Sunday, March 27, 2011

Someone Seeks Advice

A reader writes:
I just took my first tenure track job. I'm moving to a department that has a graduate program, thought it's not NYU or any place like that. Do you have any advice for someone making the transition from grad student to assistant professor (other than the usual stuff)?
This seems worth replying to. I don't know what the "usual stuff" is, but here are two tips. The first is obvious, but I've seen junior faculty mess it up often enough that I think it should be stated.

1. Do not say anything about any of your colleagues (or anyone in the profession, for that matter) that you would not say directly to them. Grad students get into habits of gossiping, trash-talking, bullshitting, and the like. That's fine as a coping strategy. But once you're on faculty, it's a different ballgame.

2. Learn your work habits. Moving into a faculty position brings with it lots of adjustments. Since your job is in a department with a graduate program, you are expected to do research, write papers, attend conferences, and publish your work. I've seen a lot of junior faculty waste a lot of time spinning their wheels. Self-examination now about how you work will pay off. Do you work best at night, or in the morning? Do you work best at home or in an office? How long does it take you to read (closely) a 25 page journal article? How many philosophically solid pages/words can you write in a weekend? Do you work best on the computer or with a pen and paper? What distractions are you most vulnerable to? How does your teaching relate to your research, and are there ways to bring the two into greater harmony? Which journals are absolutely central to your research program, and does the library at your new University subscribe to them? Knowing things like these before you begin in September can help a great deal. Good luck.

Anyone have other tips?


philosophyfactory said...

Spend some time thinking about your teaching -- keep it simple and stick to your plan. A good plan involves having a transparent grading system and a policy of not accepting late work. These will reduce your student interactions and let you get more work done.

Anonymous said...

Don't get bent on thinking about every paper you work on that is has to be a "masterpiece". This will cost you a lot of time, and tenure review comes much sooner that it initially seems. Good peer-reviewed journals publish a lot of solid, well-researched articles which - although far from earth-shaking - are sufficient to get their authors tenure.

Anonymous said...

Along the lines of 2... For me, the biggest determinant of how much research I get done in a semester is how many new teaching preps I have that semester. So when your department is working out its teaching schedule, push to teach for classes you've already taught. (I'm in my 5th year in a TT job, and I've switched schools once.)

Anonymous said...

I agree about repeating preps when you can, as long as your department doesn't mind. As Spiros said, figure out when the time is that you work. Then set aside a chunk of it every day and do nothing but your own work. No students, no colleagues, no class prep--nothing but your work. Even if it is only an hour (there is no reason for it not to be more in a dept. with a grad program). Be vigilant.

Anonymous said...

Start immediately! Work your ass off this summer. Get as many teachings preps done and research as possible. Before I started my TT job I spent every day, all day in the summer either on research or teaching prep. At the time it was the only thing I could think of to prepare myself for a job. All I can say is 6 years later with tenure that initial hard work has really paid off.

Anonymous said...

"How long does it take you to read (closely) a 25 page journal article?"

Embarrassed to say that I have no idea. It never even occurred to me to figure this out. No one ever asked, so I never thought about it. I'm a dumb-ass. What an important - more like crucial - thing to know. Seriously.

WV: hazat

Anonymous said...

It is good to know your strengths and weaknesses. I am a very slow reader. It takes ages for me to read articles and books. Even after all these years. Philosophy is hard and most is dull to boot. It's a real problem but things got a bit easier to manage when I acknowledged my weakness.

Anonymous said...

"How long does it take you to read (closely) a 25 page journal article?"

Honestly, in my experience, I needed to learn how _not_ to closely read all 25 pages of a journal article. But perhaps that's because I read painfully slowly.

I've found it's much easier to stay on top of my work now that I've perfected 2 things:

1. Being able to tell quickly that an article is not *directly* relevant to my research and shouldn't be read at all.

2. In the case of useful articles, being able to skim to find the handful of passages, sections, or pages that I will need to know and possibly refer to in my research, so I don't have to read the rest.

I've saved loads of time this way. Until I learned this, my very very limited time available for research on the TT was wasted on endless reading, leaving no time for writing.

Mostly Anonymous said...

Just curious ... is it really supposed to be "Somone" or should it be "Someone" asking for advice? 'Cause my advice for Somone is *way* different than my advice for most other bums.

Spiros said...

Corrected! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I second what 9:07 said. Intelligent skimming is the best way to sift through mounds of stuff that need not be read so closely. But of course there is that rare piece that deserves careful poring over, and more than just once.

wv: ingst--anxiety over gerunds

Anonymous said...

So just to sum up the wise advice on this thread so far:

(1) Avoid teaching.
(2) Skim articles.

Anonymous said...

(3) Avoid oversimplifying.

Anonymous said...

Can we also get tips for working in the UK? I mean, in addition to skimming, slacking, and not oversimplifying.

tom said...

The thing I wish I had received, more than anything, was some advice on how to supervise graduate students. Grad students are a lot of work, and nothing in your own studies really prepares you for becoming a supervisor.

Anonymous said...

Second what 1:10 said. Of course you'll read and re-read some things very closely, but skilled skimming gives you the time to do that.

An important teaching time-saver is to quickly learn that you will almost always try to cover too much material. You'll spend too much time preparing, and never get to it in class. Or you'll rush through it, harming the quality of your teaching and making all that prep unnecessary.

When preparing teaching material, less (time and quantity) is very often more. Cut, cut, cut.

Anonymous said...

Teaching here in the UK?

Yes - remember that students don't read emails, they don't read on-line reading, or books. And are lazy bastards.

Like the staff.

But that's ok. In my experience, talking to students, and working through material with them in class - and taking your time - is the best way to spread joy (and maybe learning)

Anonymous said...

1:10 here.

I strongly second 8:07. I recently reviewed a colleague who tried to cover too much material and simply got lost.

Less is more.

Anonymous said...

When you prep a class, keep it spare, for young teachers usually give more detail than students can get. Save the detail for discussion.

When you prep a class, prep it well, so that it is easily reusable. The time you spend doing it right rather than winging it will repay when you have to teach the course again. You want a basis that enables you to repeat what went well and alter only what didn't come off.

Anonymous said...

I give this advice to junior faculty all the time, though it often seems that many don't get it:

Listen. Go to meetings and listen. And talk to senior colleagues about department/university history. Learn the program. That is, so many grad students enter their first job assuming that every department should be like their PhD university (or is in some way aspiring to be like it), and this means when they see something different, they assume it's wrong. Curricular decisions, program requirements, other aspects of the nature of department, all developed over time. Learn how things came to be the way they are. There may be a logic to it that you don't see right away.

This does not mean you are wrong, and that an idiotic policy should remain in place. But keep in mind that for every idiotic policy, there was a faculty member who pushed for it. That faculty member may be sitting next to you in the meeting where you blurt out, "boy that is really stupid." said...

Thanks for your article, quite effective info.