Winding down the first year, but am I really up to speed?

I've just come out of a general positive annual review meeting with my departmental chair and it seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the year and think about where I am heading. At the end of my first academic year as a faculty member, I'm way ahead of where I was nine months ago, but I still have a lot to learn.

This year has seemed like a whirlwind, at times over-whelming, at times exhilarating. Everything has been new: new teaching duties, new colleagues and university structure, new research requirements and direction, new geographic location, new toddlerhood. I often felt like I was simply battling the nearest blaze rather than strategically working on the things that would reap the long-term reward. Some things I think I did right: keeping the research pipeline full, lowering standards at home without compromising my parenting principles, speaking out on issues that were important to me even though I am untenured, taking time to be collegial, arguing for the resources I need to be successful.* On other fronts, I was less successful. Spring semester, my classes ate all my time, and I need to find a way to reduce my preparation time while simultaneously raising my student evaluations. I didn't get as much research done as I thought I should have managed. I didn't make productive use of the short breaks in my schedule,* and spent too much time blogging and blog-reading. I haven't really made any friends,* and I miss real-life friendships.

But I was forewarned that the first year on the faculty was "like getting kicked in the pants up the side of a steep cliff" as the excellent Dr. Mom phrased it. And indeed, that is an apt analogy, so I was as prepared as I could have been.

As the school year wrapped up, our first year faculty orientation activities came to a close and our university mentoring program officially ended. It was as if the university was saying, "OK, we 've taught you what you need to know. Now just do your job already." I do feel like I've learned a lot and that next year will be easier than this one, but there are still lots of places where I feel like I am still learning. A few months ago I applied to a workshop for early career faculty, and I was asked what I thought should be discussed. Unfortunately, I can't go to the workshop because of childcare issues, but here's the list I came up with. These are the areas where, winding down my first year, I still want help.

1.Maximizing research productivity when grant-funding is scarce
2.Managing undergraduate and graduate student in a way that provides meaningful mentoring to them but also provides benefit to me (publications, quality data)
3.Juggling multiple research projects at multiple stages (proposal, field work, data analysis, writing, revising) at once
4.Efficiently and effectively preparing new courses and maintaining and improving existing courses
5.Finding new sources of grant funding (beyond NSF)
6.Scheduling on day-to-day and month-to-month basis. How do you get in the field if you teach (or have meetings) five days a week?
7.Recruiting graduate students
8.Funding graduate students
9.Encouraging minority and women participation in -ology
10.Prioritizing what to spend my time on...short term teaching deadlines versus long term research work
11.Prioritizing which research project to pursue first
12.Developing collaborations within and outside my department
13.Developing effective mentoring relationships
14.Navigating departmental and university politics as a junior faculty member
15.How do I pick and choose service obligations to maximize benefit (to me, the world) while minimizing time and political ill will

As you can see, I still have a lot to learn. I don't expect to have mastered all any of these by the end of next year, but maybe I will be closer. Hopefully the learning curve for junior faculty is logarithmic and not linear (or exponential!), because right now I'm not sure I could face another year like this one.

* post forthcoming I think

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I'm actually attending that early career faculty workshop... it would have been awesome to have met you! I'll pass on any particularly good information regarding your list.

PS: I know I don't comment much but I read almost every day. It seems we've had a similar first year of "getting kicked in the pants up the side of a steep cliff" - what a year it's been!

By another female… (not verified) on 21 May 2008 #permalink

I suggest you host a virtual early career faculty workshop. Organize your list into a few topics devote a post to each topic asking people to comment on their strategies for tackling those problems. Broadly, I think your fifteen items fit in these five categories:

1. Developing a new research program
2. Effective time-management of day-to-day tasks
3. Developing productive relationships with students
4. Navigating departmental politics
5. Maintaining a healthy life and identity outside of work

Congratulations on finishing your first year!

By Female Enginee… (not verified) on 22 May 2008 #permalink

Your comment about not finding friends is interesting. The majority of my friends are colleagues. Some from graduate school, some exstudents, some from my research area, and a few from my institution. I think your circle of friends in the professional world will expand with time. It takes time to accumulate exstudents, for example.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 22 May 2008 #permalink

Congratulations on making it through your first year!! That is quite an achievement and you should be proud of yourself. That fact that you have managed to be productive with everything else- especially having such a little one- is something you should be very proud of! Keep up the great work (& great blogging, too!)