How to be a successful junior colleague

Dr. Crazy and GayProf show you how it's done

Dr. Crazy and GayProf show you how it's done

Go read GayProf’s latest bons mots on the job search process, “Advice for the Newly Hired.”  I wish I could be GayProf’s colleague–if only Big Midwestern U. would relocate to the sunny West!  He explains in a few thousand words how to be successful, and why it’s essential to remain generous and humane in the process.  Dr. Crazy has a companion post up at her blog called “Advice for the Newly Hired:  Regional Comprehensive Addition Edition,” since GayProf’s advice was tailored more for people at R-1 universities.

I taught at a comprehensive university, and now I teach at what’s officially an R-1, although the College of Liberal Arts has always been something of the red-headed stepchild of the university:  there to teach service courses, but not to produce Ph.D. students.  (Some departments have Ph.D. programs, but mine has just an M.A. program.)  I still think that this part of GayProf’s advice is relevant to everyone:  “Manage your career for the expectations of your field, not your current university or your department.”  Dr. Crazy is right that comprehensive universities will look for different things at tenure than faculty and administrators at R-1s, but in my (admittedly brief) years of observing this process, 1) if you publish, you’ll be difficult to fire from whatever college or university you work at, and 2) if you publish, you’ll have other opportunities if you want or need them.  Dr. Crazy says that “it makes sense to be happy where you are,” and I agree–especially in today’s tough job market, we should all try to bloom where we’re planted.  But there’s nothing wrong with being prepared for another opportunity down the road.

0 thoughts on “How to be a successful junior colleague

  1. If I had the time (or the blog), I’d be tempted to patch in a version for still another category, the “Sub-Prime Comprehensive.” (I like that red-headed stepchild motif; but at the S-PC it’s more like an indentured servant). Bottom Line for the S-PC: “If you paint the front porch, and take the kids up to the lake next summer, it’ll be just like… see Historiann’s clauses 1) and 2) above…”


  2. H – I entirely agree with you about this. My comments were really mostly the result, though, of attempting to balance out GP’s. If you try to manage your career for the “expectations of your field” if the “expectations of your field” are set by people who all work at research universities with pre-tenure sabbaticals and generous support for research and 2/2 loads where any class over 35 gets a TA, well, that’s not going to set a person up to meet the expectations of a regional uni or to be happy there. I’m a person who’s published what I’d say is a lot for my teaching load and institution, and that is because I care about my field and I want the fantasy that I might someday be able to move elsewhere. I’m also realistic, though, that I’m not terribly interested in a lateral move (because if I’m going to be at this kind of institution I’m happy where I am) and that a move up is not necessarily likely unless I publish The Great American Work of Literary Criticism (my specialization is one of the most competitive in English). With that being the case, managing my career with my current institution in mind seems like a good idea. That doesn’t mean giving up on publishing, but it does mean realizing that publishing isn’t necessarily the point of working at a place like mine and that publishing isn’t the only thing that keeps one relevant in one’s discipline.


  3. Thanks for the linky-link. As I have said, it would be just a delight to have you as a colleague, too.

    Publishing, no matter your location, is a “get out of jail free card” for most people (there are some notable exceptions where evil reigned, though).


  4. Stupendous post — Dr. Crazy’s advice is spot on. As a fifth year junior about to “go up” at a Midwestern Directional, I think this point is well taken: “learn to work efficiently as a teacher, or you’ll become a zombie who is a slave to grading. Teaching expands to fill the time you give it. If you give it an infinite amount of time, it will take an infinite amount of time.”

    Right. If you allow teaching prep and grading for a 4/4 load to take lots of your time, you will get nothing else done. Every weekend will disappear. Half your summers will be getting ready for the fall. Organize your teaching and prep so that it remains only a part, albeit a very important part, of your career. Even with a 4/4, you can get lots done during the year.

    Exhaust your university/college ILL staff with requests. Write something, anything during the semester. Submit articles during the summer, and be ready for revisions in the fall. It’s a cliche now, but at that risk, remember that publications are the coin of the realm. Don’t get sucked into too many service and committee assignments — they are deadly time wasters for juniors, and dept. seniors are usually sensitive to that (or should be if they want their hires tenured someday). Too much committee work also increases the likelihood of running afoul of tenured faculty with pet projects and personality difficulties. And, strange as it sounds, keep relatively quiet — listen more than speak. Maybe it’s just the peculiarity of my own situation, but you’d be amazed how far you can get if you pick your battles very, very carefully, let loud-talking colleagues have the floor, and diligently do your own work.


  5. Thanks, all–and Dr. Crazy is being too modest. She published a *BOOK BEFORE TENURE* while teaching a 4-4 load (and, I’m sure, without pre-tenure leave.) I’ve heard that even very elite places are doing away with paid pre-tenure leave and paid sabbaticals longer than 1 semester. The attitude at some elite places is, “well then, with our institutional prestige, you’ll be highly competitive for NEH, ACLS, APS, etc. grants and fellowships!”

    Good luck, Eduardo. I think you’re right that doing more listening than talking is a good idea in your first year on the job, in the service of learning how everything works in your work environment. But, I would hesitate to tell junior faculty to shut up entirely–everyone has to make hir own calls, but I work in a department where we like hearing what junior people think, what they’ve observed, what their instincts are. It’s not a bad thing to present yourself as a colleague who will be an equal partner in policy discussions and decision-making. (I know that’s not what you meant to say, Eduardo–but I wanted to counter any temptation people might have to think that the best policy is just shutting up entirely.)

    Eduardo is right about keeping your head down and doing your own work. Try not to get involved in purely personal politics, and have the confidence to make your own judgments about people on the basis of how they behave and how they treat you. Nothing good will come of pot-stirring–you won’t get any credit for it, you might piss people off, and while you’re doing that, you’re not writing books, articles, fabulous new lectures, reading new books, etc.


  6. p.s. This just occured to me, re: Dr. Crazy’s publication history. The old joke about the difference between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is that she had to “do it backwards and in high heels” seems to be an especially apt comment about Dr. Crazy, too.


  7. Thanks to Gayprof for reminding all to both publish and be good colleagues — and thanks to Dr. Crazy for reminding us that there are a range of institutions out there! Great posts. And thanks to historiann for the links. (I am feeling grateful this morning.)

    Gayprof starts with an anecdote about a jr. person feeling entitled — I have been amazed that some jr. people expect to be treated like they have published 5 books. I suspect it is an effect of certain PhD programs. But more astounding is that I have seen some of these people not produce their books — and they either depart without going up for tenure or try to get tenure without the pubs (still more sense of entitlement). When you combine those situations with the general coddling and protection of jr. people’s time, I become less than generous.

    I would also add a corollary to the point that “teaching is easier than writing and research” — good teaching, which includes putting a lot of time and energy into students, is just as difficult as writing and research, although sometimes more fun and rewarding.


  8. I’m struck by how wide our experiences can be; our work environments are so different that I wonder if we can really have anything approaching consistent standards across the profession. Even acknowledging different teaching loads does not tell the entire story. I have a 4-4 load, but as the lone Americanist in a two-person program at my institution, I’ve had to design and deliver 15 different courses over the last five years. Spending so much time far afield from my area of expertise has consumed enormous time, energy, and mental space. Maintaining my research interests has been difficult. Slow and steady is good advice, but it is sometimes difficult to explain to colleagues.

    I’ve often wondered if it would be useful for the AHA to draft guidelines for departments/schools/colleges (my tenure-ish decision will be made by a small committee of the university, possibly with no one from a humanities field on it!) for evaluating professional development in such widely different contexts.


  9. I’ve been following this conversation all weekend with great interest. If I can chime in with my own bit of pragmatic advice, in the same vein as Crazy’s emphasis on efficiency: try to make the same piece of work do double or triple duty. If a new book has been published in your field that you need to read and account for in your next book chapter, contact the book review editor of a journal in your field (cultivate those contacts) and ask if they have anyone reviewing the title (it’s a great way to get free books, too). Once you’ve reviewed it, you may be able to use what you’ve written in the book chapter, which of course will probably start life as a conference paper and then maybe as a journal article. The reviews themselves won’t count for much in terms of your tenure review, so write them sparingly, but they can round out your publication profile nicely, and they establish you as an engaged and committed member of the scholarly community. (But be careful what you say about your colleagues in print!)


  10. I think your right, Historiann. You have to choose your moments to speak up and air your opinions. And, again, it may be the peculiarity of my own situation. We have several junior and senior colleagues who loudly parade their opinions on this and that, and often by NOT choosing their moments end up alienating the room. Several times the chair has had to tell them, in particular one of the juniors, to stop talking and gently (but unmistakably) rebuked them. They are entirely tone deaf and lacking in political savvy, and (in my informed opinion, if you know what I mean) have hurt their promotion chances. Important people don’t like them.

    But the dynamic of the meeting room is different everywhere.


  11. Yes publishing is the only answer but then there is this book

    by an Ivy professor who just couldn’t stand the false voice of academic publishing any longer.

    Publishing is the only answer but I started hearing about that in elementary school. Publish, you won’t, you must, you won’t, you can’t, you must, publish, publish, I kept hearing it until I wanted to vomit my entire cv at the next person who said it.

    I don’t like the publish publish publish exhortations because they are so condescending and because they assume you don’t know that.


  12. Or perhaps to put it more clearly:

    I went into academia in the first place because of an interest in research and writing – remember – and because this was where that was supposed to be front and center.

    Yet once I actually had a PhD, the assumption of professors seemed to be that for women at least, it was only something you could do as a trained puppy.

    People who say publish publish publish are right because it is the only thing you can control. But I have heard it so many times as a veiled threat – “publish publish while I do all I can to sabotage that and also to discredit your work” – that I hate hearing it.

    I also hate hearing it because it is something men say to women assuming their IQ is about 50 and they come from a desert island and have never heard this before.


  13. P.S. Apologies for this visceral reaction. I got too many instructions on how to be an assistant professor too young, and they were repeated too many times, in too slow a voice, by too many self important people. Every day in which I just do work instead of look over my shoulder and follow instructions and rules is such a victory.


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