Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Not where I want to be

(Thanks to an anonymous contributor for this new BANDIT blog post!)

I was one of the lucky ones. I got a tenure-track position before I had my PhD in hand. When I got the offer I should have been ecstatic, and part of me was. The other part of me was terrified and dejected. Terrified because I would have to be a professor and I didn’t know how. Dejected because this was not the job I wanted. It was neither the institution nor the department I would have liked. Teaching is the first and foremost focus at my institution, with research being a distant second. Though I was also assured that there would be room for research, I knew that this job would not be able to support my goals. But, I was in a damn good position that others would trade me for in a heartbeat, and yes, I realize how much of an asshole I sound like complaining about this. However, I am not where I want to be, and that is a situation we can all relate to. I accepted the offer and girded myself for the challenges ahead.

I, like everyone starting a new job, hit the ground running. I wanted to do all I could to make myself an asset. It has been a lot of work…A LOT OF WORK! I had to prep courses I had never taught before, crank out manuscripts from previous research, attempt to establish my own research program with little to no support and space, and throw in a few service things as well.

I was chugging along surprisingly well. I received excellent teaching evaluations after my first semester, I managed to submit a manuscript fairly fast, developed a community science outreach program, and took part in an exciting, new research project. I started to feel like I belonged, and that maybe this was a job I could see myself at long-term. I was hitting all the marks I needed to hit and establish my research program. I was silly to be upset by this job early on! I was riding high on thoughts of the future. I was starting to make plans! Big plans for research and community outreach! Then the whispers started. I was starting to hear talk that other faculty members thought I was conducting too much research and attending too many conferences, which must come at the expense of my teaching quality. This lead to several contradictory criticisms about my teaching style. This devastated me, probably more than it should have, and it completely popped that bubble of hope I had just formed.

All my original feelings came back...this is not the place for me. This place does not provide an environment that actively supports research and dissemination as well as teaching. However, that was quickly displaced by the fear and self-loathing that so many academics face. “Maybe my teaching is suffering.” “Maybe I am doing too much research.” “Is this going to affect my contract renewal or tenure and promotion?” “Perhaps this is the best job I can hope for.” “But, wait, I don’t even deserve this job!”

I had a rough winter. I wanted to give up, and even considered leaving academia. As I often do, I wallowed in self-pity for about a week, but eventually pulled myself out of it. I decided to turn the sadness into anger, and let that anger fuel me. 

I used that anger to write a couple of internal grants that would support my research and dissemination. I worked hard on them and had a number of colleagues review them for me. I was awarded those grants. I then decided to get my research in my institution’s media outlets, to make the university, students, faculty, and administration aware of the work I was conducting. I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get faculty, administration, and students outside of my department interested in my research.

Riding off of that, I developed two brand new research projects. One will be an internationally collaborative project, which will take a ridiculous amount of time to get off the ground. The other includes an army of undergraduate research assistants, promoting a more hands on educational opportunity. Both may be pooh-poohed by members of my department, but both will be highly regarded by others at my university and hopefully other universities as well.

So I couldn’t be accused of neglecting my teaching, I completely redesigned how one of my courses is taught based on student feedback. Granted, I had to go through a number of different channels to do so since my institution does not afford a great deal of intellectual freedom in teaching. However, the class will be taught this semester in a manner to make the information more accessible and enjoyable for students.

Eventually, the anger fizzled out. And when it did, I realized something.  I accomplished a lot in my first year. Having to fight for work to be valued by my colleagues has made me work harder. Am I where I want to be yet? No, but where I am now has made me a better academic. The desire to be in a different position motivated me to do things and inspired me to take risks I would not have done or taken before. These struggles have made me stronger, and that bubble of hope is slowly growing again leaving me with this mentality

1 comment:

  1. If I knew who you were, I'd buy you a drink at the next AAPA. You've given voice to all of my frustrations. I'm trying to get out too, but if I don't, I've taken a similar approach and am trying to make the university into some place that I actually want to be.