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Survey Results: What Surprised People When They First Started Working in Higher Ed
January 13, 2013 - 9:08pm

As we reported earlier this month, we have started rolling out the results of our fall surveys with those newer-to-higher ed (“newbies”) and those that have been in higher ed for a longer period of time (“veterans”).  Today we’ll let you know what these 459 people told us about what surprised them when they first started working in higher ed.

The results fell into 16 broad categories.  Respondents were most surprised by…

*The large “Other” category included everything from “I was most surprised by how long it takes to prepare lectures” to “all the student-created drama.”  Within this category there were not a sufficient number of responses in any one area to create a new group. 
*Sample size: 459; with comments: 480

The most common response was shock around the politics.  Here are a few responses:

From an administrator: “The politics. You hear about it, but when it is seen and affects you for the first time, there is no way to be ready for it.”

From someone who teaches and is an administrator: “I was surprised at first by the complexity and subtlety of institutional politics, both inside the faculty and between faculty and administration.”

From someone in a business role: “POLITICS.”

From someone who classified themselves as “other:” “The amount of office politics and territorial defensiveness.”

Perhaps a close cousin of “politics,” many respondents were surprised by the lack of collaboration on campus.

            From a tenure-track faculty member: “Workplace friction.”

            From “other”: “How un-collegial higher ed is.”

Interestingly, “lack of oversight” was described both as a positive and negative surprise as demonstrated by these two comments, both from adjuncts:

From an adjunct perceiving the independence as positive: “That I could really have freedom to do what needed to be done in my classes.”

From an adjunct perceiving it as negative: “As an adjunct, I was surprised how little over-sight, and how much independence I was given. At times, it almost feels isolated, with very little department collaboration.”

On a more optimistic note, here’s a comment from an administrator who was surprised by how much he or she liked working in higher ed:

“How much I loved it.  The university has a renewal that is intoxicating. Seeing the new students and celebrating the graduates.  Watching them mature before your eyes.”

There were only a few notable differences when comparing answers based on position. Those in a business role were most likely to be surprised by the bureaucracy and slow pace. Additionally, adjunct faculty members were most likely to comment on the lack of oversight.

Stay tuned for more this week, as we delve deeper into a few of the more popular “surprises” above.


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