When I saw there was going to be a discussion of issues facing mid-career faculty at last year’s Geological Society of America meeting, my first thought was: “Call the waaaaaaahmbulance!” I mean, pre-tenure faculty have issues. Job-hunting post-docs have issues. ABD grad students have issues. Mid-career faculty, on the other hand, have stable jobs – more stable than most in this economy (assuming the department doesn’t get torn apart during budget cuts). Mid-career faculty have the freedom to do the research that interests them, to teach large intro classes without worrying about getting bad teaching evaluations, to speak their minds on Faculty Senate. Those aren’t issues. They’re opportunities.
I went to the discussion anyway, because… well, I’ve been tenured since my son turned one, and he was in kindergarten this year, and I felt like I’d been staring at a wall, exhausted, for four years. It wasn’t a good feeling any more – I was getting this creeping feeling that I was well on my way to becoming deadwood. Yes, I was teaching six or seven courses (plus labs) each year, and I developed two new courses and redesigned the labs for the intro class and learned to use a new instrument and got small grants to support the intro class projects and was on Faculty Senate and had senior thesis students. But… after the stress of being junior faculty for eleven years and going through the tenure process at two different schools, it didn’t feel like I’d been accomplishing much.
And the discussion was good. Because – dirty little secret – it turns out that the post-tenure let-down is common. Role models – BIG role models, the kind of people I look at and say “now that person is a success” – go through it, too, from time to time. And there are as many different ways to keep vibrant as there are faculty members. Some switch institutions. Some switch research fields. Some get involved in running national organizations, or become an NSF rotator, or become deans. And that’s ok.
And me? As I was sitting there listening, I remembered a funny conversation I had with a friend in the hallway. She’s utterly brilliant, and does fantastic research, and has become a leader in her field. And she wanted to introduce her grad student to me. Because the grad student read my blog.
And I realized that I was doing something. I was blogging. Under my own name, about science and life. Most women don’t feel free to do that, even if they want to. And there were grad students reading my blog – grad students whose research just blows me away. And the blogging keeps me engaged, and keeps me happy.
And then I went home from the conference, and taught classes, and advised a thesis student. And ended up applying to be Interim Assistant Dean for Natural and Behavioral Sciences for next spring, because a colleague is going on sabbatical, and he thought I would do a good job. So I’m going to check out the world of administration, too, and see if I like it.
And there’s this paper that I swear I’m going to finish soon, and the NSF-MRI program has a second round of proposals coming up in August, and wow, I would really like to try to get an SEM that does EDS and EBSD…
Maybe I’m not going to be deadwood after all.