I am a tenured professor who holds some administrative positions (e.g., graduate director) in exchange for teaching reduction. I had previously asked about the administrative tasks consuming all my time, and this community helped me reprioritize my efforts.

The trouble now is the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the exceptional situation, my management work has increased exponentially. This is not "what I signed up for." I am burned out from administration and want to step back from this position and focus on my research (i.e., quit my leadership position while retaining my professorship).

My concern is that if I quit my leadership position abruptly in the middle of a pandemic, it could reflect poorly on me and burn bridges. I am thinking of announcing my resignation now, but sticking around for 3-4 months to ensure a smooth transition. Is this reasonable? Are there other things I could do to ensure a smooth transition? Or should I just force myself to finish the two years left in my term?

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    Potentially an interesting question here, but you had attracted several downvotes and close votes, so I made a "major revision" to the text. Feel free to re-edit if I botched anything.
    – cag51
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 21:43
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    Are there any particular factors that make this role more onerous for you than for anyone else who might have to take it on?
    – avid
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 22:22
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    The only part of this that is on-topic, and not a matter of personal opinion, is "Are there other things I could do to ensure a smooth transition?" As for the rest, you need to ask yourself how you weigh various things: your dislike of the workload, your desire to focus more on research, how much you care what others think of you, how much you care about the overall wellbeing of the department, etc. I don't see how anyone else can do this in your place. (Your questions are all very good ones, and it's certainly a tough situation.) Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 2:48

1 Answer 1


I have to admit to some ambivalence about the issue -- which may be what many of your colleagues might feel as well, and that might affect how they see your decisions.

On the one hand, I think we all sympathize with your situation, and your desire to go back to be a "regular faculty" with a life that revolves around teaching and research. I get that a pandemic is not what you had in mind when you took the job of graduate coordinator, and that the resulting upheaval in all things academic (and non-academic) lead to a workload that is not what you thought it was going to be.

On the other hand, however, you did get a promotion and (I assume) a pay raise that reflects your increased level of responsibility and leadership. By accepting these, you are also accepting the fact that your job becomes less predictable and that you become a more direct subject of the whims of the higher-ups wanting you to respond to this or that. That's really no different than nearly any other promotion: If you work at McDonalds, you can have a low-stress job by flipping burgers Monday through Friday 9-5; just don't accept the promotion to shift manager, because then you have to deal with workers not showing up, unhappy customers, etc. So while you say "this is not what I signed up for", I'd argue that in a sense you did actually sign up for it -- maybe not in such explicit terms, but the uncertainty comes with the job, and it is rewarded in certain ways.

So while I assume that your colleagues will have personal sympathy, they might also ask you why they paid you more (or gave you teaching reductions) if you jump ship when showing leadership is actually required. I suspect that it might also be difficult to find someone to replace you during these times, and that might also factor in how your colleagues see your decisions. A department actually needs its graduate director, so not having one is going to be a problem.

In the end, talk to your department head and your colleagues how they see the situation. You might also discover ways in which you can lighten your workload somehow, and become happier with your role. For example, if you find that during the day, you stomp out the really urgent fires and in the evening at home deal with the mundane and boring stuff, consider whether one could hire a student worker to do at least some of the work that mucks up your cogs. Delegation is often possible, and your department head might recognize that it's going to be cheaper and easier to find ways to make your more comfortable with your role, than to replace you.

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    (+1) Excellent answer. But my third stint as my department's grad program director happened because the department head told a colleague that they would be the grad program director. Said surprised colleague declined, so I volunteered (third time's a charm). The next 8 months I was associate head, grad program director and undergrad program director. I also taught a large enrollment gen chem section. No promotion or pay raise. That was what finally burned me out: I dumped all the administrative duties and was much happier and more productive.
    – Ed V
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 23:38
  • Have you ever worked at McDonald's in a "low-stress job"?!
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 6:41
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    @user111388 Fair enough, but you get the point: Maybe high stress but low unpredictability, and when you're off work you're off work. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 22:10

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