Life as a Postdoc: Avoiding Invisibility in a Liminal Position

As a graduate student, I wasn’t initially sure that a postdoc would be the right decision for me.  I had entered my program 10 years after completing my undergraduate degree and was pursuing a second career, moving from evaluation research to academia.  It seemed more appropriate to dive right into the road to tenure at my age given that the Assistant Professors in my department were younger than I was. When I told my mentor this, she nipped that thought in the bud with something to the effect of “why wouldn’t you take time off the clock to push forward your research?”  (For the record, she was right.) So during my year on the job market, I applied to 12 postdocs and got lucky enough to land one, a diversity postdoc at New York University, along with a tenure-track position. I negotiated a delayed start with my job (yes, this is possible) and in August of 2018, I filed my dissertation at UC Berkeley, moved my family across the country, and started as a postdoctoral fellow for the year.  But what I experienced as a postdoc was not at all like my past as a grad student nor my future as an Assistant Professor. Being a postdoc was isolating, as the position itself is liminal by definition. As I describe below, it took effort on my part to feel a sense of integration and belonging.   Continue reading

Too Many Courses, Too Few Friends: Thriving as First-Year Faculty in a New Environment

A year ago I was wrestling with a large roll of orange bubble wrap and a faulty tape dispenser as my partner and I prepared to relocate from Connecticut to Nebraska. We had been living in our quiet corner of New England long enough to gain a large circle of friends but we knew absolutely no one in the Midwest. I was also wrestling with syllabi, assignment prompts, and textbook orders as I braced myself for the teaching load at my new institution. The scale of my professional life was about to shift drastically as I transitioned from teaching a few sections of composition as a graduate student at a large public university to developing three different literature courses per semester as an assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. Many of us will meet similar professional and personal challenges as junior faculty: as I reflect on my experiences, I hope that some of the strategies I have relied on will also prove useful to you. Specifically, this post will suggest possible approaches to handling course preparation as a new faculty member and re-building your social life in an unfamiliar environment. Continue reading