Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#NewFaculty: First Year Review (Part 2)

Relief. Spring semester is now officially over, which means that I have even more time and head space to reflect on the first year. As I described in previous posts and Part 1 of this series, it seems that new faculty make one of the following major mistakes:

    Image result for advice for new faculty members
  1. They are unaware of the immense amount of junior faculty-specific information and advice available (see here for a great collection), or
  2. They take the trouble to familiarize themselves with this advice, and then they ignore it. For example, never saying "no" to service requests and keeping their doors open all the time, which leave little time for actual work.

Don't get me wrong - I understand the impulse to please new (and powerful) colleagues and to be perceived as a team player. But you simply cannot be productive if you say "yes" to every request. My technique is to ask myself the following:

  • Is this an activity I think is important, and/or that I would enjoy?
  • What is the actual time commitment? (ASK ASK ASK)
  • Do I absolutely need to do this NOW, or can it wait?

The last is critical. My institution has many mechanisms for supporting faculty development, including internal grants, special programs, and service positions for untenured faculty. But my sense is that both my department and our rank and tenure committee want to see progress. If I do everything in my first year or two - especially the opportunities for which new (vs. returning) applicants are favored - what am I going to do after that? So I focus on pacing myself, and on declining some requests as graciously as possible.

What went well? I think that I successfully protected my time (without angering anyone too much) this year. The evidence is in the positive feedback I received and the concrete output I produced. These include:
  • Mostly positive teaching evaluations (and useful specific recommendations),*
  • An active research lab with many involved undergraduates,
  • Acceptance to a competitive and prestigious training institute for junior faculty (paid for by the National Institutes of Health),
  • Awards of a Teaching Enhancement Grant (to create a new course) and a Faculty Summer Research Grant (to write papers and a grant; both internal),
  • Publication of six empirical articles** (with five more, and two book chapters, in press),
  • Attendance at four conferences** (presented one talk and 12 posters, two with current students),
  • Data collection completed for two studies (a third approved to begin), and
  • Reappointment for a second year.
Image result for productivity

Though the best evidence may be the limited amount of overwhelming stress I felt this year. There were a few rough periods throughout, but nothing like the previous two years. 

What didn't go so well? This is a fantastic first year, and I'm immensely grateful. But there were some meaningful failures to learn from. Of course I got rejected from several sources: at least three paper rejections (one that I was particularly disappointed about and one that outraged me***), as well as a rejection on an internal fellowship for a student RA. Rejections are always difficult, but I'm more resilient than I used to be. Asking for feedback and carefully considering reviewers' comments are on my agenda.

Image result for anxietyWith respect to teaching, I was a slightly different person in the classroom second semester (vs. first). I tried new techniques and relied more consistently on undergraduate TAs, which made me a bit less confident than I had been previously (when I used only me, and methods I knew to be effective for me). I also created a course in my topic area and went out of my way to make it advanced, different, and fun. Imagine my disappointment when this failed to be the case, pretty consistently.**** Of many reasons for this disconnect, I believe that one was prepping on the go; I spent more time on this course than on the others (which were repeats of first semester), but not as much as I could have. Although course evaluations were much better than I expected, the experience of the class was frustrating. Lots to tweak for next Spring.

And though I've yet to see any evidence of this, there is always the possibility that I chose poorly with respect to service commitments. I've become involved with our union in small ways, which makes me (slightly) visible during difficult contract negotiations; this could come back to bite me if the atmosphere worsens. But I like this work, so I'll stick with it.

This is your life moment of the week: I did it! I navigated the first year and got some work done. Pretty great accomplishment, for me and anyone else in the same boat. Kudos if that's you.

Now it's time to make my Summer Plan.****

*I have a 3/3 load.
**Several of these were with my postdoctoral mentors and lab, which carried over.
***Ever get a reviewer who is obviously unfamiliar with even the basics of your field, and rejects you on this basis?
****Look for posts on these, soon to come!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#NewFaculty: First Year Review (Part 1)

I'm back! It's been a long semester, full of new course prep, student presentations, conference travel, and yes, some meaningful research productivity. I admit that staying on top of everything has been more challenging this semester (Spring, my second) than last. As flexible time has diminished, I've wondered what a typical day will look like in years two and three - when I also have academic advisees and increased service obligations. Yet I do have the sense that I've built a strong foundation for managing academic life, which will ease the way for adding to it in the next few years. The following is a start to what stands out when I look back on the first year.

Optimizing and protecting time. Teaching schedules change from one semester to the next. When you teach 3+ hours in class on each teaching day, the change has an impact. It's possible to set yourself up with an effective, efficient way to work in prep time and research time when your classes are in the morning, and to find that simply flipping your schedule doesn't work very well when your classes are in the afternoon. So cognitive rigidity doesn't work, unless you're able to secure exactly the same schedule each semester. (If so, I envy you.)

What does work? Some tried-and-true methods such as scheduling time for writing and actually being unavailable during that time. During my first semester, I left my office door open whenever I was in, to make sure everyone knew I was here. (Some of them do pay close attention to this.) Before students and colleagues knew me, this didn't promote a lot of drop-bys; but that lasted only a few weeks. 

Now that I've established my schedule and I've made it absolutely clear to students that they need an appointment to see me, I keep my door closed for significant portions of the day. I get in early, so my door is closed for the first 2-3 hours I'm here. I get writing, administrative tasks, and course prep done with very few interruptions. And I'm not afraid to say no to requests for meetings during these blocks of time, especially on teaching days.

Finding colleagues who share and/or complement your skills and interests. This is critical at teaching-focused institution, as time for research and writing can be scarce. When other faculty have suggested that I "really should talk to Dr. X - you have similar interests," I listen. I make time to meet Dr. X and I share some of my work in the conversation; I also mention the skills or interests that might set me apart from other faculty, so that Dr. X knows that I might be useful in a particular area. (I find that a love of data analysis comes in handy.) Ask for feedback on your ideas and offer some to them. For example, I asked my university-assigned mentor to collaborate on a grant application, and it seems to be mutually beneficial thus far. 

Some of the most fortuitous meetings are due solely to luck, like mine with my mentor - the assignment was random. But you can increase your chances. One of the best ways to increase the odds is to go to meetings and other university events. You get seen, you get known, and you can steer yourself toward opportunities. Think like you would at a conference: "How can I effectively network?"

Does this take time out of an already busy schedule? Can it seem to take over all of your flexible (i.e., writing) time? Absolutely. But many ECRs focus only on the losses, and think they have to go to every event. Be choosy! Go to the events where like-minded people tend to be, and where you'll learn something useful even if Dr. X doesn't show. (If you don't know this information, ask ahead of time!)

The first year certainly can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to stay that way. Next time, some additional ways that you can stay in control of your time and research productivity.