This is a repost.
Update 8/22/15: Dialogue on my FB page made me realize that I need to provide fuller context for this post. This dates from early years on the blog when I used to do special request posts to respond to reader questions. “Tricia” was at an R1 institution, and my advice was focused on responding to her concerns about her situation, but I didn’t make that clear. Much of this advice would not be appropriate for a teaching intensive position. I’m sorry that I didn’t clarify that in the original post, or in the re-post this week.
Today’s post is a Special Request post for Tricia, who asks, “What advice would you give someone about to start their first year as an assistant professor?”
My advice is: be selfish.
Your job is not to advance the academy. It is not to change the academy. It is not to improve the academy. It is not to make the academy a safe space for women. It is not to defend the humanities against the corporatization of the institution.
Your job is not to be friends with the undergraduates. It is not to rescue the graduate students. It is not to fill gaps in the class schedule with independent studies. It is not to be a therapist to frightened ABDs.
Your job is not to rehabilitate your department. It is not to fix the curriculum. It is not to chair committees. It is not to represent the department on the Faculty Senate.
Your job is not to represent women, or feminists, or queers, or people of color on department and university committees.
Your job is not to win a teaching award.
Your job is not to participate in edited collections or symposia proposed by your new colleagues.
Your job is to be selfish, keep your head down, and get through the year.
Your job is to make friends with other junior faculty in your department and in other departments, and go out to coffee or lunch with them on a regular basis.
Your job is to find a trusted senior colleague as mentor, and to meet with that colleague at least twice a semester. If you are a woman, that mentor should be a woman.
Your job is to schedule a meeting with your Head and find out the expectations for tenure. Your job is to follow up on that meeting with an email that clarifies everything that you discussed, in writing.
Your job, during the Fall, is to apply for at least one significant internal and one significant external fellowship which will buy you at least one full semester, and ideally one full year of research leave in your second year. If these applications are unsuccessful, you will find out why and prepare to apply again in year two.
Your job is to teach your classes as well as you are able. Your job is also to explore avenues for minimizing the amount of time you spend on those classes. Your job is to study how senior faculty in your department cut corners in their teaching in ways that are considered acceptable within the departmental culture.
Your job is to not get any serious writing done for the first semester, and possibly the entire first year. Your job is to not beat yourself up about that. Your job is to forgive yourself for feeling overwhelmed and coming home at the end of the day and binge-watching Scandal. You will be able to do this because you know that you applied for leave time in your second year.
Your job is to serve on only one major committee. The speakers committee or a search committee are the best committees for you. The speakers committee allows you to reach out to and host senior scholars in your field. The search committee allows you to shape the future of your department and have social capital to spend at your national meetings.
Your job is to be agreeable to everyone in the department. Your job is to have opinions that you clearly state in faculty meetings instead of sitting there like a passive mute mouse. Your job is to have a conscience and your own point of view, which you defend, while remaining pleasant and collegial. No one respects a doormat. Your job is to meet with your trusted mentor prior to faculty meetings to thoroughly understand the history and politics of contentious issues before you vote on them in the faculty meetings.
Your job is to avoid departmental factions and civil wars. If things escalate, keep your head down and do not allow yourself to be recruited to “sides.”
Your job is to suck up to the department secretary. If you go on a trip, bring her back a present. Chocolate is always welcome. Bring enough for her to share with other staff in the office. You have no idea the difference she is going to make in your job satisfaction.
Your job is to learn where the money is on campus. You may construe your job as including organizing a symposium or workshop or conference on campus, for which you contact departments and centers around campus to collect financial support. You may feel confident about your use of time in this way because through this you learn how to get money to accomplish your goals, increase your campus-wide visibility, and get the chance to invite “big names” to campus for your event, big names who may someday be your tenure letter writers.
Your job is to go to as many conferences as you can afford. You may feel justified in cancelling class or showing a video or bringing in a guest lecturer or asking one of your TAs to cover.
Your job is to thoroughly investigate how smoothly your predecessors’ tenure cases went, and to use all of the detective skills you can muster to learn whether your Department Head is proficient, or an incompetent ass, in handling tenure cases. If the latter, you will begin the process of indirectly mobilizing your mentor and other senior colleagues to look out for and protect you.
Your job is to maintain some semblance of a home life and a relationship with the important people in your life.
Your job is to maintain a hobby or outside interest that feeds your soul. This might be running, swimming, yoga, art, music, dance…only you know what it should be.
Your job is to make sure your people at home, if you have them, are pulling their weight in the housework. You are entitled to expect that. Fight for it now, because the stakes only get higher later.
Your job is to hire a housekeeper and get daycare for your children so you can devote yourself to work.
Your job is to get a cute haircut and go shopping occasionally for clothes that fit, and that make you look like the young professional that you are.
Your job is to look after yourself. You can fight battles and defend the righteous later. Right now, you just need to survive to year two.