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Know the Vital Players in Your Career: The Chair

No one is an island within their department; your relationships with your colleagues, specifically your department chair, can have a definite effect on the progress of your career. For those new to faculty or administration the whirlwind of a new position can be overwhelming and makes it easy to forget that developing a relationship with senior colleagues can be one of the most important aspects of your career. It is vital to have the wisdom and discretion of someone with experience to help guide your career path. The first place to look for such a mentor should probably be your department chair. Understanding what the chair wants and how much your position supports them is the basis of how you should develop your relationship.

Everyone answers to someone and chairs, perhaps even more than you, have a specific set of goals they are working to achieve. While it is important to assert your rights and suggestions, being too pushy will only hamper your advancement. Conversely, ignoring the chair and assuming they will automatically look out for your interests can also lead to trouble. Protect your goals without being a pest. Knowing when is an appropriate time to make requests can often be the deciding factor between a yes and a no. As in, the time to ask Dad for gas money was not just after you had scraped the family car against the garage wall. Timing is key, but investing time is just as important.

The benefit of face to face interactions can never be overlooked. Scheduling informal meetings regularly with your department or department chair (not just in times of crisis) are invaluable in assessing thoughts and feelings of colleagues. Being clear about expectations and promises is another simple way to avoid conflict and confusion. After verbal agreements are made send a follow-up email, so any miscommunications can be ironed out and both parties have a record of what was decided. It's likely that a chair is juggling many balls and it is simply too difficult to remember every detail without supporting documentation.

You get out of anything only what you put into it. So volunteer to help out on projects from time to time, and a good chair will remember your assistance in the future. In cultivating your relationship with your chair though, don't place all your eggs in one person's basket. Sometimes exits are sudden; if you have only one person championing for your advancement and that person leaves there would be no one rooting for you down the road. Build a good relationship with your chair, but don't forget the others.

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