Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Urban/Rural Collegiality Divide

Just a reminder that Grigory Yaroslavtsev has taken over the Theory Jobs Spreadsheet. Check out who is moving where and let everyone know where you will continue your research career.

In 1999 when I considered leaving the University of Chicago for NEC Research I had a conversation with Bob Zimmer, then VP of Research and current U of C President. Zimmer said it was a shame I didn't live in Hyde Park, the Chicago South Side neighborhood where the university resides, and thus not fully connected with the school. At the time I didn't fully understand his point and did leave for NEC, only to return in 2003 and leave again in 2008. I never did live in Hyde Park.

Recently I served on a review committee for a computer science department in a rural college town. You couldn't help but notice the great collegiality among the faculty. Someone told me their theory that you generally get more faculty collegiality in rural versus urban locations. Why?

In urban locations faculty tend to live further from campus, to get bigger homes and better schools, and face more traffic. They are likely to have more connections with people unconnected with the university. There are more consulting opportunities in large cities, a larger variety of coffee houses to hang out in and better connected airports make leaving town easier. Particularly in computer science, where you can do most of your research remotely, faculty will find themselves less likely to come in every day and you lose those constant informal connections with the rest of the faculty. 

This is a recent phenomenon, even going back to when I was a young faculty you needed to come to the office for access to research papers, better computers to write papers, good printers. Interactions with students and colleagues is always better in person but in the past the methods of electronic communication proved more limiting.

The University of Chicago helped create and promote its own neighborhood and ran a very strong private school with reduced tuition for faculty children. Maybe my life would have been different had I immersed myself in that lifestyle. 

Or maybe we should go the other extreme. If we can find great ways to do on-line meetings and teaching, why do we need the physical university at all?


  1. Luca moving back to Italy is insane. Who would have guessed this ? That's quite a setback.

    1. Setback? Actually, scholars in Italy and Europe see it as a good opportunity to collaborate with him, not a setback.

  2. setback ? #anon1 probably meant a setback for the place that he departs from. It's like immigration vs emigration, u gotta have the right perspective.

    Italy might benefit, but ultimately (and more likely) end up becoming a draining experience.

    Money/grants don't buy everything, even if the current grant promised to him and his research tops the total amount of money he already has been given by the NSF.

    Time will tell.

    1. Italy might benefit, but ultimately (and more likely) end up becoming a draining experience.

      That we don't know. What we do know already is that the US ended up becoming a draining experience. We can only expect this trend to increase in the near future.

  3. Until VR matures much more than it currently has online interaction will continue to be lower-resolution in terms of richness of experience than offline face-to-face interaction. Most humans are emotionally adapted primarily for face-to-face in-space interaction. Communication over the wire can provide a more efficient transfer of symbolic information but I think it is less conducive of empathic relation.

    This is unrelated (except in terms of being about the internet and communication) but I've sometimes wondered about the effect that the global interconnection of information has on academic research at large. It seems fairly straightforward that this interconnectedness should bring huge positive benefits from sharing of information. However does constant sharing of information not also in the long run homogenize the way that an academic field conceptualizes problems? I read that one of the reasons the United States became the frontrunner in microprocessor technology was because during the space race our rockets had less overall lift capacity and thus we had huge incentive to miniaturize onboard control systems- and that likewise due to the Soviet's economic inability to perform the kinds of large-scale precision manufacturing of microprocessor components they had pursued optical computing far more heavily and were years ahead in this field when the USSR collapsed. People often tout the benefits of having people from diverse backgrounds working in a problem space- would some amount of deliberate siloing of research into grounds operating under different conditions also diversify the approaches taken to which problems are tackled and how, and thus in the long run produce better results?