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The first academic year: highlights & lowlights

April 19, 2019

Yaaaaayyyyy.... I made it.... right??

 

There's a funny thing about the first academic year. You aspire to it - for many, this is what they have been waiting for. A tenure-track position. Really belonging to a faculty/department. On the other hand, once you get it, everyone will be quick to warn you about how hard it is. It's a little like the back-handed compliment: "Congratulations, hope you enjoy hell!"

 

Everyone knows it is not meant to be easy. It is a big adjustment to go from (likely) pure research to suddenly having to develop courses and be on committees at the drop of a hat. I have no idea if my first year was good or bad, really. It was hard. It was stressful. It was disappointing at times. It was satisfying at others. Other people tell me I did ok, which is really nice, but of course, I am a pessimist with the usual imposter syndrome, so I assume I could do better. 

 

This is one of those exercises of 'perspective'. I think my first academic year will have a lot of similarities to other people's first year, but of course, everyone's experience is slightly different. So what did my first academic year look like?

 

It was busy!! I had a lot going on, both professionally and personally. Probably too much. I definitely started to feel stretched. The cortisol rose, the weight dropped. I think I managed to 'tread water' for the most part but that is certainly not an ideal situation to be in. No one wants to be finishing a lecture 10 mins before they deliver it. I also had times when I had to deliver two lectures to different years on vastly different topics back-to-back. (I didn't get a lot of teaching release and we are expected to teach 16 contact hours per week). I did learn a lot though. Not just about the department or institution, but also about how to have better interactions with students and when to be a real stickler for the rules.

 

Next year I might not take on so much. I think it is expected that productivity will slow in the first couple of years while you get things established. Perhaps I need to learn to accept that.

 

In case anyone is wondering, below is a rough list of what my year looked like.

 

Professional good bits:

  • survived and am still reasonably healthy

  • developed and taught some new courses (for me)

  • received some pretty good feedback from both students and staff

  • took on two editorial positions 

  • was an invited symposium speaker at a large conference

  • helped a graduate student reach graduation 

  • had a good year for publications

  • had several smaller grant successes and was invited to the next stage on a larger application

  • work with really nice people

  • attracted several undergrads for summer work & research projects 

  • maintained some research

  • used my first Scantron (alas, it's not as exciting as I had hoped)

Personal good bits:

  • got to move back to Canada and be with my spouse

  • became a Canadian citizen

  • bought land (apparently a house will be built on it one day)

  • got a dog 

  • managed to stay in touch with family and close friends

  • one of nine nominees for a science blogging award

Professional not-so-good bits:

  • minimal teaching release makes it harder to keep on top of things (I was given 12 hrs out of 16 for one semester)

  • doing all your own labs and grading really makes it hard to keep on top of service and research

  • publications slowed 

  • no graduate program so research has to be very carefully planned 

  • IT department from hell - I am still waiting for a meeting I requested in September

  • got frustrated with some students - usually around a lack of responsibility or reading supplied materials

  • learned not to rely on previous lecture/exam material - it doesn't always make things easier!

  • had to deal with some student misconduct

  • had to work through a difficult student interaction

  • had the unexpected misfortune of a tragic incident on campus that affected many people

  • saw a lot of tears from both students and colleagues

  • was not successful on some larger grant applications (probably making excuses for myself, but on top of everything else, I think I should have waited before trying for these)

Personal not-so-good bits:

  • lost some weight and started to feel very unhealthy (constantly tired and nauseous)

  • started the process of building a house (way too many decisions in an already stressful time)

  • moved country, again!

  • moved to a new apartment (not the best during the middle your busiest teaching semester - my semesters are not an even workload)

  • was unable to be with family when one family member was hospitalized (other side of the world and in the middle of the busiest teaching semester)

  • felt increasingly isolated from friends (other side of the world, little free time, friends assume I am always busy anyway)

  • felt pressured to take on too much in order to maintain productivity (Note: this is under personal because my department did not apply this pressure, it was largely me)

 

 

 

 

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