Candid Engineer asked me a while back to expand on how a nice R1 girl like myself ended up at a confused R2 like this. I've been struggling with exactly how to answer that question for a couple of weeks now. Like most things in life, it is rarely simple how one got to where one is - but I will do my best to sidestep the philosophical issues on this one and stick to the facts.
The ultimate reality in academia is that you take a job where you can get a job. I remember clearly my first realization of this as a grad student. I had just discovered the Science Jobs website, which gives you all those neat options like narrowing your search to type of job and state. So I put in assistant professor, ecology, and my favorite state. When that big fat 0 results came up, I very quickly learned that this was not a search algorithim that was likely to end with me in a tenure track position. When I got my Ph.D., I applied to every R1 position that I was remotely qualified for. The job market for ecologists has exploded the past couple of years, but when I was on the market the number of positions had just begun to increase from the grim 90s and I was putting in around 10 apps/year (last year, if I had been on the market, I could have put in almost 30). When my post-doc funding ran out, this was the only job offer I had in hand. That's the simple version of the story.
Simple, except that if you were reading carefully, I said I applied for every position at an R1 university, yet here I am at an R2. Well, my friends, this is the more complex version of the story....
So, here's the story for any of my young readers who are currently on the market. I studiously avoided R2s when I was on the market because I knew that they tended to have higher teaching loads and lower research emphasis. That was just not the gig I was looking for and a good friend (and also a variety of anti-role models) had warned me that once you get into those positions, the high teaching loads can make it hard to get out. What I was unaware of when I was on the market was that the Carnegie Foundation, which developed the tier system for research universities, has been in the process of refining its system. The R1/R2 terminology we all use (which referred to the classifications for doctoral granting institutions: R1, R2, D1, D2) became defunct in 2000. At that time, Carnegie started overhauling its classification system and put up an interim system. At that time, they basically divided the doctoral institutions into research and less-research universities (in effect Rs in one group and Ds in another). Apparently, nobody really liked this, so everyone kept using the old R1/R2 designations. In 2005, a new system - based on more extensive criteria - was released and doctoral institutions were once again broken down more finely. The new categories are: Research University - Very High Research Activity, Research University - High research activity, and Doctoral Research University. The names are less catchy, but the tune is generally the same. There is a top tier of research universities, a second tier of research universities, and then a bottom tier with limited research activity. The job ad for the university I am currently at said it was R1 (a classification which did not exist at that time, but then everyone was doing the same thing). If I had been paying attention on my interview, I might have realized that there was something suspect about the R1 classification, but I didn't understand what I was seeing. It is only after I got here - and was confused about some of the big differences between this university and the R1s I had been at in the past - that I realized that we had been...reclassified. Before anyone gets all up on me about how the rankings are no longer exactly analogous to the old R1/R2 system, I would like to say that my first response was that there had to be some mistake. But when I look at my university objectively and then look at who else is in the High Research category, I honestly think Carnegie got it right. Those are our peer institutions.
I share, perhaps an overabundance of information on the topic of Carnegie rankings, because I think it is important for young people to realize that the information is out there for them to check on themselves (as is information about average salaries for assistant professors, cost of living, and a variety of other tools that can help with everything from negotiations to decision making if you are lucky enough to have more than one offer). You can look up any institution at the Carnegie Foundation website. And, just in case you think checking up on that information isn't important: I have seen job ads from my university go out claiming that we are still an R1.
So that's it, kids. That's the story of how a R1 girl takes a wrong turn and ends up in a part of the academic town she didn't expect to be in. I won't lie to you, there are some nice things about being in this part of town, but there are some real frustrations too. It's all about the tradeoffs and whether they are acceptable given where you want to go in life. Still figuring that out for myself, but I'll keep you posted as I work it through!