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.