First semester roundup

Dec 18 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

So, this is the last week of my first semester as an assistant professor. I seem to have ended up in situations where I learned a whole bunch of the lessons of this job in the first few months, including the usual normal stuff, but also some early lessons on the hard stuff.

I had to learn how to hire people with little guidance, and as a result ended up hiring someone who didn't work out and having to learn how to terminate someone.

I had to learn how to handle a grant deadline happening during the same three week timeframe as lecturing/teaching responsibilities, and how to (barely, knife's-edge) balance those two incredibly time-consuming processes day by day, one step at a time.

I had to learn how to keep being the teacher and the motivator in situations where everybody is frustrated and confused, and things aren't working that you KNOW should work and have worked before.

I had to learn how to mentor a more advanced student through a last chance, and the final decision (from the committee and myself) that a Ph.D. is just not going to happen. That just finalized this week, and has been an immensely emotion-wracking, stressful experience. Ultimately I had to make a decision for the futures of both the student and the lab, and it was really hard. I'll probably write more about it sometime, but not now.

I have yet to learn many, many many things. I am sure I hardly know the 0.1% of it. It sure seems like an awful lot to add into the normal stressful process of starting a new TT position--but what is EVER normal about this job, anyway? Hah.

I already feel worlds beyond where I was three months ago. The difference between talking and thinking about it, and living it and looking people in the face and having to BE a leader, have made a pretty major impression in me. My perspectives on myself, what I can do and how to make myself do it, have changed. There's still really far to go, but I feel like I am in the right place. So far I haven't had to anywhere near kill myself or ruin my marriage to do it, either, so I am cautiously (blindly) optimistic that I have set myself on the right trajectory.

We'll see what lessons come from second semester!

4 responses so far

  • Comrade PhysioProf says:

    I had to learn how to mentor a more advanced student through a last chance, and the final decision (from the committee and myself) that a Ph.D. is just not going to happen. That just finalized this week, and has been an immensely emotion-wracking, stressful experience. Ultimately I had to make a decision for the futures of both the student and the lab, and it was really hard.It is wrong that your senior faculty allowed a first-year professor to get into that situation.

  • Arlenna says:

    Well... they did try to discourage me from getting into it, not so much as to tell me I wasn't allowed to (which is probably what it would have taken), but a couple of people gave me very frank advice not to take the situation on. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help. I do feel a little abandoned in the situation in some ways, where I wish they had either told me they wouldn't let me do it, or agreed to as much support as necessary through it (read: a little more assistance calling the final shots and a pledge of financial support if necessary). But I'm kind of headstrong, and once I feel compelled to do something I'm hard to dissuade--I'm used to getting my way, and rosy-lensed about possibilities. It made me grow up a lot, and the student gets some value out of the experience, so it is what it is.

  • ScientistMother says:

    It sucks that you had to go through that experience, but from how I read it, it seems like you were trying to assist the student, which makes you an awesome mentor. Congratulations on surviving your first semester.

  • okham says:

    I am not sure whether this is your situation but, as soon as I started out as an Assistant professor over a decade ago, a few students who had been "hanging around" for a number of years without graduating, whom nobody wanted to take on as advisees, showed up at my door and asked me if I could lead them to the graduate degree that they were seeking. Colleagues did warn me about them but I thought that, as a newly hired faculty, I was expected to supervise graduate students, and that therefore I had better not play prima donna. I took one of them under my supervision. I deeply regretted it later on.

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