Author Topic: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member  (Read 714 times)

newprof

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Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« on: October 08, 2019, 10:36:56 AM »
Hello,

I’ve been a long-time visitor to the fora (back on CHE), but this is my first time posting.  I’m in my first semester as a new faculty member and feel like I’m drowning. Here are some details of my current situation:

1. I’m teaching for the first time, and feel like I’m only ever 10 minutes ahead of my students in terms of preparation.
2. I have moved overseas for this position and am in a two body problem, with my partner in another country. (They may have a job in this region soon.)
3. I don’t yet have friends in this location.
4. Soon after joining my department, I realised there’s a lot of politics among the faculty members. Meetings routinely descend into shouting matches, which is not something I’ve ever witnessed in a professional environment before.
5. I have ended up on various committees (partly my fault and partly inescapable) and am finding service is taking up a lot my time. I also feel too new to say no to requests.
6. My PhD experience was overall very positive, but my postdoc experience was not and I’ve been trying to overcome imposter syndrome still lingering from that period of time.

I know many of these circumstances are par for the course, and for a while I was doing ok and working flat out to keep things moving. However, recently things have started to feel very bleak and unmanageable and I’ve crashed. I have started to resent the large amount of time that I need to spend on teaching preparation and service, because this is a research-focused university and the expectations are high in that regard.

Worryingly, my engine has totally stalled when it comes to setting up my lab (I’m in the sciences). I currently have no confidence in my ability to make a single decision and I’m facing massive analysis paralysis. I am literally frozen when I even think about having to pull the trigger on what equipment needs to be bought, etc.

Does anyone have any practical advice on how to move through this? Thank you to those who have taken the time to read. I realise the picture I’ve painted sounds quite grim, but these are only the worst aspects and I do see goodness in this position and in the department so I want to try to pick myself up.

-NP

mamselle

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2019, 11:15:03 AM »
Do you have a staff assistant from the country you're in?

Are they reliable? Do they know their way around? Can they be of help?

Are you using them--their talents, skills, knowledge, and willingness--as fully as possible?

Or if not--can you get one?

Others will have more specific ideas, but having worked for people in those situations, a reliable EA can be a big help, and if you make them a partner rather than a do-this-do-that subordinate, you're less alone in the morass of requirements and day-to-day stuff.

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Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.

permanent imposter

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2019, 12:48:32 PM »
I hope things get better for you! Just because these things are par for the course in academia doesn't mean we should accept them.

One of the best pieces of advice people have given me is: limit the amount of time you spend on course prep. Carve out a decent chunk of time for prep (say, one hour per class) and don't obsess over your lessons any more than necessary. Even better if that time is right before you have to teach, because you have no excuse not to leave your office when the time is up. Odds are students will not be able to tell even when you feel that you're underprepared.

Is there anyone in your department who can act as your mentor in terms of which service tasks to take on, and which you can say no to?

Ruralguy

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2019, 12:51:31 PM »
I would agree that techs and admin assistants can be very helpful if they exist and are good where you are.

As far as setting up a lab, I think concentrating on the essentials first might help you make a decision. What do you most need to do your work? Computer? Laser? refrigerator? certain tools?

Don't take sides in dept. squabbles. Just tune out when people are really getting into it.

Course prep will resolve itself over time as you start only really repeating what you have done before.

Don't take on any more service, but do a good job with what you have.

Puget

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2019, 01:39:58 PM »
Sorry to hear that newprof, it can be a tough transition! You can do this. It will get better.  In no particular order:

1. Immediately hire the best lab manager you can find. This is the best possible use of your start up funds. This person will be absolutely key to getting your lab up and running and a huge labor multiplier.

2. As others have said you MUST limit your teaching prep and service time and protect time for research. Do the research tasks first every day or they will always get crowded out.

3. Even so, it will be awhile before you are collecting data-- that's ok and normal, but keep your publication pipeline going in the meanwhile-- do you have postdoc data you can write up? How about a review article?

4. Do you have an assigned senior mentor? If not can you ask for one? Can you ask for another one outside of the department given the department politics? Check with your chair and/or whoever ran new faculty orientation. Most universities have a mentoring program for pre-tenure faculty.

5. Practice saying "let me think about it" instead of yes to requests for more service. Then email them "thank you for thinking about me for this, but unfortunately since I am already serving on X, Y, and Z I am unable to commit to this at this time." Better yet if you can say your senior mentor advised you not to take it on.

6. Make a term plan for yourself, then follow it-- this is revolutionary. https://sarneckalab.blogspot.com/2018/07/writing-workshop-chapter-2.html

7. This is a huge and stressful transition, more so because you are separated from you partner and in a new country. Seriously consider getting some short-term therapy to help. Look for someone who does CBT-- this is skills-focused, evidence-based and fill give you a toolkit for managing your stress going forward.
"Never get separated from your lunch. Never get separated from your friends. Never climb up anything you can't climb down."
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youllneverwalkalone

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2019, 01:59:26 AM »
Hello,

I’ve been a long-time visitor to the fora (back on CHE), but this is my first time posting.  I’m in my first semester as a new faculty member and feel like I’m drowning. Here are some details of my current situation:

1. I’m teaching for the first time, and feel like I’m only ever 10 minutes ahead of my students in terms of preparation.
2. I have moved overseas for this position and am in a two body problem, with my partner in another country. (They may have a job in this region soon.)
3. I don’t yet have friends in this location.
4. Soon after joining my department, I realised there’s a lot of politics among the faculty members. Meetings routinely descend into shouting matches, which is not something I’ve ever witnessed in a professional environment before.
5. I have ended up on various committees (partly my fault and partly inescapable) and am finding service is taking up a lot my time. I also feel too new to say no to requests.
6. My PhD experience was overall very positive, but my postdoc experience was not and I’ve been trying to overcome imposter syndrome still lingering from that period of time.

I know many of these circumstances are par for the course, and for a while I was doing ok and working flat out to keep things moving. However, recently things have started to feel very bleak and unmanageable and I’ve crashed. I have started to resent the large amount of time that I need to spend on teaching preparation and service, because this is a research-focused university and the expectations are high in that regard.

Worryingly, my engine has totally stalled when it comes to setting up my lab (I’m in the sciences). I currently have no confidence in my ability to make a single decision and I’m facing massive analysis paralysis. I am literally frozen when I even think about having to pull the trigger on what equipment needs to be bought, etc.

Does anyone have any practical advice on how to move through this? Thank you to those who have taken the time to read. I realise the picture I’ve painted sounds quite grim, but these are only the worst aspects and I do see goodness in this position and in the department so I want to try to pick myself up.

-NP

The first thing I'd say is that these are very common problems faced by many, so don't think for a moment there is something wrong with you. "Novelty" seems to be a common thread in the issues you are experiencing, so I am confident that most of these things will get better with time alone if you just keep grinding (particularly the point about teaching: there is NO COMPARISON between teaching a course for the first time and doing it again in terms of prep time and efforts).

Point 5 (a lot of service) is also very common for new faculties. What puget suggests is a good idea, but you should also get used to just saying "no" cause the number of (all sorts of) requests is only going to grow in the future. Since you are a new faculty, I suspect you still haven't learned to do certain things (such as serving in random committees) half-assedly and not spend more than the absolute bare minimum necessary.

lightning

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2019, 02:29:57 AM »
Most universities are fairly merciful to first-year faculty members, and they are not really scrutinizing new faculty until the second year. Try your best, but don't worry.

polly_mer

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2019, 03:50:21 AM »
Most universities are fairly merciful to first-year faculty members, and they are not really scrutinizing new faculty until the second year. Try your best, but don't worry.

Even Super Dinky was very forgiving.  I asked a senior colleague what the bar was for good enough first-year performance and the response was:

* Meet with your classes every scheduled class time unless you are too sick to stand up.  Be sober during these meetings.
* Refrain from being naked in front of the class.
* Refrain from sleeping with the students.
* Refrain from committing a felony that makes the papers.
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

ciao_yall

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2019, 06:54:24 AM »
Hello,

I’ve been a long-time visitor to the fora (back on CHE), but this is my first time posting.  I’m in my first semester as a new faculty member and feel like I’m drowning. Here are some details of my current situation:

1. I’m teaching for the first time, and feel like I’m only ever 10 minutes ahead of my students in terms of preparation.

Your students care most that you care about them and that you enjoy your subject and you transfer that enjoyment on to your students.

And give yourself a little credit... my first class teaching I was invited to adjunct at a local college in a subject, in which, while I had an overall Master's degree I didn't know the subspecialty at all. But, I reviewed the suggested text and realized I had enough general knowledge to get started with the students.

Ended up having a blast and now, here I am!

Quote
2. I have moved overseas for this position and am in a two body problem, with my partner in another country. (They may have a job in this region soon.)

That must feel lonely.

Quote
3. I don’t yet have friends in this location.

Have you considered Meetup or other ways of finding groups of people who do things that you enjoy, such as hiking, wine-tasting, etc? I realized I was spending way too much time with only work friends and decided to branch out. Have met some really fun people!

Quote
4. Soon after joining my department, I realised there’s a lot of politics among the faculty members. Meetings routinely descend into shouting matches, which is not something I’ve ever witnessed in a professional environment before.

Yikes! Is it just a few people with a long and ugly history or the whole group in a Jets vs Sharks kind of thing?

Quote
5. I have ended up on various committees (partly my fault and partly inescapable) and am finding service is taking up a lot my time. I also feel too new to say no to requests.

As others have said, protect your research. And learn how to "give good 'no.'"

Quote
6. My PhD experience was overall very positive, but my postdoc experience was not and I’ve been trying to overcome imposter syndrome still lingering from that period of time.

What is it with this BS "hazing" culture out there?

Quote
I know many of these circumstances are par for the course, and for a while I was doing ok and working flat out to keep things moving. However, recently things have started to feel very bleak and unmanageable and I’ve crashed. I have started to resent the large amount of time that I need to spend on teaching preparation and service, because this is a research-focused university and the expectations are high in that regard.

Worryingly, my engine has totally stalled when it comes to setting up my lab (I’m in the sciences). I currently have no confidence in my ability to make a single decision and I’m facing massive analysis paralysis. I am literally frozen when I even think about having to pull the trigger on what equipment needs to be bought, etc.

Does anyone have any practical advice on how to move through this? Thank you to those who have taken the time to read. I realise the picture I’ve painted sounds quite grim, but these are only the worst aspects and I do see goodness in this position and in the department so I want to try to pick myself up.

-NP

Sounds like you realize you are not alone in this, and that you are reaching out. Those are really important steps. You are actually farther along in your coping than you might feel right now.

Kron3007

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #9 on: October 09, 2019, 08:52:11 AM »
Sounds very isolating, which would make all of this a little harder to deal with.  On the personal side, I think you should make sure to keep up any hobbies or work out routines you have (I should also take this advice more....) and probably make sure to take some small trips/holidays to explore the new country you are in (even weekend trips).  On the note of the new country, I would also make sure to ask around about expectations and keep in mind what you get here is likely to be very much America-centric (which may be good if you are in America...).

More specifically:

1) Teaching.   

As others have mentioned, the first year you teach a course is a lot of work (even more so if it is the first time you have ever taught a course) but is much easier once you have taught it a couple times.  When I first started, they had me jumping from course to course, which made things much more difficult than needed.  So, I would strongly advise you to negotiate hard to make sure you get as few new preps as possible and teach the same courses from year to year.  I have finally landed in this situation and have taught some courses a few times.  While I am still changing the lecture content and re-vamping the labs, I am mostly happy with where they are and it is really much more reasonable.

I would also advise you to structure the course to your advantage, from lectures to assignments.  When I first started, I made the mistake of giving a large class an essay based assignment, which only led to hours upon hours of grading essays for me.  In the class I teach now (with a lab) I have them submit a shorter final lab report as well as an oral presentation summarizing their experiments for their research project.  This is much better since I grade the presentations in real time, their presentations use some lab time (less prep work for me), they learn what their classmates did, and it is a skill I find they need to practice, so it is a win-win in my books.  This is just an example, but it is important to recognize that you have the power to structure the class in various ways and it directly impacts your workload.

2) Service.  I completely understand your feeling that you cannot say no and felt the exact same way when I started.  In my case I was lucky that my chair was reasonable and didn't overburden me, but if that is not the case I would second (or third/fourth/...) that you need to learn to say no.  The reality is that service can be a big time sink, but dosnt generally make/break your tenure bid at most research focused universities. 

3) Research.  This one is hard since it is so field specific, but I think one major commonality is that since there is generally less external pressure this can often suffer from teaching and service needs, so you really need to make sure they are under control.  From there, I think what is really important is to start getting funding in place to build your team and recognize that success will not really be based on your spending a lot of time in the lab, rather, it will be your ability to fund and manage a program.       

Cheerful

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2019, 10:21:14 AM »
The first semester is often the worst.  It's only early October.  One day at a time.

Avoid self-defeating, catastrophic talk like "I currently have no confidence in my ability to make a single decision."  You earned a PhD, you secured an academic job, and so on.  You're capable.  Try some positive self-talk.

As soon as possible, take at least four, whole, consecutive days completely off from all work.  Don't think about work or your problems.  You'll rebuild energy and get a fresh perspective.  On day five, write out and implement a few concrete changes that will make things better.

You can do this.  You are doing it.  Best wishes. 



Caracal

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #11 on: October 09, 2019, 10:24:50 AM »
Teaching for the first time is really tough, even without all the other stuff. I had a level of stress about my teaching for the first year or two that I just have never had about it since. New preps are tough enough. The nice thing about a class you've prepped is that you might want to review things, fix problems, revamp stuff, but there's stuff that already exists and you've done it before. That's a nice place to start from in terms of your stress level. That part of the stress comes back every time I do a new prep, but it isn't near as bad. When you teach enough classes you figure out how to finesse stuff. If I'm looking at a week where I don't have a lot of time, I have stuff I can go to to take some of the pressure off myself in class.

It just takes time to develop all of this, though. It all gets better over time. In the meantime go easy on yourself. You can have a class session crash and burn and the world doesn't end.

mythbuster

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #12 on: October 09, 2019, 10:39:30 AM »
NewProf,
   First a virtual hug. The first semester is the WORST. I've never worked so hard in my life as I did that first semester. And I was also doing the distance thing with Mr. Buster, which added to the stress. I'll also let you know that October is the worst of the worst, especially if you don't have a Fall break.

    I can promise that it does get better. Hopefully you are teaching the same courses in the Spring, so they won't be new preps. I will also suggest that you find some videos or movies or the like for your classes to watch  so you can have a easy day or two of prep. New teachers have incredibly high standards of what should happen in the class. My word of advice is that it doesn't all have to happen right now! Set a timer for course prep. It must be done in the 60 minutes you give it and MOVE ON!

    As for your lab, just start with the obvious. Do you have enough tips, pipettors, incubators, fridge, freezer etc? If you think you are good there, pull out the protocol for the type of experiment you would do in your lab. Maybe it's something from your last paper. Do you have everything in your lab now to do that experiment?  You don't actually have to conduct the experiment, just make sure you have the capability/equipment etc. My guess is that you have somewhere a little experiment you have been meaning to try out. Find the resources for it! Just get to puttering in the lab.

    Hopefully you have better admin help than my department did. Our department secretary was out on leave my first semester so nothing got ordered for the first 4 months. It took until Spring semester for me to be able to grow a culture!
   
My last suggestion is Skype or otherwise communicate with your fronds and SO frequently. The fora here is helpful as well. Eat healthy and get some exercise. I know these seem like unrealistic expectations when you are working 7 days a week, but it will help.
   

Hibush

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #13 on: October 09, 2019, 02:44:20 PM »
The best justification for saying no to the may committee opportunities is that you are new and have to get your teaching and research going. Feel no guilt in using that justification, and you will find that people will understand.

It is very early yet, so you can even tell a committee chair that you realize now that you have over-committed and need to get off the committee, or at least not do anything but listen for the first year. (If it is committees where they are just yelling, don't commit to listening either.)

newprof

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Re: Drowning in my first year as a faculty member
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2019, 08:25:50 AM »
Thanks so much to everyone who kindly replied. Reading the responses really helped in many ways. I'll continue to forge ahead with your advice in mind.

-NP