The search chair of my CSE department at U. Michigan recently asked me what brought me to Michigan. So I shared my story…
Hi Ben! I'd be happy to share my thoughts and experiences coming to Michigan from my prior institution. I remain delighted with Michigan and regard the move as one of the best decisions I’ve made. There are multiple aspects to the decision, but let me first emphasize that it’s the relationships built on the recruiting journey between recruiters and the recruited, as well as the promise of additional great relationships with intellectually stimulating, super smart, and engaging colleagues that underlies the emotional part of the decision. I wanted to be challenged and stimulated to grow, and Michigan’s culture and faculty manifestly offers more of that (than I observed at my prior institution). Indeed, this is one of the most unique things about Michigan. While other schools often have faculty heads down in their own business and aloof from each other, the faculty at Michigan are overall are very secure, friendly, excited about research, and loves talking about research and ideas openly. The departmental culture fosters this atmosphere and it can be felt. For example, I love when you come by my office to chit chat about some interesting topic just because its interesting. That’s the Michigan vibe. Instead of faculty keeping ideas to themselves so other faculty don’t ‘steal’ ideas, Michigan faculty share and celebrate openly. The Michigan culture is a first order reason I left my prior institution. And this expectation was actualized in spades when I arrived. I cant understate my enthusiasm and passion for Michigan as a home after experiencing the cultural dynamics at my prior institution and . Another major aspect that left an impression on me is how settleable Ann Arbor is!! There are 3 important Pillars to Ann Arbors settleability: The housing prices – live like a king/queen for less, the ridiculously low crime rate – The whole family can be safe to frolic :-P, the public school system quality – every single public school in Ann Arbor tops the ranks. Plus the spring summers are insanely beautiful. Another very practical selling point was how faculty at Michigan seem to raise grant money very easily and in my experience typically in groups. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but simply being at Michigan provides a surprisingly significant tail wind on getting grant money. The faculty regularly team up for larger grants and win them. Honestly, there has been very few grants I pursued on my own without joining forces with say 2 or 3 other faculty. I cant understate how much more fun and stimulating the grant writing process is when done through collaboration. In my experience, that has been my default mode of grant writing at Michigan, and it's my observation that the default at other institutions is the exact opposite. I believe this is largely fueled by the faculty culture I mentioned before. The important point is that it transforms an aspect of the professor's job that is typically not the fun part, grant writing, and makes it one of the fun parts. Logistically, and importantly, having Tom Wenisch be my main point of contact for the recruiting journey also was very effective in creating excitement and enthusiasm in me. Tom exemplified what a Michigan faculty could be. He loved talking about nerdy researchy topics anytime and all of the time. He introduced me to Ann Arbor and was a great host for my visits. He was super attentive, He was never far away and a spent a lot of in person time with me and Lingjia during the visit. From the breakfasts/lunches/dinners to roaming the campus and the AA area generally, faculty was there and we were never left to roam on our own, which was very endearing. Now, I would be remiss not to mention that I represented a particular category of candidate; a candidate that was selecting the place that would challenge me and make me the best intellectual I could be. I cared first and foremost for an environment to grow and realize my potential. This is in contrast to the category of candidate that is focused more on selecting a place to retire (i.e., beaches and warm weather) as a first order criteria. For that kind of candidate perhaps you can emphasize the beaches up north and the great lakes and the lake-like lifestyle (buy a cabin up north, on a lake beach, retreat there anytime). This wouldn’t have matter much to me, but it may to others. Also, for candidates that have immigrated from Asian, like Lingjia, visiting the various Asian food markets is very important. Ask her and she’ll tell you. It makes this class of candidate feel more at home. In my rounds on the market, I’ve visited and evaluated MANY top tier institutions. I had expected Michigan to be by far the best institution to call home, and after arriving, I cant understate how Michigan had exceeded that expectation, handily. Happy to hop on a call to chat more if you’d like. Let me know. Cheers, Jason Mars
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