Tenurish reflections

Aug 13 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

My tenure packet is being submitted shortly, causing larger gaps between posts these days. Odd to think that I've been here 5 years, and blogging the whole thing for most of that time. I haven't been anywhere for five whole years since grade school. But I'm happy and feel like I know what I'm doing these days. In looking back, I made some good calls and some poor decisions and thought this might be a good opportunity to sort them out.

The good:

- I've hired some fan-freaking-tastic people. I owe an enormous amount to their efforts, ideas, relentlessness and sass. There's some element of luck here and sometimes you just need to go with your gut when making these decisions, but so far this has been a point of strength in the lab.

- I hit the grant writing scene like a honey badger. Was it always effective? No. But getting on panels helped and being short-memoried when it came to failure was fairly critical. I'm sure my POs would argue I wrote too many grants early on, but the learning process was critical for me to figure out the system. This is especially true because I had no experience with the US system prior to establishing my own lab.

- I focused on two major themes, with sub-projects. IMHO, I think the lab has erred a bit on the side of two many projects, than too few, but as is my wont. So far it has worked and kept us open to a variety of funding mechanisms. Is it sustainable? We'll see. Maybe no one will ever figure out what I do.

- I've been able to make sure all my lab peeps are supported. This may seem like an odd statement to some, but in my field it is not uncommon to have grad students unpaid through the summer and have to find their own money for conferences or travel. This isn't how I wanted to run my lab and I have thus far managed to ensure that my students are supported year-round and have the ability to travel to conferences to present their work.

- My online community. Positively influential in so many ways.

- I landed in a good department. My colleagues and admin are very supportive, which I have been very lucky to have found. It's not always ease to figure out in an interview whether you're walking into a good situation or a sharknado.

The less good:

- Publications. All that grant writing meant that the lab's publication record has suffered somewhat. We've been productive, but we're not quite yet where I want to be. If there's one thing I could change, I might have been slightly more strategic about writing grants to free up a little time for some publication effort. Of course.....

- I started from scratch. The dumbest thing I did was finish everything from my postdoc and start my lab with projects that had to be built from the ground up. Ultimately you want original projects, but walking away from my postdoc without a starter project was a critically dumb thing to do. Again, my lack of prior US funding experience comes in to play here, but not having to generate every ounce of preliminary data in my brand new lab would have really been helpful. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.

- When there was a personnel issue in the lab, I waited too long to deal with it. This is probably an issue for most new bosses, but if I had pulled the trigger when my gut was telling me to, it would have helped.

- That first semester teaching (a.k.a. That time we will never speak of again).

On the whole, the last 5 years has been good. I was recently told by a friend who is a few years behind me, career-wise, that they decided to pursue non-academic career options based on reading my blog. I guess that's an indication that I've been honest when things weren't going so well - and there are certainly times when I've felt like this job was going to break me. At the same time, it's a pretty great job when you find your footing. I'm not sure it's more consuming than other high-pressure careers, it just pays less.

The bottom line is that things are settling in, it just took longer than I expected.

5 responses so far

  • Susan says:

    Thanks - this is a useful bunch of perspective. Best wishes for The Packet.

  • chall says:

    Good to read your perspecitive. 5 years already? Time really flies.... I remember reading your transition posts 🙂

    congratulations on the "now I've had the same job for 5 years". I'm yet to experience that (not sure I want to stay where I am currently though... but who knows what the future will hold?)

    /non tt

  • Neuropop says:

    Good luck. Having lived through the experience (which didn't go so well) and having just helped my spouse with hers (keeping fingers crossed), it can be nerve-wracking but puts things in perspective. Hopefully your department is not political and cases are essentially evaluated on merit. Honest communication on the part of the committee that is responsible for putting together your case is a big plus, but never a given.Unless you are completely satisfied with your current situation, professionally and personally, make sure to keep your eyes open for other jobs out there.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    My 32 year career was with the same university. For the first several years, I felt like a transient. It was a new university, and things were unsettled and developing. This was both good and bad. I did not have some of the support one would have in a more mature institution. On the other hand, I could do things my way, and the institution did not seem to care. I thought I should be in a more upscale institution, but after going on a couple of interviews, and talking with colleagues at the good places, I recognized that I had it pretty good, and became content. I get the impression that many folks today are in much more of a pressure cooker than I ever was.

  • Doctor PMS says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this! I'm starting to put together all the links for future reference towards TT - this one is a must have!
    Good luck with everything!

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