Contemplating the Prospect of Being a Head §1. What does it take to be a department head? I n keeping with my prior disclaimer of expertise, I really don't know the answer to this. I'm not sure there is a set answer in the usual sense. I've known many people at my own institutions as well as others who have totally different personalities, psyches, degrees of organization, and levels of mathematical ability but would do or have done a good job of being a head. I've also known some successful heads and some failures who have many similarities. I have also seen some people fail at the job who I thought would be successful. It's hard to predict and surely depends as much on the department as on the individual. It's rather clear that a department head should be organized, fair, honest, and open minded. I also think a department head should be an optimist some might think I am being facetious by saying that, but I am totally serious. It is inevitable that every department will have hard times. You, as a head, must believe that, with work, problems will be solved or at least ameliorated. Rather that generating a list of desirable traits for the job, let me make some statements that I think a good prospect for a head should agree with. Then I'll make a few I think they should disagree with. 1. Usually at the end of the day I can remember where I parked my car. 2. There are some issues in mathematics that I care a lot about, and there are others on which I am neutral. I have never ceased to be amazed that there are some mathematicians who seem to be passionate about everything. 3. I like people. I think it is interesting to observe how people act and react. 4. Vanilla is not my favorite flavor. 5. Being a department head is an important job. There is a lot to do, and the head's decisions have important consequences. 1
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