ten things I learned during my first year on the job


I realized today that I’ve been an official employee of BYU for a year. I’m not sure if I should feel comforted by this (I made it through my first year!) or horrified (where did all the time go?). I thought I’d take a moment to list ten things I think I learned after one year as an assistant professor.

  1. Listen to your more-senior colleagues (which includes just about everyone you work with). No matter how well you think you understand the academic world, you still don’t understand the new institution of which you’re a part. Organizations have different unwritten rules and only your colleagues can save you from them.
  2. Don’t listen to everything your colleagues say. I know this contradicts the first thing I learned, but that’s pretty much the experience I’ve had as a new faculty member. Everything has its flipside. In this case, older faculty members have lots of biases that they want to transmit to new faculty members, some of which are intended to promote their own particular departmental agenda. Beware of politically-conceived messages cloaked in a tone of friendliness. And for the most part, just stay out of department politics as much as you can. It made me happier knowing that I didn’t have to choose sides.
  3. You don’t have to prepare for teaching as much as you think. My biggest worry coming into my first year was balancing my research with my teaching. I had never taught two classes during a semester before, and somehow I overinflated my estimation of how much prep time it would take to do the extra class. I learned that my lectures are improved little if I spend more than an hour outside of class time preparing for them (not counting reading time). You really don’t have to do much to impress students’ with your vast knowledge ;), get discussion going, and explain new concepts. Sure, we all have lots of things to improve in our teaching styles, but you have an entire career to do it. Teaching can be fun if you don’t worry too much about it.
  4. Do things that have nothing to do with your academic work, just because you can! For some reason, we rush through the mad hellhole that is graduate studies (I kid, I kid) with the idea that if we stop to enjoy the scenery, we’re wasting time and delaying our intellectual growth. Or maybe that was just me. Honestly, newfound hobbies have made my first year much more fulfilling. I learned that lawn and garden work is something that I really enjoy. The smell of freshly-cut grass in the evening is one of the best smells in this world! Also, blogging is a nice diversion from more intense research activity.
  5. Do not annoy the parking and traffic attendants on campus. Just assume that they hate you and that anything you say to assuage their hate will only make matters worse.
  6. Network. I know this sounds like a tired-old cliche, but it worked for me. Many of us get jobs at schools where our immediate colleagues do not share the same research interests. This can be a really distressing experience at first when we’re used to sitting around coffee-house style and discussing our peculiar research niches with other grad students. The only way out of this feeling of academic claustrophobia is to find people on or off campus with whom we can discuss intellectual things that excite us. In my case, I just started introducing myself to people. Also, use your telephone. If your school pays for the phone bill, consider it part of your faculty development (or therapy) to make a weekly phone call to a colleague in a different school.
  7. Reading novels can make you a healthier and more well-rounded person.
  8. No matter how badly it stings, never take a paper rejection personally. I remember my first rejection from ASR very vividly. I moped around the department halls of Arizona relating my failure until one senior faculty member told me to “get used to it.” An academic career is really hard, and you had better get used to dealing with rejection constructively or you will turn into a bitter person with lots of conspiracy theories. I’m trying to learn how to take the negative emotions that I feel when getting rejected and channeling them into positive energy for the next revision of the paper.
  9. One more cliche – you can’t please everyone. I’ve found that when I’m getting different kinds of advice from different people, it’s best to turn to the people whose opinions matter most to me and ask for their feedback. Don’t stop talking to your faculty mentors from grad studies.
  10. Always, ALWAYS double check the date and location of upcoming conferences and workshops. No matter how confident you are of your ability to plan, there’s always a small chance that your schedule is completely off. Trust me, you don’t want to make this mistake.

So there it is, the top ten things I learned from my first year on the job. Now, when I get tenure in a few more years, I’ll come up with a new list – the top ten things I should have learned during my first year.

Written by brayden king

July 8, 2006 at 1:40 am

Posted in brayden, education, fun

2 Responses

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  1. sage advice, brayden. my only quibble is with your treatment of course preps. i take far more than one (or two or three or…) hour prep time per lecture on a new course, but these investments have paid off handsomely over the past decade. in my humble, the best way to enjoy life as a professor is to enjoy those precious few hours before undergrads. if your stuff is tight, you’re loving life…



    July 8, 2006 at 2:52 am

  2. Great advice Brayden. Let me offer an addendum. About item 3. New professors always plan too much for a class. In some ways your hour limit is a nice way of limiting how much you plan to do in a class. When I first started teaching, my one hour lectures took three class periods. Keep it simple and your students will learn more. Item 4: There is nothing better for writters block than an hour of pulling weeds in the front yard. Every weed you pull gets you a little closer to figuring out what you really want to write. Item 5: Not sure what the deal is with parking attendants, but watch out for the librarians who put together your reading packets. If you are not nice to them, your packets don’t get done. Now that’s power. Item 7: mystery novels, especially. Item 8: If every paper you submit gets accepted, you aren’t learning anything. I can hardly wait for your next list.



    July 8, 2006 at 3:17 am

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