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junior faculty jam session #1: it’s a different world

In this new column, I focus on the issues confronting junior faculty. Today’s topic will be a discussion of the fundamental difference between graduate school and the world of the faculty.

Graduate school is characterized by about three stages of work. First, there is a period of intense socialization. With a cohort of other initiates, you take mandatory courses, pass exams, and write shorter papers. Second, there is a more anomic period where you choose a specialty, select advisers, and write a dissertation. A third period, which overlaps with the second for many, is the terminal period where you apply for jobs and conclude your dissertation.

The junior faculty track is quite different. First, there are no clearly demarcated periods. You simply teach and write. That’s it and it starts on day one, if not earlier. Second, you are in charge of yourself. No more blaming mean advisers or vexing grad school colleagues. If you don’t get it done, it’s your own damn fault. Third, you will no longer be judged only on pedigree. The older you get, the more people judge you on output.

The differences are clear. Graduate school has more clear “milestones” while the tenure track is basically one long road. Graduate school has lots of excuses while the tenure track puts it all on your own shoulders.

How does one strategically make the jump? The first is to get a very clear understanding of what your program requires for a promotion and then arrange everything around that priority. For example, in a research intensive program, you may be expected to prepare about 3-5 courses which you teach regularly. Get those done quickly and then build a schedule that helps you get a certain number of articles into the peer review process.

Another important thing is to move away from being the apprentice. Your adviser may have good ideas, but you need your own. Develop forms of validation that are independent of what any adviser, chair, or peer reviewer says, even if you continue working with others. Center your work around your vision and be confident in that vision.

The fundamental shift is this: the student situates themselves in relations to teachers and mentors, while the independent professional wields skills to make things happen. The sooner you adopt this perspective, the better prepared you will be.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 25, 2019 at 4:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

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  1. A riff on the lack of clearly demarcated periods. When I was three years into my post as an assistant professor, the chaired professor next door summoned me in. He led off with a gruff aphorism, “The bell rings to begin the classes you teach. The bell doesn’t ring for research.” He elaborated, warning against letting the tyranny of scheduled periods like teaching, office hours, and meetings overwhelm the time needed for scholarship. The bells don’t ring anymore for teaching, but the lesson remains vivid. It took me years to both protect my research time AND to develop the discipline to use the precious protected time to write. (This still takes discipline in the face of administrative responsibilities and distractions.)

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    Randy

    March 25, 2019 at 5:45 pm

  2. That is a great metaphor and so, so true. I told my freshman how my days were chuncked up into 15 and 30 minute time periods. They were shocked.

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    fabiorojas

    March 25, 2019 at 6:14 pm


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