Year 3 licks goat scroti

Nov 04 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], LifeTrajectories

PiT's post from yesterday sounded all too familiar and I don't think that is a coincidence. Despite pretty massive differences in just about everything you can compare, we are on very similar career trajectories. We've both just finished two years on the job and I think one thing is clear: Year three sucks.

In year one, you are the new person. Everyone likes a new person. People are excited to get to know you and no one wants to be a jerk to the shiny new faculty member. They expect you to look lost. They expect to protect you from certain responsibilities as you feel your way around the new surroundings and fill your lab. Other than trying to get all the equipment purchased, it is a Care Bear tea party.

Year two rolls around as the lab is starting to come together and it is time to ease into some teaching and maybe a bit of service. No one expects you to be good at either one and if you are it is a bonus. Any research progress is applauded like new parents praise a child's first scribble that looks remotely recognizable. "Our new faculty member is sooooo smart and soooo far ahead of that dude they hired in the math department!" Folks in your field finally figure out you've moved and begin to track you down for things. As a new faculty member, you are ready for the challenge!

Then there's year three.

I don't know when it happened, but things changed this year. We have had some good success as a lab, but for every one thing that seems to go right, there are five things that are a problem. It seems like everyone wants a piece of me so often that I have nothing left for myself, and I have said "no" to plenty of things. Everything is done with good intention ("Oh, this will help you get X, Y or Z and that is important"), but the cumulative is just too much. Teaching, service, advising... it all gets ramped up and sits on top of everything you had precariously balanced before. Shit starts slipping through the cracks and you can no longer claim to still be learning.

Certainly my funding situation (or lack thereof) is adding to the feeling of not living up to the myriad of expectations. I think we're in a position now to be very competitive funding and I've been killing myself to do all the right things to close the gap between where we are now and getting a proposal funded. I believe it will happen in the next 6ish months, but I have to. No one else has to trust that feeling, however, because why would they? Without question this is a critical year for my lab and I don't want to know what happens if we can't secure something by summer. I know it can't be good.

But more than anything this year, at some point this job became work. I got into this career despite the long training period, low pay, long hours, years of instability and not being able to pick the geography of my "permanent" job because I could not see myself enjoying something else in the same way. Now I wonder where that went. I'm not saying I don't enjoy the work on good days, but it is work now. Maybe this is temporary, I don't know, but I look at the people ahead of me whom I would consider successful and they look just as strung out as I feel. Not the inspiring image I was hoping for.

I'll keep churning out the proposals and get the papers out from our work so far, but I can't help feeling a little shitty about how things have changed. Rather than getting excited about something working in lab, I'm just relieved that we've moved incrementally forward rather than epically backwards. With so much of my time is spread among so many different constituencies I'm struggling to do the very thing I was brought here to do.

40 responses so far

  • Odyssey says:

    The fun will return. If it didn't none of us would still be doing this. I can't promise when that will be for you or PiT (it was sometime in year five for me), but it will return.

  • Namnezia says:

    No one said it is easy, but I think despite all of the things you say about year three, this is about the time when things started to come together - first papers got published, secured some major funding, lab grew, lab peeps got fellowships, etc. So just keep at it, it WILL come together. Good luck!

  • Dr Becca says:

    I believe in you, PLS! And I can't wait to read your post in 6-12 months that describes how you worked through everything, so that I can bookmark it for myself when I hit year three.

  • Reyna says:

    Gulp. I just started year 2 on the TT and was feeling pretty good...

  • Yep - you've described my/our situation(s) perfectly. Sigh. One day at a time.

    Excuse me while I go and sacrifice a chicken to appease the funding gods.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'll sacrifice a goat and we'll see which one works better.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Shit, we need a control. Maybe we can talk Arlenna into not sacrificing anything, but burning the candles and chanting in her office.

  • We actually took a finished copy of an R01 application outside the building and lit it on fire as a sacrifice. Still waiting on summary statements, will let you know of status.

  • Ink says:

    Well, I'm not sure if it will get better or not, but I look forward to seeing how you describe year four. Because I think it will be difficult to top "licks goat scroti"!

  • Dr. O says:

    I'm with Dr. Becca - patiently awaiting the "Made Year Three My Bitch" post sometime this spring/summer. 😉

  • Liz says:

    Great post. I have been reading you and PIT since you started blogging and it is interesting to follow your career progression. It's funny how with retrospective glasses you now refer to year one as pretty much a carebear picnic whereas, at the time, it seemed like things felt pretty rough, at least based on what I was exposed to as a reader. Is that the way it felt IRL also? Perhapes that is just the way life goes: Undergrad seemed rough at the time but looking back 3 years later it feels like it was a blast, then grad school seemed rough, etc, etc.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Year one is rough because you realize that you haven't actually been trained for the job you just got hired to do. At the same time, most people leave you alone to deal with setting up the lab and get your bearings. The teaching and service requirements (in most places) are next to nothing so you can focus on the lab and getting people in and training them while writing proposals. It is overwhelming, but at least it is mostly research focused.

    The difference now is the amount of time I can devote to the research component of the job is greatly reduced and much of that is spent writing proposals or herding cats. It is the constant and substantial pull from all the other directions that makes me question what I am doing.

  • Odyssey says:

    One thing though. Get rid of the goats. Or at least take them home where they can keep the grass short and save you the time you would use mowing.

  • [...] Time to suck it up and get on with it. At least I know I’m not alone in these struggles which does give me comfort but it’s disheartening to know that others are [...]

  • Yeah, this.

    Is it wrong to sacrifice a chicken and/or goat and then eat it?

  • Odyssey says:

    Not if it's properly seasoned. And comes with sides.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm not sure PiT had scroti, specifically, in mind with that question.

  • Principle Investigator says:

    I'm in year 3 too, and I totally agree. I thought year 1 was tough, but that was because I had no clue what I was doing. Year 2 went better, expectations were still fairly low, and so forth. Now I absolutely need to get a paper out by my next review, I'm overwhelmed with prep and grading, and I'm on real university committees that require homework and frequent meetings. Gah. At least I have a semester of untenured leave coming up in which I can focus on research again.

  • Gerty-Z says:

    This made me cry a little. First, because of the plural "scroti" and then because I have been trying to convince myself that the whole balancing thing will get easier as I get used to it. *sob *sob. I'm in year 1, and if this is a Carebear Tea Party, well, then I. am. fucked.

    am anxiously awaiting the "year 3 is my bitch" post

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Gerty-Z, at least you have year 2 to look forward to! There's no question that year one is overwhelming and the balance part does sort of get easier. At the same time, it is like that crappy network show Wipeout. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.

    No one is looking forward to a "Year 3 is my bitch" post more than I. I only hope I and others have the chance and occasion to write it.

  • NatC says:

    Noooooo! This sounds like a good idea, but it really is not. Goats will eat anything, especially clothes, and to them everything is eaten in preference to grass.

    And they like to stand on top of things. Let's just say hoof prints imbedded into the car hood and roof are not good for resale value.

    Just eat the bastards.

  • Han Aiwen says:

    I'm about to start year 1 and I'm terrified (I'm 1 semester late due to a post-doc). I'll be at a PUI though, with tenure in year 7 and a heavy teaching load throughout. I'm teaching two major classes next term and am realizing now (as I start to plan them) that I am totally, completely, unqualified to be anything resembling a good teacher. I want to do well and move past lectures and upper level paper discussions, but I never was taught by any other method (even in classes with just 3 students as an undergrad). The research stuff is even scarier. In the middle of grant writing for 2 winter NSF deadlines right now. And feeling guilty that I am not doing enough to justify US government spending to pay for me to be here on this grant when I am working on proposals and trying not to panic about teaching. I am not sure if it makes me feel better that year 3 is the one that really sucks.

  • Yoshimi says:

    Sorry to hear this -- and not just b/c I'm starting year 2 and now have to reconcile myself to the idea that this is the high point for awhile. Though I guess I already knew it in a way. This year, meeting my optimistic publishing and funding goals will be a great accomplishment. By next year, it'll be closer to just hanging on.

  • KBHC says:

    This describes exactly how I am feeling right now. I too am on year three.


  • Aw, sorry to hear things are rough going. If it makes you feel any better, my last few weeks (and just about everyone else I know at all levels of academia, across several institutions) have also been absurdly crazy. I think it has something to do with October/November - suddenly every thing and every one wants a chunk of your time. Hopefully by the winter holidays you can retool...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Four proposals due Jan 9-12, one due Jan 25th, teaching the first third of a new course in the spring, in addition to the course I developed last year. Wa wa waaaaaaa

    Maybe the summer will be relaxing 🙂

  • GMP says:

    Four proposals due Jan 9-12, one due Jan 25th

    This sounds pretty bad. I know you don't want to hear this, but, in my experience, whenever I wrote too many proposals too close together, it always resulted in none of them getting funded...

  • Dude, are we the same person!? This is exactly what I'm facing in the spring ... except there is one addition grant and a few weeks of a third course ... plus all of the other shit.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    None of them are new and three of them are collaborative. We've been working on them for some time, so I think we have enough lead time to get it sorted. Of course, it'll come down to the last few days when everything is nuts, but it is what it is.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    That might explain why I wake up tired.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I've had proposals funded that were submitted during

    1) my least dense grant-submitting interval

    2) my most dense grant-submitting interval


  • anon says:

    For what it's worth, I'm in year 5 now, and it is definitely better than years 3 and 4. I still don't have my main research project funded in any real way (NSF), but kind of fell into a collaborative project last year that got federal funding, happily, so that's keeping the lab running. I've had a few decent papers come out in the last couple of years, and am now finally feeling ok about going up for tenure next year. (I'm at an institution where *most*, although certainly not all, asst. profs get tenure, so your mileage may vary on this one.) I'm still juggling, but feeling like things are moving in the right direction. Of course, my teaching load will be much worse next semester (new prep, big class) and I need to resubmit my NSF proposal, so I may be singing a different tune in January.

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    "Care Bear tea party" LOL! You made me snort my morning coffee - congratulations! Perhaps we could term the 3rd year as a "Care Bear tea party that goes horribly awry after a meth binge, encompassed by physical and mental assaults?" Hang in there!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    That's a PhysioProfism (though I can't find the exact post), so no credit here.

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