Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Junior Faculty Confidential

Recently I met someone who just started a faculty job fresh out of grad school, about 5 months ago. Sheepishly they said to me, "So, uh... how did you find your first year?"

Gleefully I replied, "It was terrible! But don't worry, it's terrible for everyone, then it gets really good."

The truth of the matter is this - until you have a solid group of trained PhD students, some grant money, and have taught a class more than once, the job feels incredibly stressful. All the constant demands on your time, and the constant rejection - grant rejections, paper rejections, low teaching evaluations, makes you wonder if you can possibly stand another day.

Honestly, in my first year, I wandered around muttering to myself the Peace Corps mantra, "The toughest job I'll ever love, the toughest job I'll ever love". At work I worked, and at home I watched an insane amount of mind-numbing television. I had family members ask me why I was doing this, and if it was worth all the work. Truthfully, I contemplated alternate careers. I remember saying once to my husband, "Wouldn't it be nice to be a barista? They don't need to worry about budgets, or teaching evaluations, or annual reviews. They just make coffee. I can totally do that! I practically earned a PhD in coffee during grad school!"

But then I received funding, and I was over the moon. My students blossomed into fine researchers, and began hitting home runs in their publications. I started teaching the same courses again, and my prep time became nothing.

I can't claim everything is easy, of course, but I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything is better than that first year, and it does indeed get better.


  1. Thank you for this! Living it now and sometimes it's just really good to hear that it will get better.

  2. IT does get better, and the things you stress over change. A recent article (which I cannot find now) says that the time as an associate professor (after tenure) is actually the worst in your career (e.g. associate professors are the least happy). Unfortunately I agree with that. For me once I got tenure I was still running crazily and really there was no real relief at getting tenure - in fact once I was tenured, the department expected more from me. Now, several years after getting full prof, I finally am relaxing and really enjoying my job. I sure hope you can find a way to do this sooner than I did!! I think a lot of my frustration and misery at the job had to do with bullies in my department. If you can avoid those, then you may find happiness sooner. good luck!

  3. on another subject, you might advertise this to your female cs theory readers so they can contribute:

  4. I felt so much better after I read this.I am a Chinese language teacher and last year was my first year. It took me amount of time doing class thing before and after.Even before sleep every night,I tried to come up with more idea for the classes.Also the stressful before each class bordered me a lot, because I always thought I am not good at talking or speech, I am going to make the class boring, etc. It took me almost half year not to be stress out before class; I was so much nervous back then. I am waiting for the next semester coming and I hope I can feel not as bad as before.Thanks for your writing and it really give me a lot confidence. By the way, I am still thinking about how to design class every night, I need to stop it.