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Starting As A New Professor – Reflections On My Experience

Starting as a new professor – reflections on my experience

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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