Reflections on the first year of a tenure track job: learning to embracing chaos
Today, I celebrate! The Jadavji Lab is a year old! It has been a year since I started a tenure track position and my overall feelings are; I survived! I still like what I do. I really like working with students. They are a driving force for me, to become a better scientist and teacher. It has been a busy year and combined with the pandemic, things have been even more intense! I think the biggest lesson I learned this year was to embrace the chaos.
As a postdoc for several years prior to starting my faculty position, I managed experiments, writing, teaching, and service activities. I had all the activities planned out and the expectations were clear as my training was self-driven. Being a new faculty member is very different, firstly there is a change in expectations of what is required from me as well as a change in my own perception of what my role is. Over the past year, there were several instances and situations where I forgot I was a faculty member, I am getting better at this, but it’s a work in progress. The chair of our program told me it takes about 5 years to make the mental shift.
Prior to starting my TT position, I had the luxury to only work part-time as an instructor for ~2 months. I took the time to write a grant (which was funded!) and set up my lab/research related materials. I also rested, since I was working at a slower pace and packed/organized for the cross continent move. The research materials I set up included drafting lab mission and vision statements, a website, lab manual including policies, as well as protocols for research techniques I was planning to use. I also started exploring electronic lab notebooks. The status for lab notebooks, I love using them! I also did some long-term planning in terms of experiments, and manuscripts. I think having the time to think through things and write was incredible gift to myself. I would recommend this to any other new faculty, if it is possible. I started a an electronic and hardcopy folder for tenure related materials, I am already finding this useful especially when I wrote my faculty activity report for the past year. I have also gotten into a good habit of mentally training myself to file these materials away as I get them.
I had a reduced teaching load this past year, which was nice. I did take time out and watch lectures of other faculty members in the department, especially since our departmental courses are team taught. I have been teaching for several years, so I was not too worried about it, but reflecting back on teaching in the Fall quarter, it would have been prudent to have spent more time on preparing for lectures. I helped teach a neuroscience course in our spring quarter, and really enjoyed it, even with the pandemic and adapting to virtual teaching. I wrote a blog about teaching in academia earlier this year and that has more details.
In terms of managing my lab, I hired an RA and also lost her this year, it was a difficult situation. I did learn a lot from the hiring and managing aspects, I hope that my next RA will be a better fit. I have spent most of the year without any technical help, but I managed. I asked when I need help and pushed through. The lab was successfully in obtaining a grant from the American Heart Association as well as an internal grant, which was combined with funds from the state of Arizona. The lab published three papers; two were accepted after March 2020 (when the pandemic hit the US), which I think is a huge feat, especially with homeschooling fulltime. In the lab, I took on a graduate student, as well as two medical students, a few federal work-study students, and one veterinary fellow. The lab has grown a lot and we are hammering out data this summer, despite all the challenges. I am super excited about the data!
I was able to keep my on-campus service activities to a minimum this year, I served on an admission committee, spoke about being a scientist at a local elementary, and also was a judge for a brain bee competition on-campus. I participated in a lot of service outside of the university including, chairing the Journal of Young Investigators Board of Directors, an eLife ambassador, and reviewing several manuscripts/studies. I also did several grant reviews, which was fun and taught me more about grant presentation and writing. It was on the busy side, but I really enjoyed the work.
There isn’t a formal mentoring program at the university where I work, but I did set up several informal mentorship relationships with senior faculty, as well as other new and junior faculty. As I have written before, I tried to create a network of people I could consult about different things that came up during year. My network is still growing, as I meet more people and develop relationships. I am also an avid user of New PI Slack. I think it is a good resource to get feedback and ask questions. I have asked for advice many times and offered up my own personal experiences. It is so nice to have a community of people.
It has been a learning process this year. I think it was hard to be in a place where I do not know much, but I tried to embrace it and learn from it. I think I became better when asking questions. I think my first year in a tenure track position was a good challenge; I am looking forward to future chaos and adventures!