An anonymous reader wrote in recently:
If there is a slow period sometime in the not-too-distant future, it might be good to have a thread where current faculty give advice to people for the transition into and first six months or year of being an assistant professor.
Although most new jobs don't begin until the fall, I don't see any reason why we can't have a helpful thread on this now. I suppose I will share a few quick thoughts, and then open things up for discussion. I also hope to start a new series on this in the fall, a New Faculty Support Group where new faculty may write in anonymously with challenges they are facing and get advice from our community!
Anyway, it's been a while since I initially transitioned into a faculty position, so I'm not sure how good my tips will be. But let me give it a quick try. I've had two types of jobs in my career: a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor job at a research university, and a much longer-term Assistant Professor job (first non-TT, now tenure-track) at a teaching-focused institution. As my experiences at each institution were quite different, I'll say a few things about both sets of experiences.
Some thoughts on transitioning into a research job
My research job wasn't tenure-track, but still, I think it gave me a fairly good idea of what it is like to be a new Assistant Professor in a research department. The first challenge I had in that job was a serious bout Impostor Syndrome. After being a grad student for so long, I just didn't feel "ready" to be a professor, especially given my lack of publications to that point. I worried that I didn't belong, and that everyone (undergrads, grad students, and faculty) would see through me as a "fraud." The only things I found that helped with this were the following:
- Working my tail off, to develop and demonstrate competence with publishing, teaching, etc.
- Asking some other trusted young faculty at my institution and other institutions for tips on publishing.
The second thing I learned is that teaching multiple courses at once is a lot more difficult than just teaching one, especially given pressure to publish (more on that momentarily). As a grad student, I had never taught more than one class at a time--and I was surprised at just how much more work teaching two classes at once seemed like. The higher work-load was especially difficult given that, for the first time in my life, I truly had to be in a rush to publish.
Which brings me to publishing. I found the pressure to publish in my first job overwhelming, and unsure how to do it effectively. The best tip I ever learned here--which I heard from two spectacularly successful early-career people I asked for publishing tips from--is to overproduce: to not futz around on revising a single paper for months on end. They both told me that because philosophy journal acceptance rates are <10%, if one wants to publish successfully one basically has to have 10 papers under review at any given time. Although it sounded off the wall to me, I bore down, cranked out a bunch of papers, and got a bunch of publications. In other words, it worked--and it was a very different research strategy than I had in grad school.
Which brings me, finally, to one of the main things I learned about transitioning successfully to a faculty job: I had to develop a much more consistent, efficient work ethic to publish and teach effectively. As difficult as PhD programs are, a faculty job is a job in way that being a grad student is not. I had to go to bed every day at a decent hour, get to my office, try to write all day, prep for classes, etc.--and then work out and go home about 6pm. It was, in every way, a full-time job--and required of me a much more rigorous work-ethic.
Some thoughts on transitioning into a teaching job
As I spent more time in a teaching job, I have more thoughts on this one, but I will try to keep them brief:
- Realize that you have to spend most of your time on teaching & service, but also find a way to do research: Teaching schools (particularly administrators and tenure committees) value teaching quality immensely. I found I couldn't do what I did in grad school: namely, spend most of my time on research, just show up to teach, lecture extemporaneously, and expect to impress students or tenure committees. My experience is that teaching schools expect far more effort on teaching--things like daily written assignments, creative exams, in-class group work, etc. People at teaching schools expect a very high level of teaching, and some way of demonstrating this (not just or even primarily student reviews, but actual course materials). Service to the university (work on committees, student clubs, etc.) is also highly valued. I spend about 90% of my time during the semester on teaching and service, and maybe 10% on research--and end up doing most of my research during summer and winter breaks. It has been a difficult juggling act, and the balance may seem out of whack--but my institution has been happy with my performance thus far.
- Don't say "yes" to everything: When I got my job, I wanted to "prove" I deserved it by saying yes to every opportunity that came my way. For a while it went well: I was doing many things at once, and feeling good about how I was doing them. But then, slowly but surely, I took on too many things, and started not doing a great job at any of them. Know when to say no--and, in my experience, the best way to figure it out is to ask a mentor: another faculty member or your department chair on what you "need" to do, and what you "don't need to do."
- Be flexible--and don't expect old practices to work: In graduate school and my first research job, I had learned to teach a traditional lecture format. It always seemed to work well, and I got good teaching reviews. Alas, the same teaching methods simply didn't work at my new institution, with its smaller classes and longer class-sessions (two hours per class twice a week, with a 3/3 load!). I had to radically rethink my teaching methods, and so might you! So, be prepared to experiment.
- Know your institution's tenure-standards: Some schools are clear about them, others unclear. Whatever the case, they are not the same everywhere--and it's critical to know what your school's standards are. I know people at some teaching schools who got tenure with one publication in a low-ranked journals. That wouldn't work at my institution, which has different standards. In any case, knowing your school's standards can be very helpful, because you may need to publish to get tenure at a teaching school, but how much you need to publish and the prestige-level of venues you need to publish in may differ greatly by institution.
Okay, I guess that's all I have on this topic for now. What about our readers? What tips/advice do you have for transitioning successfully into a faculty job?