Feature

You've finally secured that first faculty position--but even as you hang your diploma on the office wall, the headiness of your initial success may begin to wear off as the qualms of the novice creep into your head.

Am I ready for this?

Do I know what I've signed on for here?

WILL THEY LIKE ME?

Such flashes of self-doubt are, of course, common for anyone taking a new job. To offer junior faculty a little insight into what they should be prepared for, the Monitor asked a variety of educators--from grizzled department chairs to new kids on the faculty block--"What do you know now that you wish someone had told you when you accepted your first faculty position?"

Here's what they said.

KARIN SUESSER, PhD

Assistant professor of humandevelopment and psychology,
University of Wisconsin­Green Bay
In academe since 1999

I wish I'd known that I had the most negotiating power right before I accepted the position. Of course I negotiated some--specifically, I asked to start a semester later. After that, I felt I'd used up my "negotiation allowance" and couldn't ask for more without coming across as pushy. I found out later, that's not true. You can ask for lots of things before accepting the position, and departments are usually willing to meet those demands. Now, I'd negotiate everything, from salary to moving expenses to office and lab space, to computer equipment and teaching schedules. Even things that I was told were absolutely non-negotiable--such as getting family health insurance immediately rather than after six months on the job--turned out to be negotiable. Lesson learned: You'll never have as much power to ask for things and actually get them as you have right before accepting the job.

I also wish I had known how much work was involved in preparing three new classes and that someone had advised me to get started on these classes three to four months before I started teaching. My first semester was so totally taken up by preparing lectures and grading papers that I had no time for my research and I really fell behind. After my first year, someone told me that it's best to concentrate on your classes in the first semester and during the second semester, when preparations are easier and one has more breathing space, to really concentrate on getting your research up and running. If I had known that, it would have relieved a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy during my first semester that I had due to the fact that I didn't get any research done.

EMANUEL DONCHIN, PhD

Professor of psychology,
department of psychology and
The Beckman Institute,
University of Illinois
In academe since 1965

I regret not paying attention to a senior colleague who told me during my interview, "Listen, Manny, don't worry about your salary, your research support and all other matters. You can be sure they will treat you well. The one thing you should demand and insist on is parking...." Having spent the previous eight years in California, which led me to assume that parking comes with the territory, I ignored this advice. My penalty? I had to wait six years for a parking space. I got tenure long before I had parking!

The other point worth making is that I wish someone had explained to me in detail the implications of various choices I had in 1968 that could have, when I eventually retire, a huge impact on my income. Most beginning faculty have nugatory interest in the retirement plans. This is a bad mistake. It might even be an error. Joking aside, the point is that whatever you think about how long you will stay in a place, you may end up spending several decades there, so long-term planning is useful.

EDDIE M. CLARK, PhD

Associate professor, department ofpsychology,
Saint Louis University
In academe since 1991

I wish I had been told to read "The Complete Academic: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Social Scientist" (Random House, 1987, M.P. Zanna and J.M. Darley, Eds.) I found it a year or so into my first job. It answered all my questions.

RANDOLPH SMITH, PhD

Professor of Psychology and chair of the psychology department,
Ouachita Baptist University
In academe since 1977

I wish I had known how much time and energy good teaching takes. Although some might argue that good teachers are born that way, even good teachers have to spend large amounts of time preparing for class.

I also wish I had known how much time would be taken up by things that I never considered in graduate school. It seems there is more time spent on events and activities outside the classroom and lab--advising, committee work, etc.--than there is inside the classroom and lab. It is all vital to students' and the school's welfare, but in a small school, it is quite time consuming.

ROBERT STERNBERG, PhD

IBM Professor of Psychologyand Education, Yale University
In academe since 1974

There are several important points I've learned:

  • You can't please everyone, so be sure you please yourself. Some people will never like what you do, so concentrate on yourself and on those who can be persuaded that what you do is worthwhile.

  • Playing it "safe" in terms of choosing research topics probably pays off in the short run but results in your having little or no impact in the long run. Most people will go for the short run because they would rather have immediate rewards than make a difference (shades of Walter Mischel's research on delay of gratification!). It also gives them a sense of affiliation to go for the short run, whereas going for the long run means you're lonely much of the time.

  • The best people don't play the game--they create their own game. Their mission is uniquely their own, not one they borrow from others.

  • Learning is life long. Whatever it is you do when you start is probably not what you are going to be doing in short order. One way to keep learning is to realize that students have as much to teach you as you have to teach students. Listening to students helps you maintain your flexibility.

  • You need to work really hard to succeed. But you also need to find time for hobbies and other interests. You can always find some excuse for waiting until later to pursue other interests. By the time you get to them, you may well be dead or dying!

MARIGOLD LINTON, PhD

Director, American Indian Outreach, University of Kansas
In academe since 1978

I've learned that it's critical to ride the crest rather than get swallowed in the backwash. My husband, a professor in mathematics and computer sciences, and I see embittered older faculty trapped in old habits. I have friends who won't think about becoming competent on the computer ("I'm too old" and "That's not my thing," they say). They'd never think about Internet classes.

In contrast, both my husband and I ask what are the new trends, what is the cutting edge, how do we move forward? (I'm promoting telemedicine at the moment--very exciting). Both of us are administrators--something we thought that only awful people did--but life is exciting to us, and we feel we are ahead of the curve and are thankful every day that we haven't been caught in the backwash.

MARTHA ELLIS, PhD

President, Texas StateTechnical College Waco
In academe since 1981

I wish I would have known more about the diversity of students in one classroom and how to provide a quality learning environment for diversity. This diversity includes academic backgrounds and ability, age, as well as ethnicity, gender and disabilities.

Another piece of useful advice that I found out through experience: being a faculty member at a two-year college is absolutely the best job in the world! You get to teach a subject you love, you have small classes and you see lives change each and every semester.

ANGELA B. GINORIO, PhD

Researcher/administrator at the University of Washington
In academe since 1978

My advice for anyone: If you can't find a writing group to join, create one--an interdisciplinary one is great!

For women, especially if you're doing research on women: I pass on the advice I received from Janet Hyde, which served me well: If you're doing research on women they'll suspect you of being a feminist anyhow, so you may as well do your research on exactly what you want to do.

Finally, for women of color: Find colleagues in other departments or even in other institutions with whom you can do reality checks as often as needed.

GEORGE HOWARD, PhD

Professor of Psychology
University of Notre Dame
In academe since 1975

Because writing is such an important part of our job, "I wished I knewd how to rite better sentences--preferably in english--before I excepted my foist fakulty job."

KATHRYN GRAFF LOW, PhD

Associate professor, Bates College
In academe since 1990

There are several things I wish I'd known:

  • Never base your own professional expectations on what you remember of your college professors. Having attended a small, liberal arts college like Bates, I had distinct and somewhat ill-conceived ideas about what professors did. I recalled professors sitting in their offices, unencumbered by students, reading, writing or engaging in intellectual repartee with colleagues; eating leisurely lunches in the dining room with other colleagues; and on rare occasions, entertaining students in their large, circa 1800 book-filled libraries at home. I don't remember them referring to notes when they lectured, being stumped by questions, or having bad hair days. Never had I experienced a professor, even a junior one, who dashed out of the room in the middle of a lecture, having remembered that she had an infant asleep in the car whom she had forgotten to drop at day care.

  • Don't hesitate to shut your door. I did not anticipate, and am still trying to accommodate, the many students who want to consult with me during the day. I have an explicit policy stating that I do not respond to questions about "Friends," "Frasier" or "ER."

  • Allow students to do some work. Overpreparation in my first couple of years meant that I did more daily work than most of the students in my classes. I'm better now at relying on them to do some of the organizing and learning, and willing to let a class session "bomb" when the students have not done their preparation. I also often begin courses by asking students what skills and knowledge they bring to the course.

  • Cultivate relationships with colleagues. My departmental peers have been invaluable in terms of teaching development, research ideas, publishing and support.

  • Tenure is a mixed bag. Although many of us work long and hard for tenure, it does not come without its costs. New hires may be less aware that being tenured reduces mobility (most places are looking for entry-level people when they advertise). Unless you make a move early in your career, tenure may result in a permanence that can be reassuring or unsettling, depending on your happiness with your position.

JANIS SANCHEZ-HUCLES, PhD

Professor of psychology
Old Dominion University
In academe since 1979

What I now know is that the biggest challenge of my faculty position is exactly what led me to accept it: The fact that I get to do so many things that I love to do. What I think new faculty members need to remember is how to prioritize to make sure that they are advancing in their career goals and doing work that they enjoy. We have to learn to say no to at least some of the many interesting opportunities that may come our way.