So you finally landed that dream job – congratulations! Take a moment to be proud of this accomplishment. It is a competitive field out there and you made it! While it’s a long road to a position as professor, the work doesn’t stop when you get hired. The first year can be overwhelming with information raining upon you from every outlet. It’s easy to lose track of priorities and feel a huge amount of pressure to perform with today’s high expectations for young academics. You may just be trying to keep your head above water the first few months, but you are not alone. Here are a few things to keep in mind while you wade through the waters of higher ed.
1. Stay on track and set goals – Be strategic with your time and become a pro at project management. Map out the next year or two and follow up on your progress religiously. I like to keep a list that I update frequently with my activity in each of the primary areas: research, teaching, service. I carefully document my work and include things that I need to think about in the near future. For research projects I try to maintain activity that includes something I’m revising/submitting for publication, something I’m preparing for publication, a project where I’m currently collecting data, and finally a list of projects to start when I need something new in the rotation. Your teaching duties are important, but don’t let them monopolize all of your time. If you are given a new prep ask around for materials and syllabi from other professors. You can pay it forward down the road when you are no longer the newbie. Hopefully, you have some teaching experience under your belt, but if not sign up for a short course at your institutions teaching center or ask about faculty resources that will make your life easier. Finally, with regards to service – do not take on too much! Your senior colleagues should work to protect you from doing too much, but they may not. Pay careful attention to the responsibilities of any service you get asked to do.
2. Put yourself out there – Take risks and don’t be afraid to “fail.” You have to apply for the big grant if you ever want to receive it! Reach out to other people and look for opportunities to collaborate. You will experience a lot of rejection in academia – people will tear your new article to shreds, you will not get the first grant you apply for, students may criticize your teaching, colleagues may not invite you on to their project – that is okay! There is a lot about our business that is subjective or political and these things are not reflective of your talent or potential. Keep working hard, be fearless and thick-skinned and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
3. Set boundaries and say NO! – Be selective about you get involved in. You are pre-tenure so you have to work on things that serve you and your future goals. You may be approached for more service than you can handle. It may be with the best of intentions – they want you to feel involved and needed. However, you have to stay focused on the work that will get you promoted. It can be tough to say no to senior colleagues or to needy students, so start practicing now! I am still learning how to do this effectively in my career. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself and your interests – just say no!
4. Get a mentor…and some friends – You need support and good advice. Find someone (or a few someones) who you trust and who has your best interest at heart. This may not be a formal mentor that is assigned to you or even someone in your field. Some of the faculty I go to most are outside my area, but have adopted me as their own. In addition to professional support you need to get to know other people who are in similar positions to yourself, but have no vested interest in your promotion. Reach out to other new faculty and make happy hour or coffee dates a regular thing. This will keep you sane!
5. Be yourself - Undoubtedly you will receive a ton of advice and materials from your senior colleagues. This is great- and important. They should be supporting you and trying to shield you from the unnecessary work of reinventing a class your first semester. However, you have your own style and teaching philosophy. Stay true to this! If you have developed your own perspective about attendance or quizzes or discussion boards then keep that in your syllabus. Let your personality be part of your pedagogy. Don’t feel like you have to become someone else or implement things you are uncomfortable with. You will develop better rapport with your students and your colleagues if you are authentic.
Overall, be grateful for the opportunities you have in this profession and don’t take them for granted. Enjoy every day you can - it is a privilege!