eAIR recently caught up with Bill Tobin, Director of Institutional Research, DePauw University, to chat about his career in IR at a small, private liberal arts university and the benefits of AIR membership.
Like many of our colleagues, I sort of happened upon it in graduate school. Specifically, I landed a job with an academic dean who had a background in IR. Through his mentoring, I was able to eventually parlay that experience into my current job.
eAIR: What are some of the challenges of running an IR shop at a small, private university such as DePauw. Conversely, what are some of the positive aspects of being an IR director at a small, private school?
One challenge is a limitation on resources. By that, I mean that I can't do everything that a larger IR shop might be able to do with a bigger staff, specialization, and division of labor. While there are always opportunities for improvement of existing services, and ways to gain new skills, it can be difficult. Working with people and being communicative is, I have found, the best approach for getting things done.
On the flip side, at a small school you get to see a lot. You can work closely with faculty and the most senior administrators to be part of interesting research projects, but also get a sense of the strategic view. There's a wonderful informality in these working relationships and there's always something new to learn – even after so many years!
eAIR: What are a couple of your biggest career accomplishments during these past few years?
Last year I co-authored a journal article with two of our faculty members, which was a wonderful experience. I thought perhaps my publication life was behind me, but I learned we're never too old!
I've been in this job for 20 years and people will ask how I stay fresh. Having the freedom to try new things and develop new skills has a lot to do with it. I can say without a trace of irony or sarcasm that I have the best job on campus.
eAIR: What is the greatest benefit that your membership with AIR has provided you?
There's no one else on campus that does the work I do. AIR provides me with a network of colleagues I can talk with any time about issues that I face, and they will instantly understand regardless of institutional context. It's particularly valuable for those of us who are single-person offices. Ideas, theories, and even a sympathetic ear are just a phone call or email away! There is also access to AIR's resources that keep me up-to-date on the latest developments in our field. My travel budget is pretty small, so these resources count for a great deal.