Hi fellow wiki-ites. I landed a TT position last around this time last year, and am now well in to my first year as an assistant professor at an R1. I was warned, over and over, how hard the first year would be, but I don't know that I fully realized it until now. I moved to a new, unfamiliar place, I'm working constantly, most days I'm in an acute state of anxiety, there is huge pressure put on me within my department. I've really started to wonder if I can cut it. Does anyone have advice around how to cope better? I'm having a hard time telling if the place I'm in just isn't a good fit for me (and I'd be happier elsewhere) or if this is just how it goes on the TT at an R1. Any thoughts/insights would be greatly appreciated…
Date: 31 Jan 2015 16:52
Number of posts: 6
RSS: New posts
Do you remember when you first made it to graduate school and the incredible weight of imposter syndrome set in? Maybe it was just me, but I looked around and was convinced they made a wrong decision with me. The first year is the same. I'm in my third year of a TT job, so let me offer just a bit of advice:
1. You just have to get to your first summer. You can do this. Once you make it to May, you'll be surprised how much better life looks. Things start slowing down a bit. Enjoy some time to refocus and make a plan for moving forward. Enjoy a margarita on the back porch with a friend or sig. other. Once you make it your first year, you realize that the second is so much better and doable. You'll begin to get into a routine. The academic life is marathon, and sometimes settling into a routine helps you chip away at larger goals.
2. If the pressure doesn't subside, talk to your chair. I found that clarity is really important. What do they expect of you specifically? How are you doing, in your chair's eyes?
3. Make sure you have support outside of work. I know this seems counterintuitive, but begin getting really excited about something that is NOT work. Start reading a novel (even a hour or two a week). Start bicycling. Make tiny ships in bottles (OK, maybe not that last one). But have some sense of self outside of work. It gives perspective and helps blow off anxiety.
4. Realize, sadly, that no job is perfect.
5. Read number 4 again. Sorry. This is just simply true.
6. If after all of this, it's still awful, consider talking to some one. Seeing a therapist isn't a bad idea. Maybe there are some strategies she/he can suggest.
Just a few thoughts. Hang in there!
I'm at an R2, good department, high, but reasonable research and grant expectations (in terms of the latter, need to actively pursue, but there is understanding that even fairly high scored applications may not be funded these days).
In my first 3 years (I'm in my 6th now), it was rough - preparing and then teaching new classes, getting my program of research up and going, maintaining collaborations and forming new ones, applying for external funding, and building a good publication record (averaging about 4 a year, but had 6+ in each of the last 2 years [i.e., years 4 and 5]), working with graduate students and getting them going on their theses and then dissertations, was stressful and time consuming. There is simply a lot to do to get established. Moreover, in my case, I do longitudinal work with young children and their families, which took even longer to start generating pubs. based on data collected on-site, which added some stress, at least relative to colleagues whose work did not take as long to generate good papers from their labs.
That said, a lot of the pressure I experienced was self-imposed. However, new faculty since I started that did not have new projects started (i.e., developed, IRB approved, with some early data collection going) by the first year review do receive feedback to the effect that they need to get going. Such feedback at the point of the first year review does not have any "tone" per se, but if at the point of the second year review, data collection has only recently started (i.e., end of the fall semester of 2nd year), "concern" is typically expressed. Faculty here also like to see a grant application taking shape no later than the 3rd year review - with a little more than 2.5 years to collect some pilot data, along with pilot findings that they may have already had, this is viewed as reasonable. The reality here is that if faculty don't have a minimum of a handful of papers from their lab PLUS 1-2 handfuls from collaborations/existing data sets, the tenure review is not going to go well. In my area, the last 3 faculty (including myself) that went up for tenure averaged 20 publications, with a reasonable number, though not all, needing to be in a top-tier journal.
I didn't take much time off during my first 3 years, and only took a little more time off during my 4th and 5th year (here, we go up for tenure at the end of 5 - so, August of start of year 6). I took a nice 2 week vacation over winter break this year, given the positive outcome of my tenure review.
For what its worth, I hope this perspective helps. It is hard to weigh in with much more as it is not really clear what you mean by "huge pressure put on me within my department." Could you be more specific without giving anything away that might identify you?
Thank you both. I feel really overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done (e.g., several new course preps, trying to find time to write, building foundations to get my research going, I have several advisees who are eager to start research but I haven't even established my own in this new location). No one has helped me to "protect my time", I have senior (tenured) colleagues asking me to participate in tasks that are time consuming and serve no value/benefit to me, and I feel I cannot say 'no' this early on when people are still forming impressions of me. I have done far more service than I intended. I feel isolated and ill equipped - l can't attend to any one task the way I'd like to. There are also political issues to navigate in my department…I hoped people would be more helpful and supportive my first year, but instead it feels rather cut-throat. I knew this year would be tough, but it's far worse than I expected. I really appreciate your perspective.
This seems like the much touted, and always dreaded, "imposter syndrome."
My first year was crazy. It was filled with new course preps, trying to figure out administrative paperwork and policies, and attempting to fit in a new campus culture. If you can keep your courses in-line and keep a little research activity going, be it lab work or publishing efforts, you're doing just fine! This said, anyone in a new faculty position should be mindful of evaluation. The faculty guidelines will be your friend here. Know them. Know how you'll be evaluated and when your first big evaluation comes up. In my experience, the first big evaluation usually comes up somewhere during the 3rd year in or so. Be mindful of this, know what documents you'll need, and at the end of each semester spend a day organizing your documents. You'll be so thankful when your big review comes up! The faculty guidelines likely have information on what service new faculty are expected to do. In some cases, new faculty may be considered exempt from service altogether.
Also, learn to say "NO". In fact, it's okay to back out of a lot of things after you've said yes. If you have good colleagues and supportive higher ups, they'll understand. They hired you because you were the best choice out of many applicants. They likely want you to like your work and succeed. Few applicants appreciate how much service goes into faculty work, btw. Try to find service work that aligns with your strengths or interests.
The sense of isolation is natural. This is especially true for those of us who work in smaller departments or are the lone person within a specific specialty. Try to network to break the isolation. Collaborations are awesomely helpful for adding lines on the CV and, if with good people, are just plain fun.
Another tip - I've figured out that if I post my weekly schedule on my office door and block out specific times for "research" or "manuscript preparation" I better commit to doing that. Also, students and colleagues seem to respect my blocked off times. Try it. It may work for you.
Finally, be sure to take some time for yourself. By this, I mean non-academic non-work stuff. It's essential to give yourself some down time each week, even if that means dumping something (or showing up for a class lecture with hastily written notes instead of a full on lecture). Otherwise, you'll burnout. Considering the lecture stuff - new class preps are a beast. Student presentations or "reading discussions" are a great way to eat up some class meeting times in a way that's actually valuable for students. You might assign an article related to course material periodically and have sort of a seminar. This can actually work in even large classes - up to 60 or 80 students, even, as a few usually standout and will cultivate participation.
I hope there's something of use here. As exciting my first year was, I'm so glad it's over.
Saying "no" is hard, but learn to do so. In fact, when it comes to service, only commit to small, time-limited "things". For example, some committees only meet once or twice a year. I've never heard of a tenure denial due to too little service when research was where it needed to be. Teaching is sometimes given lip service at research intensive departments (i.e., it is written that you need to show evidence of good teaching [why would they write anything different?], but everyone knows that even knows that average or below average teaching is okay because research is the primary concern when evaluating someone for tenure). If that is the case there, I'm not suggesting that you strive to be a below average instructor/mentor, but average teaching evaluations are okay.
View graduate students who are rearing to go on research as a resource - my policy was and is that my graduate students take the lead in drafting a manuscript with me, which I then give them several rounds of feedback for revisions, and then take over to polish. Because of the amount of work and mentorship involved on my end, I am first author on these papers. Then they take on a first author task, and I give them opportunities to write as co-authors sections of papers on which I am working.
When recruiting graduate students, the more they are interested in what you are doing the better, at least initially. This helps because they will be invested in working on papers with you that you are more invested in, whether they are co-authors or lead authors.
Though there are a number of ways to run a lab, I decided to have several larger scale projects from which graduate students would carve out at least a thesis. You might want to find out how your colleagues will view such an approach (in my department, this was not very common until I did this, but if it is already common practice in your department, then I wouldn't inquire). The plus with this approach is that key projects get up and running, and you are getting what you need, and graduate students are getting what they need and are making progress through the program.
Finally, when it is time for teaching assignments for the next academic year, don't volunteer to teach a new course. Make them ask. Also, request to teach the same course(s) again, or two sections of the same course in one semester if possible. Be mindful of creative ways to structure when you teach your courses so that it helps you with writing/research. For example, I'm not as productive if my day is broken up by classes, so I've been able to teach my grad. class for 2 hr, 40 min on Monday mornings, and my undergrad class for 2 hours, 40 min on Monday afternoon, with a 3 hour break between. This leaves Tuesday through Saturday to focus mostly on research. If something similar won't work for you or isn't an option for any reason, try to identify when you write the best - my best writing time is in the AM, so I'd try to teach my classes in the mid to late afternoon when I know I'm not going to be as productive with writing/research anyway.
The first few years can be rough - hang in there - hope these tips as well as those offered by others are helpful!