If I knew then what I know now ...

Aug 07 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I’ve been asked to talk to some of the new incoming faculty for a “here’s what you need to know” type of thingy.

Hmmm. I’m wondering how much of the truth I could or should tell.

Here are the basics ...

1. Find out what the general expectations are for you in your specific position. If you’re a scientist in a tenure track position, you’ll need to get extramural funding to support your research. Lots and lots of it. And fast. Get funded or die. Publish or perish. You get the point.

2. Effective teaching, at least in my department, is considered to be very important, but as a TT pleb, it is definitely of lesser importance compared to the research side of things. If you’re in a sciencey field, you’d better have asked for a reduced teaching load for the first few years or you’re screwed.

3. If you’re Not From Here, you’ll have to jump through ridiculously mundane, stupid and expensive hoops for the immigration service in order to get a green card. Luckily, our international office has some really amazing and efficient peeps that really take care of the alien faculty. Don’t piss them off.

4. Be prepared to deal with politics at every turn. You’ll need to learn to deal with it.

5. The admin staff are your best resource. Treat them with respect and don’t piss them off. Really.

6. Be vigilent about guarding your personal time and make sure you take time out to decompress. When you’re on vacation, BE on vacation. The universe won’t grind to a halt if you take a day off and don’t check your emails.

7. Seek out more senior faculty for mentoring. If there isn’t an official mentoring program in place and you don’t find any suitable candidates within your own department, get off your ass and find someone.

8. Your program wants you to succeed. If they didn’t they would have hired someone else. If things are getting too much for you or if you are having problems with someone/something/everything, speak to your department chair and your mentor(s). Don’t let them find out after you’ve had your nervous breakdown and clubbed a colleague to death with a pipette.

9. Make sure the muckety mucks know who you are. Having the Chair, the Dean and even the Provost know who you are and what you do can be beneficial. Don’t blend into the wallpaper and then expect that they’ll remember you when they’re reading your annual reviews or when you need to ask for something. That being said, don’t schmooze or kiss their butts as that’ll just make you out to be an ass.

10. Learn to say NO. And say it loudly. Everyone will want a piece of you because you’re shiny and new and because you’ll have more energy and motivation than everyone else. Now is the time you need to be selfish. At the same time, though, you will be expected to contribute to your department/field/profession in some way so don’t exclude everything and everyone. Where you have a choice, choose wisely. Choose things that will benefit you and your progression towards tenure.

11. Keep a record of everything you do. In a typical TT situation, you’ll have to go through annual reviews plus the big third year review before you go up for tenure so you need to be promoting yourself all the time. Present at a meeting? Put it on your list. Publish a paper? Put it in your file. Win an award? Put it up on your wall and also in your file. Mentor a summer student? Make a note of the details before you forget. This is not the time to be shy or modest about your accomplishments.

12. Promote yourself wherever possible. You don’t have to be an ass about it but if you’ve done anything listed in #11, make sure your Chair knows about it. Your annual review shouldn’t be the first time he/she is hearing about all the good things you’ve done.

13. Lucky number thirteen. Sigh. Find a way to relieve your stress. You’ll need it. Believe me. Take up kickboxing if you have to (it might come in handy during faculty meetings).

14. Finally, make sure you enjoy what you do and where you live. If you don’t, then life is going to be infinitely harder. It’s too early for you to become a bitter and burned out faculty member. Save that for when you get tenure.

I’ve probably forgotten something. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of things. Sigh. The academic year hasn’t even started and my brain is fried already.

Got it? Good. Now go read PLS's post about what he feels he did wrongly up until now. He and I are in similar situations in many ways. But here's your chance to learn from the mistakes of others.

12 responses so far

  • Rob Knop says:

    When I was leavimg Vanderbilt, I sent an email like this to the two incoming astronomy proofs, except I was more cynical and blunt, and I named names....

    #1 is really the most important, because you have less control over it than publication. Also, teaching - don't bother teaching well (I.e. paying attention to educational research, trying active learning techniques). Give good lectures and make your grading criteria clear, and don't worry if anybody is learning anything. At a research institutions, bad teaching may sink you, but really good or innovative teaching won't help. Do just enough to get by. Sad but true. When you have tenure, you can try to teach well. In the mean time, you can't afford the time and intellectual energy. (That was part of my mistake.)

  • physioprof says:

    Seek out more senior faculty for mentoring.

    Yes, but not *too* senior. The best advice and mentoring comes from faculty who have recently passed through the stage you are currently at.

    This is for at least two reasons. First, there is a chance that these people will actually remember correctly their experiences when they were at your stage. Second, the prevailing conditions "on the ground" have a chance of having been somewhat similar to how they are for you now. (E.G., grant strategy and grantsmanship advice from someone who started the tenure track when paylines were 30% isn't going to be particularly relevant to someone dealing with <10% paylines.)

  • microcanuck says:

    I'm a year into a TT position - thanks for this. It's good to be reminded to self-promote, get out of my office/lab and actually take care of yourself. Must admit, it still feels weird to think that teaching matters, just not that much.

  • Nice post ! I am also into the first year of my position and #10 is probably the issue I have the most difficulty to deal with. Too often during that first year, I haven't been able to say no. However, I understand the game and I am ready and willing to play it. But still, if I continue to say yes to every demand, this will eventually catch me up.

    So, #10 is now written on my to do list for the upcoming year !

  • GMP says:

    Very well written.

    About #11: I totally had a tenure binder. I would throw everything in it -- every invited talk invite,copies of your student evaluations, copies of dept evaluations, grant award documents, any honors or awards... Any formal piece of documentation from Chair/Dean/Provost or similat.

  • Tex says:

    Good list. I would add avoid developing social relationships with your mentees; this can be hard as oftentimes you can be in similar age groups to your students/postdocs, have few other friends, etc. (Not talking romatically here, although those should be avoided too.) You may have to make difficult decisions based on academic or research issues that can be clouded by these relationships. I guess that you have to remember that you are ultimately their boss.

    I have seen this happen and it never works out well.

  • Tex, I agree with you !

  • Hermitage says:

    Awesomesauce list! I will copy/paste it for when I start attempting to conquer the universe.

    BTW dude this login system is srsly testing my lazy threshold. You better be glad I lurv ur Dorito-dust covered self!

  • Sorry, H. It's beyond my control. Much like my penchant for Doritos.

  • Recently tenured says:

    Wish I had seen this 6 years ago!!!! Worked out ok, I just had to do twice as much as everyone else. Dept chair conveniently neglected to mention that there are ways of reducing my teaching load, so I taught 4/semester for three years. Getting a job offer at another university often gets administrators attention. I highly recommend it.

  • Hey, PiT! Nature Chemistry included this post in their Sept blogroll. Since, ironically, it requires a subscription, I captured a screenshot as proof :)

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