Advice to Junior Faculty

Rather than writing my own (stale) advice for junior faculty I thought I would bring together advice offered by others.  Many of these postings are of recent vintage, although I remember some of the same advice given to me long ago.  What is remarkable is the consistency of the advice to junior faculty.

Chris Blattman’s posting on “Advice for new Assistant Professors” got me to thinking about what kind of advice that I might give.  His list is short, sweet and to the point.  It boils down to: get your research done; pick your research wisely (with a view toward the tenure clock); and don’t be afraid to seek out mentors to give you advice and feedback.  He also has a cogent and important argument for using social media as part of your research and service obligations.  Chris’ posting gave rise to several postings, including Tom Pepinsky’s plea for considering book chapters and Laura McLay’s posting that points to the importance of time management.  Of special note is the point that one should guard weekends and evenings for all those things that also matter in life.  Working smarter (and shorter hours) is better than working longer hours.

Pamela Oliver offers very useful advice for navigating the personalities of the Department you are suddenly immersed in.  Departments are like extended families.  You’re stuck with them, but it doesn’t mean you have to like everyone. Her point 1 is quite true – learn not to take anything personally.  Of course, her points 10 and 11 warn you about settings in which you should take it personally.  This includes both overt and subtle racism or sexism.  One should never have to put up with such things. She also warns that your first year or two will seem horrible.  I always advise graduate students going off to their first job that their first year will be terrible.  You’ll try to do too much, you’ll try to fit in too hard and you’ll be trying to learn a new culture.  Take it easy and focus on the things that are really important that first year (see the rich advice given in the prior paragraph and given by Dr. Karen here.   Along the same vein, useful lists of advice are given by John Regehr and Billie Hara.

Finally, there is very good advice about staying sane while on the tenure track.  Radhika Nagpal in “The Awesomest 7-year Postdoc …” notes how you should carve out space for yourself.     A longer read is by Shane Henderson “Staying Sane on the Tenure Track”  in which he notes that it is always important to keep your life and that of others around you in perspective.  As he notes, if you obsess about your job and your discipline, ask yourself  “whether your next-door neighbor knows the most famous person in your field.” My guess is that the answer is no.

This advice has a common theme:  it’s just a job and there is more to life than living in your office/lab.  This was made clear to me by my dissertation advisor after I had been in my job for three years.  She was visiting Rice to give a talk.  In a private discussion with me, she suddenly asked about my “back-up plan.”  For a second I was a bit puzzled, but I knew that she meant what would I do if I didn’t get tenure.  I told her that I had my eye on some property where I could open a garage rebuilding old British sports cars and open a wine shop on the side.  These were interests that I had at the time and I could have made a reasonable living at it.  She smiled and said that was a healthy approach to tenure.  I turned the table and asked what her back-up plan had been.  Without hesitation she indicated that she and her husband were going on the market together in 1965 and if there was nothing forthcoming, they were going to move to San Francisco and open a woodworking shop in Haight-Ashbury (prescient and well in advance of the summer of love).  Fortunately for political science there were both hired at Indiana University and Lin Ostrom later went on to win the Nobel prize in Economics.  What woodworking lost, the social sciences gained.  The point is that finding balance in work and play is important.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t note the series of blog posts edited by Meg Shannon in The Political Methodologist.  Here there is a good deal of advice for all of us about mentoring women and the barriers that we sometimes set up against women.



One thought on “Advice to Junior Faculty

  1. Pingback: Advice to Graduate Students from a Faculty Member | RKWRICE

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