Thursday, January 26, 2017

Being faculty: End of semester one

I wrote this post the last week of my first semester as faculty. Well, it was technically half a semester since I got in late. Ten weeks of faculty-hood was like getting on a roller coaster ride that I mistakenly thought was an innocuous rickshaw ride by the park. I have journalled well, scribbling down the many little experiences that shocked, surprised, and shocked me again. Don't know about grey matter, but grey hair increased exponentially as I was asked to analyze the many grey areas in my research. Here are ten random scribbles:

1. By the end of week one, I woke up to the realization that time, and not money, is my new currency. Being faculty means wrapping my head around so many things in many different directions, I now understand why the term "protected time" exists in the research world.

2. There were numerous moments when I was deeply engrossed trying to make sense of a problem, only to think, "Shit! I cannot make sense of this, I need to talk to my adviser," only to realize that there is no adviser. I am the adviser. The voices in my head often tell me, "Stop thinking like a grad student!" In the garb of a confident tenure-track faculty member, I still feel like a confused grad student inside.

3. Almost every time someone heard what my job is, they asked me what I teach. Well, I do not teach. However, I will be, from January. The professor in me says, "This is exciting, let's bring it on!" The grad student in me says, "Shit! What did I get myself into?" After doing mostly qualitative research, I am now developing a survey course. I thought this is some kind of a cosmic joke from the universe. For the past few weeks, I have been brushing the cobwebs off my statistical knowledge about factor analysis, IRT, and other stuff I learnt way back in grad school and swore never to use again. Well, never say never. Writing the syllabus alone took me three full days of effort. This will be my first time teaching at a university, and as excited as I am trying to be, I am terrified inside.

4. A big part of being faculty means making things up on the fly. Barring some exceptionally interesting talks, I zone out in most talks and start thinking about other things. I was attending a seminar when someone asked me, "Blah blah blah ... so what do you think of it?" Not only did I not know what to think of it, I was not even paying attention. All I can say is that with practice, you get good at making things up on the fly.

5. It was funny when multiple people mistook me for a grad student. Just the way a grad student addressed me as the professor, and I looked away, thinking that she was calling someone else. This new role that I have assumed will need some getting used to.

6. My mother beams with pride that I am now a state employee. No one in my family is one, and where I come from, there is a lot of prestige associated with being a government employee. She doesn't get it that that state government and this state government is not quite the same. However, her excitement is infectious.

7. Being a new faculty is a lot like being newly married. You are the star of the new family, everyone is excited to have you around. It also means reproduction is one of the key traditional expectations to survive this marriage. Producing viable grants and papers is mandatory. Very soon, older colleagues will be dropping by and throwing known glances at my tummy (an analogy), asking when I would start churning out those academic babies. I have a committee that makes sure that I do not deviate from this (re)productive track. I write annual reviews based on my performance. This contract even comes with a time limit of six years. These ten weeks were spent looking for collaborators who would be willing to father my academic babies. That's something about academia- the more partners and collaborators you can find, the more viable seeds you are likely to sow, the more babies you are likely to produce, and the more your chances will be of making tenure. Academia is very polyamorous that way.

8. I have re-discovered the importance of sleep. If I am not well-rested, I am most likely going to be useless the next day. So while most people roughly my age are partying around, I get in bed by 9 pm, read for a few hours and drift off to sleep. Some people ask me what are my weekend plans. "Read, write, continue loop," is what I say.

9. No one cares what time you come to work or leave work. It's a strange feeling I am still getting used to.

10. A lot of what I do everyday has got nothing to do with being a professor. It involves replying to countless emails. Organizing meetings. Getting in groups and talking about things I have no idea about. Learning to order a dry erase board or filling out a gazillion forms after a trip, asking for reimbursement. Showing up at large gatherings and networking events when the introvert in me would much rather be at home. Remembering the names and faces of a million people you have never seen before, and be able to tag the correct name to the correct face. Everything that I had the luxury to avoid as a grad student- public speaking, large-scale data crunching, teaching stats, attending meetings, avoiding the spotlight, I will be doing it all now. All of it.


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