Tips for new Assistant Professors
I know I'm not THAT experienced at this Assistant Professor thing yet, but I have learned a few things and gotten some tips from others that have been helpful. I was passing on some of my new wisdom to Sandy Kawano, who just started an AP position at Cal State Long Beach, and realized these insights might make a good blog post. I also wrote some things for GSU Associate Dean of Research Lance McBrayer to share with our new faculty during their summer training, which is also probably helpful for others. So here goes...
1) Document your work, ALL of it.
Make a file (xcel, word, whatever is easiest) where you can quickly write down and keep a list of EVERYthing you do as part of your job. This will come in handy when yearly reviews come up. As I found out, it's also a nice reminder that you HAVE made progress, especially in that first semester. In mine, I have a column for month, broad category (scholarship, teaching, service), specific category (grants, MS, etc.), and a description. I could see setting this up as a google form that you bookmark if you're really creative. Include everything that you do, even conversations with colleagues about what they should buy for their lab - it likely counts as service.
2) Track your time.
I use the app 'save my time' to track my time budget. This helps me look back at the week and see exactly how many hours I was working, sleeping, and doing 'life'. I can also see how much work was research, teaching, or service and make sure I am meeting expectations. For example, if teaching goes above 60%, I'll wait 1 more day to write that quiz (though by the end of the semester I was so behind I didn't have that ability). This will help you take care of yourself.
3) There will be surprises.
Lance asked me to describe 3 things that surprised me in my first semester:
Hearing from different faculty that their approach is sometimes very different (in terms of importance of teaching). One in particular didn't fit with my understanding of the Department/School's goals as conveyed during my job interview and I questioned if this was in fact the right fit for me. Later I learned that this individual is particularly atypical.
Literally everyone (even the person above) has been supportive, making an effort to include me in things as small as beers on Fridays to as big as invitations to collaborate, stopping by to ask how I'm doing with teaching, or taking me to lunch to help me decompress.
It's been hard, in the sense of managing time and commitments, but overall I would say my experience has been relatively easy. I imagined it being much more difficult to get things done, from IACUC approvals to hiring students to spending startup. But most of this has been fairly streamlined and the people helping me through them have been extremely good at their jobs. I also managed to recruit 6 students that I have been very happy with. I was not expecting this given that students can be highly variable, especially when you recruit them without much vetting.
4) Startup is not your money. (Christian Cox told me this)
Lance also asked me to list ways the university could improve the experience for new professors. I started in January but my first year of startup expired in May. As you can imagine, this was my main complaint. Because of the large sum of money relative to the next two years, I decided the best use for the money, after spending 2/3 of it on equipment, was starting a big research project that I may not receive funding for otherwise given the difficulty in getting grants. This required travel, hiring technicians, and pricey fish housing equipment. I managed to spend it all (literally every penny), but had I been able to have more control over when it was spent, I would have started the lab on a different foot. Also, because the money ended so soon, I had to make purchases without putting my best effort into understanding if it was exactly the right thing. For example, I spent about $1500 on an electronic lab notebook subscription for 5 years. After trying to convince my new students to use it, I quickly realized Google Drive does the same thing and is more efficient for us. I tried to use it for lifetime memberships to academic societies, but Accounting wouldn't let me. The fact that I have yearly deadlines on startup, and that the first year was shortened, may be atypical, but I realized very quickly that I can't treat startup the same way as my own personal money.
5) Use social media to your advantage.
Lance asked me if I had other tips for new faculty. I quote:
This may sound millennial of me, but I have benefited from being active on Twitter, including sparking collaborations, learning about new ways to get involved or new ideas, catching up on papers, finding out about new grants, getting feedback on teaching styles, etc. With such a busy schedule spring semester [semester 1] I didn't have much time to keep up with it during the day, but it was a very concise way to catch up with the rest of the world in the evenings. I would recommend using Twitter for new faculty, but I also realize it's not for everyone, and that what you get out of it will depend on what you are willing to put into it.
6) First semester must haves:
I made a care package for Sandy to help her get through the first semester and she said it was spot on. Here are some things that might help to have:
A reusable smart notebook - I bought myself one, loved it, and then got one for Sandy. Also, a more experienced colleague recently saw mine and bought one for herself. It was this one but that's not an official endorsement. I liked this one because it's reusable - just use a certain kind of pen and when you're done with your note you can erase it with water - and it has an app that will scan the note and automatically send it to a place you set up, like email it to my grad student or send it to my Google Drive folder of teaching materials. I make SO MANY lists, and I hate using that much paper even though I recycle it. Because the notes can be scanned with the camera on my phone and saved, I can always retrieve them later if I need them.
Beverage cup - Needs to be able to contain caffeine. Also nice for water refills. Helpful if it's also quirky and fun, like you. I have one that says "My other boat is a pirate ship".
SNACKS! - Lots of snacks. A drawer full of snacks! You will most likely stay late several nights and won't have brought enough food for your lunch to carry over. Chocolate doesn't hurt either.
Something fun - Along with a few other things, I got Sandy a magnet with a corgi and a fun saying since I know those are one of her favorite animals. It's nice to lighten the mood when you're having a tough day.
Those are my ideas, I'm sure those who have also gone through this will have more to add. Feel free to leave comments or contact me and I can edit as needed.
To all of you starting new jobs this semester: