated to higher positions, so not only does #1 still apply but they also have the ability to make your life misserable.

3) Faculty like to know everything that happens and to all but run the institution. Expect committies of people who can not tell you anything factual about what they are making decisions, to make important decisions about how you do your job.

To sum it all up, in business the bottom line is the money; in higher ed it is all about keeping the faculty happy.

Tuition (4, Informative)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Ahhhh University (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774051)

I keep getting older, but he girls all stay the same age :)

funds based accounting (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774055)

You had better bone up on funds based accounting, it is completely different than what you find in the commercial sector.

Hope that you are... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774056)

Either of an ethnic group or female, preferably both.

I applied for the temp job that _held at the time_ and still needed to go through the whole interview process.

Had there been any females or minorities that applied, I am sure that I would not have gotten the job. HR said that there was a "target" of Hispanic and a "preference" for female for the position.


revolutionary ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774064)

From my experience it is almost impossible to get fired from the university, unless you are caught red handed stealing your computer while urinating on the Dean's car. So despite the repuation of the cradle of innovation there are quite a few people with sub-standard skills with no motivation to improve upon them. An example is that even today most N-Body simulation code done in physics and astronomy is still done in FORTRAN. So don't be surprised that any new and fantastic ideas you have aren't always well received. Yes this is a generalization but true more often then I would like.

It's not what you know... (4, Interesting)

lheal (86013) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774065)

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).

Old School Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774074)

"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?"

Well, usually money is tight, technology is high (latest toys), but no money to buy them.

Politics are like any major company except there is usually MORE chiefs...and not enough indians...basically the chiefs are anyone with a 'PHD' or better at the end of thier name.

The 'best' thing though (local politics)? $1 beer nights...every night of the week. Make sure you stick to the same bar, and someday maybe the freshman hottie girls will want to go out with you, or teach you the 'secret sorority handshake'. It's good for a free meal...or if you don't creep them out too much they invite you to thier graduation parties. Oh and the students never get any older or any smarter.

Oh and usually state universities still have pension plans and free tuition if you want to go back to school and get a literature degree cause you're sick of working in IT.

don't work so hard! (5, Interesting)

Tharkban (877186) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774077)

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

That explains it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774148)

I'm pretty sure I support the above knucklehead's code.

Re:don't work so hard! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774260)

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.

How can I forget my real world experience when you won't stop talking about it?

Dont believe the hype (0)

nb caffeine (448698) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774084)

Knowing many people who still work at the higher ed levels (doing programming and tech suppot), its like a regular job. 9-5. In fact, I'm thinking about getting back into the uni game after going corporate . Much more relaxing. Though, none of the people I know participate in the "parties" or "drunk sorority chicks" (thats assault brotha). Easygoing private schools or big public schools are a nice area, plenty to do, but easy going. At least thats been my expirence. Hey, try it out, the time is around now for unis to be hiring.

Re:Dont believe the hype (1)

wetdirtmud (890895) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774114)

You should know what you're getting paid. That's all that matters to me. :)

Re:Dont believe the hype or the FUD (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774187)

Knowing many people who still work at the higher ed levels (doing programming and tech suppot), its like a regular job. 9-5. In fact, I'm thinking about getting back into the uni game after going corporate . Much more relaxing. Though, none of the people I know participate in the "parties" or "drunk sorority chicks" (thats assault brotha). Easygoing private schools or big public schools are a nice area, plenty to do, but easy going. At least thats been my expirence. Hey, try it out, the time is around now for unis to be hiring.

Um, well, maybe for you. It depends what level of staff you are - I'm in the same category as the Profs, so I tend to work 9-10 hours a day (or else work 8 hours and come in weekends) and some weekends are conferences.

But I agree about the stress - this is the most fun job I've had since the military. The pay's not quite as high, but the benefits are so cool as to blow your mind - in a typical week I get to go to free seminars about cutting edge stuff you won't see for months out in the commercial side, have free tuition towards my doctorate (except the last year, but hey), and the 40 cents a trip university bus pass rocks my world!

Plus all the intelligent women one could dream of! From around the world! Life is sweet!

Re:Dont believe the hype (1)

Browzer (17971) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774192)

People you know are probably in the "Technology Center" which is part of the bureaucracy. Not to be confused with the academics.

Been There Done That (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774091)

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.

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.

1. Very amiable atmosphere
2. Softer politics - usually they just want you to look stupid, not get canned.
3. Great intellectual environment - it truly is nice to be surrounded by people with an average IQ above 110.

Go for it, be professional and courteous and they will love you because they are not often privy to true professionals who are good at what they do.

Take things in stride and try not to let the little things get to you because there will be a culture shock.

You should know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774122)

how to code.

there are no answers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774126)

only truth []

Working for a University (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774139)

I recently switched programming jobs.

Old job - dot com, high pay, long hours, and lots of stress.

New job - university, low pay, 40 hours, almost no stress, almost impossible to get fired, hot women everywhere, relaxed environment that encourages creativity. It is very political, and there is lots of red tape, but what do I care... hot women everywhere.

University job (1)

dwarf1024 (890893) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774142)

I've worked for private for-profit and not-for-profit universities. First, don't expect a lot of money. If you are, find another job. Second, look at first.

I got lucky (1)

rscrawford (311046) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774150)

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 very highest, of course) has gotten a salary increase in at least four years; and I am not exaggerating. People are getting the same amount of money that they were four years ago. Not a single additional dime has been given to anyone; you could be doing the best job possible and saving your department a billion dollars a year, and you'd get the same raise as the lump who sits behind the desk and picks his nose all day long: which is to say, zero. And thanks to our state's budgeting woes and the current governor's budget proposals, it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon.

At least we get more holidays per year than people in the private sector. And this year we got two additional paid days off at Christmas to make up for the miserable salary increase issue.

not too bad... (2, Interesting)

bariswheel (854806) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774152)

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 good, but needless to say, pay is not so good. Especially if you live in a coastal city where a decent 1 bedroom apartment costs $1100+/mnth. My boss is a network admin, and this helps quite a bit, as opposed to a business manager or a non-techie,. A good job environment also depends on the trust you build with the people around you. If people trust you, they'll give you the benefit of the doubt, and as long as you can prove yourself you can use open source apps like request tracker, openssh, linux distros, or whatever you like to get'er done. This is my first job after graduation from college, so I can't complain.However, unless you're a director/high level manager type, you can forget about saving money for a house, etc.. (of course depends on your location...).

Bottom line you can shoot for two things: you can shoot to settle and not expect to get any raises but secure your benefits, and a decent retirement package. OR you can be young, out of college, and looking for a good experience, pending you find a good boss that will keep pushing you uphill. If you're looking to make a lot of dough and want to do develop new novel software and products wth 80 hour work weeks, join a startup.

It Depends (1)

IdleMindUI (171872) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774162)

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 [] , 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 be skilled at managing people. Smaller departments vary widely. I've worked for both central IT groups, and I once accidentally took a small departmental job. I don't think I'd ever take a small department job again. Usually, the hardest thing to do is figure out what the salaries are going to be. If it's a public institution, chances are that salaries are public information. Call the HR department to find out the mean salary for the job title you're interested in.

You're wasting your time (1)

rwven (663186) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774165)

Universities are rife with buerocrats who can't make up their minds as to what they want. You'll end up going the same project 14 times before you finally get it approved by all doubtless 87 people who have to decide that it works for them. And the bottom line is that they probably won't end up using what you develop anyway.

What you should know? Nothing. (2, Informative)

Curate (783077) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774176)

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 earn enough dough to pay myself through school. I'm doing coding and research for a CS prof, and enjoying it. I don't know what you're so hesitant about. Take the job (if they'll give it to you) and have fun with it. Politics? Who cares? Every place of employ has politics. It really shouldn't be too bad for you, because a) you're not very important; and b) it's just a temporary job, not a career. As for salary, don't expect to make anywhere close to what you would in the real world, despite your qualifications. I'm making about half. If you demand too much, you might be passed over for any one of a hundred eager young students. Go into it thinking of it more like a co-op job than some kind of high-paying consulting job. This is still much better than the alternative, which is a low-paying deadend job like McD's. It's also much more interesting work, and it will look good on a resume. Stop talking about it and just do it. You really have nothing to lose. Working for a prof is not too bad. My boss is pretty easy going. He's flexible about what I do; I get to lead as much as follow. The pay is not coming out of his pocket, so he does not put too much pressure on me. Also, he's pretty busy, so I only talk to him 1-2 times per week. The rest of the time I'm doing my own thing, working at my own pace. Oh, one other advantage is that this can give you a taste of what research is like. This will help you decide if you want to go on to post-graduate studies. I know I don't; I'm itching to get back into the workforce. But this has still been a good experience. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any specific questions.

Working for a University (5, Insightful)

NetSettler (460623) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774180)

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 (3, Insightful)

oscarcar (208055) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774182)

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.

Pros and Cons (1)

mindbomb33 (832182) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774191)

I work at one of the largest Universities in the country.

Here is a short list:

  1. Coeds wearing no underwear
  2. Very hard to get fired
  3. Coeds wearing no underwear and short skirts riding bicycles
  4. Lots of local pubs, with . . .
  5. Coeds wearing no underwear and drunk and free from supervision for the first time

  1. Being married
  2. Professor "I cant get my new Blackberry out of the holster" (true story)
  3. Earning about 60% of what you would get in the private sector
  4. You don't know what internal politics are until you get a bunch of University staff to try and cooperate on IT projects / budgets / resources
  5. Policies dictaed by a central IT department who aren't even smart enough to get out of their cubicles to enjoy the PROS

Personal Experience (1)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774198)

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 two years, and the raise was given across the board. The school was always broke, and we went several years with no raise at all.

A running gag around campus departments is that if you want to make more money at a University, then you should quit and reapply for your own job. They actually have to pay more money to get new people in than to retain the current ones...

Working at a University (2, Interesting)

unixcorn (120825) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774204)

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 set books (mainframe programming) up on my desk as props and did my homework. When you interview, listen carefully and watch the people you will be working with. Sometimes years of being opressed by the social order in that type of environment drives people nuts....

What I've Seen (3, Insightful)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Things to keep in mind in a U situation (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774218)

1. Respect the heirarchy. This is critical.
2. There's free stuff everywhere when labs and depts move - and then there's surplus for sale too.
3. Investigate the benefits ASAP - I got matching retirement pay the second I wanted it and signed up on week one - others waited two years for some reason.
4. Be friendly to everyone.

I actually work at a university (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12774222)

I work as technical staff in a university research lab.

* pay sucks.
* benefits are great (both medical and retirement).
* lots of days off.
* flexible scheduling is possible (as long as I get my work done, and I'm around for a few key meetings, I can easily take a morning or afternoon off and make the time up later).
* great coworkers (super smart, relaxed, fun to be around).
* problems that actually challenge you. I regularly work on programming projects that require the niftier tricks that are shown in algorithms and upper division math courses.
* College girls. Fun to look at, even when they are too young for you.

Gross incompetence (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774224)

Unfortunately, after workign for years in a University IT department, I've discovered that the old motto, "Those who can't, teach", can also be revised to "Those who can't, work in the public sector". In my experience, the least competent, most lazy, and most politically motivated people work in ALL branches of government. Why? Simple. You can get fired much more easily in the private sector than from a government job (where *every* firing is a case of some kind of discrimination). Thus, the University system (or any other government sector) is often where the least competent filter down to. I wish it wasn't true, living in a beautiful university town and all...

don't forget that when (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774235)

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.

Perfect job for a student (1)

Silicon Knight (15308) | more than 9 years ago | (#12774237)

The pace of work is so much slower than at a typical job. Makes life a whole lot easier when you're already busting your ass over your studies and class projects.

In general expect less pay, above average benefits, loads of politics, and people coasting through the last few years till retirement. Always over estimate time requirements - unlike in the real world they won't kill a project because it takes forever, they just whine a lot.

8 years of getting paid for hanging out on Slas^h^h^h^hcampus and counting...
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