I’ve been meaning to write a post on the first year as a new professor since 2014, when I was a new professor and read a very timely post from “tenure, she wrote” on what it is like to be a new professor.
I will take the topics mentioned in the post from “tenure, she wrote”, and will add my own reflections on what it was like for me, back in 2013-2014.
- You won’t get anything done in Year 1. It certainly took me a lot of time to sort out my visa, my hiring, and getting a computer to my office (and getting an office in the first place). Having moved countries before, I was not too surprised by this. Regardless, I feel that I got a fair amount of work done in my first year. Just scrolling through my Google calendar from that year, I see that I used to plan differently – mostly adding all-day tasks to my calendar instead of blocking ranges of hours in the beginning of my first semester, and then moved to time blocking. I see a lot of meetings to get to know people, and half days spent on paperwork, but also long chunks of time to work on my publications, and I was teaching three new courses per semester, every semester. There was also a lot of conference and field work travel, and a fair amount of workouts at the gym. All in all, I think that prioritizing my writing and starting new research regardless of the international move helped my career very much in the long run.
- You’re not just starting a new job; you’re starting a new life. I moved from Europe to South America to start a new position and to finally be able to live together with my husband. It certainly was quite a change – and I spent a lot of time getting to know my family-in-law, my new country, and moving from one apartment to the other. But, as I mentioned before, I had already moved internationally before, so I knew what was coming up.
- You will over-prepare for teaching and still feel like you’re not doing enough. I had been teaching as a guest lecturer during my PhD, so I knew that then I had over-prepared very much ( I think I spent 20 hours to prepare for one lecture, at some point), and I knew that with 3 courses (9 hours of lectures per week) I would have to limit the time I spent on preparing. I limited myself to 4 hours preparation per hour of lecture, maximum, and made sure I would schedule writing and research time as well. I also knew from sharing office during my PhD with a seasoned lecturer that I wouldn’t get it right on the first run of the course – it takes a few semesters of teaching a course to really know what works in a course, and even then – I’ve noticed that there tends to be differences between class cohorts and some things that work one semester, completely flop the next semester.
- Your university is really happy you’re here, and they’re invested in your success. I was a spousal hire, the first woman in my department, and a foreigner – I’m not sure my university was really convinced I was the right candidate, and I didn’t feel that they were fully invested in my success in the beginning. They also did not offer me a work visa, so there was a lack of support in that aspect (my only option was the spousal visa, and we had to figure out everything on our own). Yet, I knew form previous moves that giving everybody some Belgian chocolate is always a good move, so I slowly started to get more embedded in the fabric of the university.
- There will be things you’ll want to change. I didn’t quite feel like I wanted to change everything from the start. I wanted to get a grasp of how things are done in the first place, and knew that my way of working seems odd to a lot of people. So rather than trying to change the entire workplace on my own, I went for the strategy of keeping my methods of working as much as possible, and figuring out what I needed to do to find how I could fit in the university. For me, the crucial part there was to focus on my research and writing, which I love, to make sure I would eventually get course load reduction to get more time for research and writing.
- You will discover all the negative things about your department, town, and university that you didn’t catch when you were interviewing. Not really – I went in with realistic expectations, and never really had honeymoon feelings towards my new position. I knew that all universities are places full of power struggle, so that was not a surprise. I knew I would be moving to a third world country and a loving family. I had gone through culture shock before. I knew it would take time to find my “spot” in the middle of my new environment.
For everyone starting a new position this January, I wish you all the best! Let me know if your experience aligned more with mine or more with the advice in the “tenure, she wrote” article.