This is part of a series of posts that was written as a response to – and a means of thinking through issues raised by – an e-course by Jo VanEvery and Julie Clarenbach called “Myths and Mismatches”. Here is the link to the original post, from January 15, 2011: “Myths & Mismatches” Part 8-Are You “At Home”?
My series of responses continues today with one of the most crucial issues you might end up facing as a graduate student or as a professor…
Mismatch #4: Mismatch of personality
Every workplace, every university department or academic “unit”, is more than the sum of its walls and windows, its rules and regulations. It’s a place that emerges partly from the interactions of the people involved, i.e. faculty, staff, students, and so on; “the basic personality of departments, not to mention universities, is a conglomeration of many factors”. These include institutional orientation (e.g. research or teaching); departmental divides along theoretical, methodological or generational lines; and “the particular configurations of personalities that just don’t work well together”.
You’ve probably noticed after spending years in university environments that you feel more at home within some of these spaces than in others–and you might have identified some of those factors that “work” for you. But it’s really hard to tell what a “good fit” might be from only brief interactions with place, and with people and institutional structures. I’ve often felt afraid of making the wrong call on this point, since “much of this personality […] isn’t apparent at first glance”. And it feels even more important when one thinks about applying for faculty positions; as a student there is always the option of switching programs or institutions, but faculty need to be able to fit in eventually with their colleagues and with the university in the long term.
Jo and Julie argue that when a “personality” disconnect occurs, “the problem isn’t you–it’s just the mismatch between what you need and what they offer.” You can work with compromise up to a point, but you need to recognise if and when “you just don’t fit the culture of the department or institution”.