Thoughts on the first semester as a new professor

This month some friends have asked “how was your first semester as a professor?” It’s a funny question to ask someone who is neck-deep in grading papers, writing annual review documents, and random tidbits of service. But I keep coming back to the question (anything to avoid grading!) so here are some of my very-rough-draft reflections on semester one as an assistant professor.

It will all be weird until it isn’t: I really turned around this week and thought, “Hey, I’m no longer totally entirely exhausted at the end of each day. When did that happen?” Things became normal when I wasn’t looking, I guess. And that’s a nice feeling.

The pressure to find “the next thing” is real: One overwhelming feeling from the first two months was my fear that I would never have another research idea again. I’ve talked to other people who agreed with this sentiment–I think after landing a job I just had this huge looming thought of “what if I’m a one hit wonder?” (my dissertation, here, being the “hit.” Lol). Of course then I did have new research ideas and all was well but it took a while–probably because just surviving the day to day was a big task at first. So, of course not every day will lead to new research ideas! I wish I had been more forgiving of myself.

It’s ok not to know what you don’t know: I tried to be very very open to not knowing things and having to ask about them, which is hard when you’ve been trained to work independently in grad school. I cannot count the number of things I learned from random conversations with colleagues AND STUDENTS. I really enjoyed talking with students my first semester on campus. I feel that some teaching advice tells you to hide your inexperience but my students and I had a great relationship where I taught them but they also enjoyed teaching me about campus. One of them told me it was “an honor” to be in my first class. Cue sentimental bawling. It was ok to be new.

Be productive in spite of it all: Life is always happening, and despite the constant pressures (rental house woes, furniture shopping, picking a new dentist…) it was important to find a way to direct my attention back toward work. I started to appreciate that productivity brought a sense of normalcy to what was otherwise a big transition. I’m used to lesson planning, grading, and researching, so as long as I kept doing those things, the big feeling of “wow I have a job now how did I get here” faded into the back of my mind. Which brings me to…

Write every day, even if it’s bad: Writing every day is a STRUGGLE every day (you can read more about that here) but wow did it help. I didn’t feel like I wrote well most days. Or any days? But I did it. The best way to go about it was to do it early in the day so that the writing guilt didn’t hang over me. But the power of habit was also strong–last week I was so, so tired I almost didn’t write one day, but then I found myself (surprisingly) banging out a couple paragraphs on my couch at 5:30 PM. The more I wrote, the easier it got, even if it didn’t feel like that.

Make time to nest: This is personal, I guess, but I really enjoyed moving into my new office, ordering some art, and watering my plants. I think environment plays a big role in my level of stress, so taking the time to set that environment up just the way I wanted it was worth it.

Find friends in and out of the department: I am so lucky to be in a department where my colleagues have become friends who are willing to go run beer miles, play board games, and grab dinner. In addition, I really worked on finding other “new” faculty friends who weren’t in my department and those people are my lifeline for real. And, yes, it’s hard to find friends not on campus, but even finding one makes a big difference in the adjustment period.

Here are some other blog posts on the first semester that I found helpful: 1/2/3. Onto the next one!

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