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.