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一个美国教授的生活(二)(中英对照) 精选

已有 20251 次阅读 2009-6-23 00:25 |系统分类:海外观察|关键词:终身教授,美国教授| 终身教授, 美国教授

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Life of an Academic in the US (2)        
(Notes added below 6/30/09 on getting research funding)
An article “也说美国的教授上课by blogger 朱金颖 talked about the general concerns of a professor in the US. I thought I add some more of my experience and observations since a large number of Chinese scholars are in the process of climbing the US academic ladders and more Chinese students aspire to such opportunities.
Tenure In Chinese this means 终身职 or 铁饭碗. In the US, this means unless your academic department is totally abolished or you have committed serious crimes, you have a job for life regardless of your political belief or social opinions. If you have modest goals and just want to be an average teacher for the rest of your life, then you can simply do your job adequately or more derogatorily “retire or go to sleep” after you get tenure. A minor but significant portion of professors in a significant fraction of US universities belong in the category. There is nothing particularly wrong with this. We cannot all be word famous. However, in a first tier university or a university aspires to be first tier, deans and/or department head will not tolerate such a mode of existence. You are given tenure because the school expects that in the next few decades, you will contribute beyond your regular teaching. You are expected to get outside research funding and support several graduate students, or publish papers/books that add luster to the department, or be an innovative teacher to large number of students in university wide courses, or do various administrative duties of a university with skill and devotion. If not, there are numerous informal ways by the academic administration to make your life uncomfortable so that you will resign your tenured job out of self-respect. Now let me explain further the alternatives mentioned above.
Getting research funding In my 40+ years of experience, compete for funding is a reasonably fair undertaking. Well known researchers can get rejected just as easily as less famous colleagues due to poor writing and planning. Great majority of funding are done through “peer review”. Program officers in agencies such as the
National Science Foundation are competent technocrats with advanced training , or academic scholars serving in temporary capacity during sabbatical leaves, or former academics who decided to do government service. Program officers from the Department of Defense have more latitude on awards but they still use peer review to help support their decisions. Their existence also helps to correct some of the shortcomings of “peer review”. The famed “Kalman filter (2008 Draper prize recipient, see http://www.sciencenet.cn/m/user_content.aspx?id=14253 )” probably would not have survived “peer review” in the late 1950s and was instead supported by an Air Force contract. For years afterwards, the US Air Force used this as an argument for more basic research dollars.
It is also possible to get large funding for more targeted and specific problem -oriented research involving large number of personnel. But this often creates conflict of interests with the academic and teaching purpose of a university. While an up-and-coming university may temporarily tolerate the involvement with a large project, most established institution will worry about the problem of “the tail wagging the dog”. They will typically spin off the project to a separate entity related but not integral part of the university. Professors can serve as consultant or part time researcher at such institutions but not as directors or part of the management. The prime example of this is the Lincoln Laboratory of MIT which started by handling many real defense problems of the Cool War.
Industrial funding of university researches are possible but represents smaller part of the whole picture. One reason is often the insistence by industry for secrecy or exclusiveness while university advocates openness and freedom to publish. Another problem universities frown upon is the mingling of financial interest between a researcher and private industry. While a professor can serve as consultant with pay to industry on one day per week basis, there are usually rules against professors serving as part of the management of a company. Generally speaking, at place like Harvard, a professor is expected to behave as “Caesar’s wife”, i.e., above reproach and without any appearance of possible conflict of interest. The integrity and reputation of a university is always of paramount importance. For that matter, so is the case for a scholar.
( Notes added 6/30/09. It is possible to influence the announcement of Call for Proposals (CFPs) by program officers of funding agency by giving well reasoned talk, presentations, and sometime sending him unsolicited position paper on important research topics. This way the CFP will be targeted to the special area of your expertise and you gain an advantage in the competition for funds. Of course, this process can be abused resulting in what is known as an “inside job” or “pre-wired research grant”. But such occurrences are rare in my experience and represent mostly complaints and imagined unfairness by unsuccessful applicants).
Supporting graduate students and department expense- At least in S&T, almost all graduate students in the US are supported by individual professors. The cost can total (with overhead) some 50 to 60 thousand dollars a year. University will sometimes help support a student with scholarship or teaching assistantship for the first couple of years. But a professor is expected to carry all the burden after the first two years. In addition, the overhead dollar the department/university collects from the professor pays for general office supplies, telephone, secretarial services, etc. Thus even if you do not have any research students, then indirectly you are carrying your share of the department burden in terms of general expenses (I know of cases where a professor has to buy his own chalk).
Service Teaching and textbook writing – You can survive in a first class university without research by being a great teacher and textbook writer (see. http://www.sciencenet.cn/m/user_content.aspx?id=1808 ). Paul Samuelson, the second Nobel Prize winner for economics, reputedly wrote the most popular introductory textbook ever in publishing history. Supposedly only the Bible has more copies in print. The book has gone through numerous editions and in fact successor co-authors when Samuelson himself is too old to bother updating it. In fact, he had to set up a trust to handle the royalty income for this text book for tax purposes. That is a successful author! At the risk of being immodest, I myself was the co-author (in 1969 after my tenure decision) of the best selling textbook and Science Citation Classic in my field. 40 years after publication and without a new edition it still sells a few hundred copies a year and un know number of Chinese and Russian translation copies.
Go into administration Although everyone is his/her own boss in a US university, an institution still needs administrators for smooth functioning. Unlike in commerce or government where authorities are clearly defined, university professor with tenure cannot be fired. Nor will they listen to an administrator not coming from their own ranks. Thus, another possible route for advancement in a university after tenure is the administration route where the ultimate job is the university presidency. Having been a professor and a published scholar yourself means you understand the “games professor play”. Your words carry more persuasive power. Finally, any institution is a collection of people. You still need people skill to get things done. Just like brain power such skill are always prized and rewarded.
In short, getting tenure is but the first step in a scholarly career. The pressure is always on until you finally retire and even afterwards. If nothing else but our self-respect will keep you striving. After all nobody wants to be labeled a “has been”. The joke is “you are only as good as your last paper” or “it is a greasy pole. You have to keep on climbing just to stay in place. Many others want to pull you down so that they can get ahead”. Life of a moderately successful scholar/professor is not a bed of roses "美国的教授日子没有那么舒服".







支付研究生和院系开支的费用——美国几乎所有研究生的费用都是教授们支付的,至少科技领域是如此。每个研究生每年至少要花费大约5万到6万美元,有时在学生入学头两年,学校会设立奖学金或者助教岗位来资助学生。但是两年之后,教授需要挑起所有的担子。此外,院系还另外向教授们征收人头费来支付一般办公用品、电话费、秘书工资等等。因此,即使你没有带研究生,你也需要间接承担系里的一般费用(我知道一些教授必须自己买粉笔的例子) 。

教学工作和教科书的编写——如果你极擅长教学,又能写出优秀的教科书,那么即使不做研究,你也能在一所一流的大学生存下去(见 http://www.sciencenet.cn/m/user_content.aspx?id=1808 )。保罗•萨缪尔森,诺贝尔经济学奖的第二位获得者,以撰写了出版史上最受欢迎的教科书而闻名,据称该书的印刷量仅次于《圣经》。该书历经无数次再版,事实上,当萨缪尔森已经老得懒得再更新的时候,就由继任者更新再版。为了交所得税,萨缪尔森还得专门成立一个信托机构来处理这本教科书带来的版税,多么成功的作者啊!冒着自吹自擂的风险,我想说其实我也是系统控制科学领域最佳畅销书的合著者(1969年我拿到终身教授职位后)。40年来,尽管该书没有再版,仍然每年都能卖掉几百册,中文版和俄文版的销售量则不详。


简而言之,得到终身教授的职位仅仅是学者生涯的第一步。而压力则会一直与你相伴,直到退休,甚至退休之后。即使没有别的压力,仅仅你的自尊心就足以鞭策你奋斗不止。毕竟,没有人想被贴上“好汉不提当年勇”的标签。学术界流行的笑话是这么说的,“你的最高水平就是最近一篇论文”, “像爬抹了油的竹竿一样,为了待在原位你必须不停地往上爬,许多人都想拉你下来,因为他们都想要超过你。”普通大学教授的日子绝对不是玫瑰花铺就的。美国教授的日子没有想象中的那么舒坦。 (科学网 陈丹译 何姣校)


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