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

Making the Most of the Summer

(Originally published here on Inside Higher Ed.)

This time a year ago, I finished my degree and headed into the summer unsure of what to do with myself. It was only in hindsight that I thought critically about how to invest one’s time and energy over the summer. (Those thoughts are documented here.) This year, I’m taking a more proactive approach and creating a plan for the summer before it begins. Here, I describe the decisions I’ve made in terms of my teaching, structuring my time for research, and reading for professional enrichment. Continue reading

A Week in the Life of an Assistant Professor

This year I transitioned from graduate school to the professoriate. I was one of the lucky few to get an increasingly rare tenure-track job in the Humanities. It’s been about six months since I started my new job, which has caused me to reflect on the transition and on how I spend my time. It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that, with a few exceptions, the demands post-PhD are harder to balance than the demands of graduate school. The economic precarity of graduate school may be behind me, but employment pre-tenure is still precarious and my time feels even more valuable. I’m sharing with you a few lessons-learned, to shed some light on how an assistant professor spends an average week. (The original version of this blog post is available at on Teaching Academia.) Continue reading

“That New Hire Needs Your Help” — A Response

(This blog post was written in response to Jane S. Halonen and Dana S. Dunn’s Chronicle of Higher Education article, That New Hire Needs Your Help.)

I’d like to start off by thanking Professors Dunn and Halonen for their thoughtful and compassionate article, “That New Hire Needs Your Help.” I am a new hire in my department as of August and I’ll admit that when I saw this article pop up in my inbox, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that someone was concerned about my adjustment to my new job.

As they rightly point out, “sometimes the stakes are really low and the politics vicious.” In what follows, I would like to elaborate on this point and also contribute one or two points that I feel were missing from their list. I hope that my anecdotal evidence will prompt those of you who are concerned with the welfare of your new faculty to heed one or two of my requests. Continue reading

How to Spend the Summer Before Your TT Appointment Begins

It’s August 1stand the summer is basically over. As summers tend to, it flew by. That being said, I was able to make the most of it and I believe I’m in a good position to start the school year. I really struggled to know how to use my time the last few months and thought you might benefit from a few amateur dos and don’ts.

Before launching into my ideas, let me establish some ground rules:

  • I don’t mean to sound like your committee chair, but it should go without saying that if you got a tenure track job as an ABD candidate and you have not yet finished your dissertation, THAT’S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO OVER THE SUMMER.
  • Another important consideration is rest. Only you can decide what that looks like for you. For me it was fleeing the country for a few weeks and finding a place where I had no responsibilities to anyone but myself.
  • There are also financial considerations. My PhD-granting institution funded my summer even though I was no longer enrolled or planning to enroll ever again. That’s not a reality for everyone, so some of you might need to teach or seek some kind of employment over the summer.

If you’re in a position where you can afford (both literally and metaphorically) to do something else between school years, I would highly-recommend what my partner recently referred to as academic cross-training. In other words, you no longer need to prep for the job market, and you have time to take a break from your primary scholarly goals and find complementary ones. I advocate for this plan for two primary reasons: 1. it got me excited about my work again because it stimulated my curiosity, and 2. it has allowed me to look back over my summer and feel a sense of pride that I did something (at least semi-) productive with it. Continue reading