Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Week 5. Five weeks into my first semester, and it's starting to seem.... normal. I'm beginning to settle into the weekly routine of teaching, office hours, research, and lab meetings. Extras like department and union meetings, coffee with colleagues, working through sticky professional situations, and student inquiries can make or break a productive week. 

But as many seasoned academics recommend, I'm learning to see the big picture.

For example, 2013 was a rough year for publications. The main paper from my dissertation and my first paper on postdoc each were rejected by multiple journals, and other papers were VERY slow-going. It wasn't until this summer that submissions really picked up, and I'm happy (and grateful) to report that I recently received three revise and resubmit invitations. (Three rejections, too, but that's still a marked improvement.) 

The R&R invitations coincided with the first few weeks of classes, of course, so I haven't turned them around as quickly as I would have six months ago. And I came very close to being frustrated with myself for not doing any revision last week, which was a difficult and stressful week all around. Why? Each paper has a deadline, of course, but those aren't for a few weeks yet. But my first year review occurs at the beginning of December (yes, after three months on the job), and I have to submit my report before Thanksgiving. Wouldn't it be great to have a paper acceptance - or at least, revision submissions - listed as completed during my first few months?

In addition, one of the recent R&R invitations was for my former undergrad research coordinator's first first-authored manuscript, so I have quite a bit of mentorly pride about that one. And it's motivating me to get my new undergraduates going on their own projects ASAP. Two are assisting with a conference submission (due in two weeks), and two will have an independent study with me next semester to prepare for their senior theses. That will look great on my report! Plus the new course I'm creating for the university and prepping from scratch!

Wait - I've only been on the job for five weeks?!? What am I getting myself into?

Fortunately, I realized something important that has buffered against the worst of the stress and guilt that can come from an "unproductive" week. (And by "unproductive," of course I mean that I've prepared for my classes, given exams, and participated in meetings.) I've worked for more than a decade to acquire a faculty job. Which I have now. In a place where research productivity is fully supported, but no one breathes down your neck abut the number of papers or grants you have. I don't need to keep up the same pace that I had over the past eight years. I need to get out of the trainee mindset.

I don't intend to stop being productive, certainly. Having acquired a job doesn't mean that I can just sit around now. But I need to think long-term and pace myself, so that I don't burn out. (I used to think that I'd never burn out. Ha!)

So far, my first year report will include:

  • Midsemester evaluations for three courses
  • Two guest lectures and an extracurricular seminar
  • Creating a new course
  • Supervising six RAs and three TAs (two RAs on a conference submission with me)
  • Two IRB submissions, data collection for one project underway
  • Attending one conference (four posters, one as first author) and submitting to two conferences (four or five abstracts total, three as first author)
  • Three R&R invitations and resubmissions, one new submission
  • Two external grant submissions (one as co-investigator and one as consultant), one internal teaching grant submission
  • Participation in new faculty mentee activities and union meetings

This needs to be enough for three months of work. My goal for this weekend is to plan when to work on projects and papers that are not on this list, with emphasis on intersession and summer. And to add me-time goals to this list, like training for a half-marathon that will happen in April, and taking a real vacation

Somehow it always comes back to vacation.... Leave me some suggestions for my first real one in ages.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The First Two Weeks

Well, it's for real. I wrote syllabi. Students showed up last Monday, pens in hand, and made frantic attempts to write down everything I projected onscreen. Three interesting points about this simple observation:

(1) Yes, I said PENS, not keyboards. And WRITE, not type. Three classes, approximately 110 students (less than half of whom are freshmen), and only three who regularly type during class. A pleasant surprise - definitely cuts down on the time I spend policing in class. Though they still seem surprised that I want hard copies of their assignments.... go figure.

(2) Some things haven't changed since I last taught, in 2011 - students made the mistake of assuming that the words on the PowerPoint were the (only) important ones. Or they tried to write down everything on the screen and everything I said, which is a nonsignificant improvement. I decided to nip this behavior in the bud with the freshmen by doing a bit of coaching. 

On day 2, I asked everyone to put down their pens/stop typing and just engage with what I presented. I spent a few minutes discussing the "nature-nurture" question with respect to human behavior and ended by guiding students toward the conclusion that both contribute. Then I asked students to summarize the discussion in their own words. After a few lengthy summaries, we got down to a one-sentence overview; I encouraged students to write down this one-sentence summary, rather than trying to record all of the detail and missing the context of the conversation. The goal was to help them learn, rather than simply memorize. We'll see how well it worked when the first exam comes around.

(3) Eight months after I accepted a faculty position, I stood at the front of a classroom and didn't have to correct students who called me "professor." I have a two-room office, a one-room research lab, six research assistants, and three teaching assistants. I spend a lot of time on my own work. I'm getting used to this, but it's still strange, in a very pleasant way.

One final note about the first week of class, in particular: I spent most of it without a voice, due to a bad cold and consequent laryngitis. I croaked through two of three class days, three hours each day, plus a lab meeting. I got creative on the second bad day, by spending extra class time on an activity and inviting my TAs to give students feedback as they started an assignment. And in between teaching, I took a real sick day - watched/slept through several movies while lying on the couch. 

Eventful, and enjoyable, first two weeks as faculty. Now I need to work on my website.