Brown Bag Apr 13 – Conflict Resolution [Event Recap]

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SFU Brown Bag Conflict Resolution, Negotiation and Navigating Your Academic Career with Brian Green

Date of Event: April 13, 2015

Speaker: Brian Green

In another edition of the Brown Bags Lunch Time Series co-organized by SCWIST, the SFU Office of Graduate Studies and the SFU Postdoctoral Association, SFU PDA President Emma Griffiths interviewed the SFU Faculty Association’s Executive Director and special guest Brian Green. A sociologist by training, Brian has made his career advising academic staff organizations, negotiating collective agreements and advocating for faculty at BCIT and UBC, as well as here at SFU. His place in the university community provides a unique perspective on academic life – where teaching, research and service merge with institutional and interpersonal politics and faculty members adopt and shed any number of roles and identities in a day’s work.

This edition of the Brown Bag series had a packed house, and lots of interaction with the special guest. We tackled a variety of topics to learn how to get, succeed and keep a career in academia. What should you do, what should you not do, and how do you deal with conflict and major problems if they arise.

A first area discussed was the importance of collegiality. Academic institution differ from most other workplaces. Instead of rather well-understood hierarchy, responsibilities, and lines of communication, being an academic involves autonomy, independent work and very informal and implicit leadership. Interpersonal relationships and power dynamics play large role. When it works well, this collegial model of decision-making is very powerful and democratic. Nevertheless, the decentralized nature of the collegial model results in a lot of variation within and across institutions. This means that if it is not functioning well, people are cut off and very bad decisions for a particular group are made.

While this vital part of your academic career is not part of formal training nor mentioned in the average PhD program, you are expected to catch on quickly and learn how to operate in such an environment. As a result, challenges along the academic career path commonly are not about the core tasks such as research and teaching but about that which remains below the surface yet can keep you from getting tenure even if you do well in those core tasks. Showing great potential for these core tasks are key in getting such a coveted tenure track job, but you will need to bring your A-game in getting along with your colleagues and understanding the intricacies of the academic political model to succeed in the tenure track.

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