Cold Call: Take Two!

I subscribe to the Woody Hayes philosophy of life. Hayes, a legendary football coach at Ohio State University, would start each game by sending his best running back directly into the middle of the line. If the opponents stopped him for little or no gain, he would try something different. If, however, they couldn’t halt his progress, Hayes would run the same play over and over again until they proved they could. His reasoning was eminently logical­—why change a winning strategy?   My first attempt at a cold call to the University of Nairobi resulted in a hugely successful, once-in-a-lifetime East African experience. So, as Woody would say, why change?

In spring 1991 I sent unsolicited, “out-of-the-blue” emails to the computer science chairs at three universities with English-based curricula relating my desire to work in Istanbul, become a part of Turkish society, and experience its rich history and culture.  I attached a current resume, the names of professional references, some courses I could teach, and the titles and abstracts of talks I could present to faculty and students.  Although two of the three schools quickly sent polite rejections, within two weeks of my initial inquiry I received an e-mail offer of summer employment from Bogazici University–my arguments in support of cold calling described in A Little Mathematics Maestro were holding up quite well.  Furthermore, to show you this success is absolutely not unique to me, when I returned from Turkey I sent the names and email addresses of the people I worked with to a professional colleague at San Jose State University in California.  The following summer he and his wife were comfortably ensconced in Istanbul enjoying an identical three-month working vacation experience.

View of the Bosphorus from the Bogazici University Campus Located In the Lovely Neighborhood of Bebek

In his reply the chair proposed I teach one ten-week summer school class and give a series of weekly talks on new developments in the computer science curriculum.  In exchange I would receive a single round-trip air ticket from Minneapolis to Istanbul, no-cost on-campus accommodations for my wife and me, and a modest cash allowance. Modest, I might add, in terms of purchasing power, not in absolute amount. My wife and I were to become “Turkish millionaires,” receiving a monthly stipend of 1,200,000 Turkish lira, the local unit of currency. With lira then trading at 2,400 to the dollar, that three-inch thick wad of bills I collected and stuffed into my pockets each month amounted to just $500. However, when the Bogazici salary and free housing were added to my Macalester paycheck (spread out over 12-months even though I was on a 9-month contract) and monies from the rental of my house in Minneapolis, it was enough for Ruth and I to live quite well in Istanbul, a city with a modest cost of living.  In fact, there were sufficient funds remaining to support weekend and school holiday sojourns to Ephesus, Bodrum, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia.

By this fifth overseas working vacation I was coming to understand that these terms—one round-trip air ticket, on-campus housing (sometimes free, sometimes at a nominal cost), and a small food and living allowance—were pretty much the norm and roughly what you might expect to receive on your own working vacation.  One of the realities of negotiating with an overseas institution is that there may be little or no “wiggle room” regarding the financial terms of the offer. Pay scales are often set by the university administration or central government, not the dean or department head, leaving little room to maneuver. However, while salaries are often inflexible there may be room for negotiation with regard to workload. Don’t be surprised if the host institution initially proposes a heavy course load, dozens of public lectures, or consulting with a multitude of groups, since the director, department chair, or dean will want to squeeze as much valuable work out of your visit as possible.  The same admonition applies to other disciplines–a doctor may be asked to see hundreds of patients; the engineer may be assigned a six or six-and-a half-day work week; the consultant may be asked to meet with dozens of agencies. Don’t be afraid to respond that this is too great a workload for you to do a quality job, and it needs to be lowered to a more manageable level. Then discuss a compromise acceptable to both you and the host institution. You may not be able to negotiate the amount they are paying you, but you may be able to negotiate the amount of work you must do to earn that pay.

So, once again, on May 30, 1991 Ruth and I made our way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to begin a three-month summer working vacation in Istanbul, Turkey but this time, with an interesting, no-cost diversion included on the way.

(Sidebar:  Some people have commented that my blog is getting quite large, making it difficult to find specific topic material. Sad but true! I am not much of a designer, but I did make a couple of changes to make it more useful, especially to new readers who may have missed some earlier posts.

Change 1: I added categories to each post specifying what kind of helpful travel advice is contained in each article. There are currently sixteen categories included under the heading “Working Vacation” with many more to come as new posts are added and new topics are addressed.

Change 2: If you look in the right-hand column you will see a listing of these categories. If you are interested, for example, in the issue of housing in a host country, then simply click on the category “housing”and you  will get a list of all posts that have anything to do with that topic.

Change 3: I added a brand new page entitled Table of Contents. It lists, in chronological order, every post I have put up, along with its date and first few lines to give you a brief idea of what it is about. There is also a link (the word more…) to the full post.

I hope you find these changes helpful, and I would love to receive more suggestions about how to make this blog more useful . Thanks so much.)

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One response to “Cold Call: Take Two!

  1. A great lesson in both lateral thinking and proactive, um, action! The formatting changes are good too.

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