Today marks exactly ten days since I became an assistant professor.
Ten LONG days.
Ten of the BEST days I’ve ever experienced.
Let me tell you why.
I believe I’ve mentioned that I love my University. I do, really and truly. I think it’s an amazing group of students, faculty, staff, and administrators that call this rambling, constantly-under-construction campus “home”. I love it here. It just feels right. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love another university or a smaller college, but part of me will always want to be exactly where I am right now.
Having said that, I’ve dealt with some less-than-pleasant situations here. I’ve actually been connected to this university for several years. I did my PhD work here, under fairly intense conditions. My primary adviser had trust issues, and chose to believe that no one in the department wanted to work with her. Yet, she was quite a good chemist, and when she wasn’t consumed by anger and feeling that she had been slighted in some way, she could be very kindhearted and encouraging to her students. Unfortunately, the angry moments happened with increasing frequency. I often sat in her office for a meeting about data analysis or a review of my dissertation in those last months, only to have to deal with a ranting, sometimes crying, clearly unhappy, unfulfilled faculty member. She and I resolved our differences, and I finished my doctoral work, but she was ultimately the most miserable member of the faculty I ever met.
I also stayed here for a post-doctoral appointment, albeit in a different department. The professor for whom I worked had an established, funded project, and a postdoc who was quitting. On the surface, she was leaving because the job took too much of her time, which she needed to spend with her two young children. And it did. Took me months to figure out the deeper reasons – primarily that the project should never have relied on one postdoc. At a bare minimum, a postdoc and one graduate student (really, two) should have been assigned to this project alone. It was a mammoth undertaking for one person to coordinate and perform. Two years after conclusion of that original project, I am still working to verify the collected data. Did I mention that this was only one project that I was expected to complete while in my postdoctoral position? Eventually, when all analyses are done, I’ll be sitting on a small mountain of publications from the last four years of work, but at least once a week I contemplated what would happen if I just walked away from it all. And believe me, those ponderings were well justified.
I have worked in communal offices, barely-ventilated basements, and sweltering shop areas. Crop fields with zero shade in a Mississippi summer, where every step is potentially ankle-snapping, are my nemeses. Field researchers who refuse to stop for lunch or water breaks are anathema to me. I have been told that a postdoc “has no rights because you’re not really staff, faculty, or student”, while the graduate students of other faculty members (not mine) were added to my office space. I look a little younger than my age, and I tend to be very enthusiastic and exuberant when lecturing, so many students have assumed I’d be a ‘good instructor’, and give extra credit on exams, bonus points for no reason, and ultimately pass everyone who “just tried their best”. I’ve gotten extremely used to being the token girl scientist in the field. I’ve had a grandfatherly farmer literally pat me on the head and tell me to “leave the management decisions to the fellas” when I came to advise him about a disease outbreak. A PI stopped me after a 12-hour marathon of tissue culturing to tell me it could have been done a simpler way.
I say all of that to say this – it was ALL worth it. Even the longest, toughest days had a valuable lesson. There is an overarching theme leading up to today, my tenth day, and it is this…
Don’t you dare quit, ever. It will get better.
Today, I’m ten days in. I’ve officially submitted my first Letter of Intent for a grant. I’m writing two grant proposals. I’m co-teaching one class and developing content for another. I’ve been set up in an office so quiet and pretty and perfect that it makes me smile just to walk in the door. Every thing I’ve needed, the most amazing admin folks have taken care of instantly. I don’t have enough words for the kindness, the welcoming attitude, that I have experienced in my new home. And I wonder what the next ten years will bring.