Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Personal News : "New Job"

Since it's more or less been publicly announced at this point, I may as well announce it here:  starting July 1, I'll be the new Area Dean for Computer Science at Harvard.  Very roughly speaking, academics from schools that use a standard vocabulary (unlike Harvard) can translate that to "Chair" if they like.  I'll be filling the shoes of Greg Morrisett, who has been doing a fantastic job.  Indeed, from my standpoint the worst part of taking the job now is that Greg has done such a great job he'll be a hard act to follow.  (But he's served his time, and will be enjoying a sabbatical!)

The new role isn't really a surprise.  At Harvard, we more-or-less take turns in this position, and I knew my turn was probably coming next.  The standard is a 3-year stint and that's what I'm expecting.  We have a faculty with tremendous leadership depth so I'm not worried about getting stuck with the job.  Indeed, one of the great things about our faculty is that we have so many people that can do the job well, and at the same time we have nobody who really wants the job.  (An old academic saying, apparently, is to beware anyone who actually wants to be chair.)

I'll undoubtedly self-indulge and write a few more posts about my thoughts on the job before actually beginning it.  But one thing that's clear is that how I spend my time will change -- at least, that's the impression I get by the happy jig Greg breaks into these days whenever he sees me -- so it's a good time to reflect on that.  And one of the first things that was clear to me is that I'll be shutting down mybiasedcoin, probably sometime in August.  Just to be clear, there was no pressure by anyone at Harvard to do so -- indeed, Greg encouraged me to keep it going -- but I think it's time.

The reason is a combination of things.  The biggest is that the blog takes time, of course, and I expect to have less time available.  I also admit to being a bit burned out after doing it now for 3 years.  (It's been that long?)  Finally, I worry that the job will involve all sorts of things I shouldn't write about, but might want to, which could be frustrating -- and, potentially, disastrous.  (Nobody has called me out on this, but in the blog I write basically nothing about my consulting work -- even though I might like to -- because in most cases that would be inappropriate.  I figure the same will happen with parts of the new job.)

There are conferences (STOC, EC, ISIT) to blog about in the immediate future, some papers in the pipeline I hope to have a chance to discuss, and probably some issues in the back of my head that I'd like to blog about before stopping.  That's a couple months more of posts. 

I don't feel too bad about stopping -- there are plenty of other CS blogs out there, other voices to be heard.  If I feel the need, I'll guest post somewhere when I have an opinion.

Which, obviously, I often do...


Anonymous said...

I really don't think you have to stop blogging just because you are chair.

e.g. Peter Lee of CMU started blogging while he was chair: http://www.csdhead.cs.cmu.edu/blog/and I am sure there are others.

Of course if you are simply burned out thats a different story, but you could just do like everyone else and start posting much less frequently. Or get guest bloggers like Lance Fortnow.

If you do quit you will be missed, as you are one of the best CS bloggers working right now.

Suresh Venkatasubramanian said...

Congratulations, Michael. Or condolences ? I was looking forward to lots of posts on life as chair, but alas.

I agree with anon on all counts: you definitely don't have to stop blogging, and you will be missed. maybe you should get some blogger who only types in small letters to guest blog (kidding :))

Daniel Lemire said...

You will be missed.

Pradeep said...

Congrats! Michael. Would love to see you continue writing on the blog though.

Matt Welsh said...

Michael, I am thrilled that you will be taking on this role. Perhaps a clever and judicious application of randomness can be used to get certain things done around here...

Why stop blogging altogether? It would be great if you simply scaled back to research related posts (for example). And if you stop, what is going to drive all the traffic to my blog? :-)

Anonymous said...

I am CS PhD student, and I really enjoy reading your blogs. You referred to the "other good cs blogs" in your post --- could someone post references to good cs blogs (say blogs by CS professors/ researchers) out there? Thanks much.

Anonymous said...

To last anon


Anonymous said...

I'd also be sad to see this blog shut down and hope you reconsider. It's the only one I know of where both theory and systems people read it and participate (e.g., Matt, Amin, Stefan).

Another one of the attractions to readers is that it provides some "behind the scenes" perspective on being a faculty member. Some of that from a department chair would be even more unusual. What are the day-to-day problems? How hard is it to get a new building? How hard to grow the faculty? How important are rankings? How do departments jockey for favor with the dean/provost? Etc.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could just start posting on Matt's blog from time to time?

The whole "I'm kinda an asshole" thing works way better on a blog than in the classroom, and it makes you one of the best CS bloggers out there.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Thanks all for the comments. I'll write more about this later on, but here are some responses.

Anon 1: I've seen Peter Lee's blog, but it seemed to be a different beast (focused a lot on CMU announcements). I could see starting a similar blog as a focus point for Harvard CS PR while being chair -- but it wouldn't be for the same purpose as mybiasedcoin, and would be differently labeled accordingly.

Suresh: Condolences. But it's only for 3 years. :)

Matt: At this point, don't you think maybe you're driving traffic to my blog?

Anon #6: The theory feed is a good starting point as given by Anon #7. Also, if you start from the links to other blogs on my blog page (and from the similar links from Lance Fortnow's blog, and Richard Lipton's blog, and Suresh's geomblog) you'll find plenty of good blogs.

Anon #8: I am glad that theory and systems people are both readers of this blog. I think now also they systems and theory people know more about each others' blogs and so there's a bit more communication between them in those spaces. I hope that continues.

A blog with behind the scenes from the chair might indeed be interesting -- it's just not clear it's the blog I want to write.

Anon #9: Did I ever say I was kind of an asshole, or are you saying it? :) If I said it, I assure you it was in jest. I'm a happy, warm, loving father of 3, as I'm sure people who know me will attest.

I might sometimes seem like kind of an asshole on the blog or in the classroom, but that's just because those communications mechanisms are noisy.

Anonymous said...

Michael, in the words of Weezer, please, "say it ain't so".

Anonymous said...

Michael, your blog will be much missed. Good luck on your new position!

Anonymous said...

Good luck, I have greatly enjoyed reading for the past year or so and wouldn't have gained my present appreciation for statistical data structures but for your blog. Thanks!