As you’ve probably already figured out either here or at other blogs, being an assistant professor on the tenure track is not an easy thing. I can only speak from my own personal experience, but the combination of setting up a lab, teaching, service, politics, advising, etc, can be a crusher.
For me, the biggest obstacles have been initiating and then maintaining research momentum and trying to deal with all of the somewhat-extraneous demands on my time and energy.
Setting up the lab itself was no easy task, particularly as I started with a lab that was a room with benches and essentially nothing else. Even a year after getting all of the basics together and hiring a postdoc, we’re still dealing with the frustrations of getting protocols up and running and producing data. We have finally started to generate some momentum but the data still isn’t flowing at the rate I need for grants and I can't simply hire another postdoc because there just isn't enough money left in the pot.
I have some teaching responsibilities which, while not overly onerous, are still a big time suck. The great things about teaching though are that it breaks the monotony of lab/research/grants and also brings you into contact with students who have a passion for learning.
The service commitments can be good and bad but, on the whole, take up a disproportionate amount of energy relative to how much they actually contribute to the nuts and bolts of your progression on the tenure track. After almost two years on the TT, I now serve on a few departmental committees, am an associate editor for Middling Journal and am on a committee for Big Professional Society. The latter brings me into contact with both Professors BigWig and LittleFish in my field which can only be a good thing. The journal gig has helped me develop an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes when I submit a manuscript for review. The departmental committees have done very little except give me a tiny role in shaping and developing the academic programs with which I am affiliated.
The biggest thing I struggle with, however, is the assumption that I am available for additional tasks - I think this is largely due to my reduced teaching load and the amount of time I spent in my office working on my computer ... ie clearly not appearing to be busy enough. I’m popular with our current students, so I’m constantly being asked to talk to potential grad students as well as incoming undergraduate students and their parents. My research lab is the biggest in our department so I’m expected to be the face of our research publicity efforts. The students I teach feel comfortable with me and seek my advice when they have career questions and then inundate me with requests for letters of recommendations for job and grad school applications. My reputation as a hardworking faculty member means that I have been requested to serve on almost every single departmental committee in existence. Every time I say no to any of the above requests, the spurned individual seems to take it as a personal affront instead of realizing that I just can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. There’s just not enough of me to go around. Period.
My primary focus is, and needs to be, on increasing the productivity of my lab and getting external funding. While I have confidence in my teaching abilities and know that those abilities alone will probably be sufficient to keep me employed in my current department indefinitely either on or off the tenure track, for me to get promoted and gain tenure, I need my research endeavors to be a success. Losing momentum at this stage will be very very bad. Which means I need to be firm about declining some of the other stuff. I’m not in this job to make friends and I know that some of my colleagues have taken it personally when I’ve refused a request for whatthefuckever. But there is only one of me. No matter how good I am.
This Is Me
5 hours ago