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Author Topic: Any advice about the first year on the tenure track?  (Read 9783 times)
psyche
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« on: February 17, 2007, 8:39:21 AM »

Hi Folks,

After a long hard search, I am starting a new tenure track job this Summer/Fall.  Throughout the interview and negotiation process, I felt like I knew what to expect and that things would all fall into place.

Now what!:).  Any advice for the first year at an R1 school in the life sciences?  I'd be particularly interested to hear stories about 1) what was the smartest thing you did during your first year and 2) what was the worst mistake you've seen/made by a new hire.

Cheers,

Psyche
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jammer
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2007, 9:04:14 AM »

Congratulations!  I can't tell by your post if you're just out of grad school or not.  Regardless, however, if you haven't already, check out Robert Boice's "Advice for New Faculty Members".  I tend to be suspicious of this self-help genre, but this one I like a lot.  In fact, I'm kind of in a slump and am rereading it right now to get back on track, even though I don't count as "new" anymore....



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larryc
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Be excellent to each other.


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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2007, 9:33:02 AM »

There was a great thread on this topic last fall that I am too lazy to search for.
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pt767
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2007, 9:56:17 AM »

While you did not ask for one directly, here is my list from someone who is at the tail end of the tenure process in the same academic category as yourself:

1)   Start recruiting the best possible students you can find right away. Whatever you do, donít settle for ďo.k.Ē or mediocre choices just to get the research ball rolling. Your time is going to be stretched in ways you could not have imagined as a postdoc, and good graduate students lay the foundation for a strong lab. Go with your instincts about potential students. If you have any doubts when reviewing their application material, trust them.

2)   Try as hard as you can to get at least one new manuscript submitted and in press in your first year (2 is even better). There is some debate on these boards as to should you be publishing work that you conducted as a postdoc and only crediting your current institution. However, in most cases you should credit both your old school and the new one, especially if all of the writing took place at the new one. This gets to point 7.

3)   Submit at least one large grant to one of your primary federal funding agencies. Take the time to write a good proposal, and do it soon. Remember that it can take six months to hear about funding, so donít put this off until the end of your first year. It sounds like you will be settling in the summer. This is a perfect time to work on the first large proposal so you can get it out the door soon after the first semester starts.  Start looking for small grants as well. Every little bit helps in your first few years, and in many cases large R1 schools have internal funds that support small research projects. Go after this money fearlessly.

4)   Watch out for any senior faculty in your department who want to work with you on a grant proposal or collaborative research. This can be a fruitful path for productivity, but it can also be a huge useless time drain. Tread very carefully here. Iíve met countless colleagues on the tenure track who have attempted to write a collaborative proposal with a senior colleague, and they end up doing almost all of the work and bringing all of the good ideas to the table (even if the senior prof. is the lead PI!). A good first step in this regard is to scrutinize your colleagueís most recent c.v. If it looks like they are really active and have done some good work that can be connected to their lab, then you may be in good shape to work with them.

5)   Keep you head down on committee requests as much as possible. If your chair is doing their job, they may ask you to serve on only one committee, and it should be a softball one for sure. Accept this and move on. DO NOT volunteer for any extra committee work. More than likely, the service portion of your tenure file is going to get about 5 seconds of attention relative to your research and scholarship. This gets to the general rule of, ďdonít waste your time doing things that donít count toward tenure.Ē This applies to the next one for sure.

6)   Steer clear of all petty departmental, college, and university political B.S. as much as possible. Academics is filled with insecure people with extra large egos who love to spend their time creating or prolonging petty fights. Nothing good can come from these people and they are a black hole for a tenure track assistant prof. like yourself.

7)   Get very familiar with your promotion and tenure guidelines for your department/university. If something is not clear to you, than ask your chair if they can spell it out as much as possible. You need to know the rules of the game before kick-off, not in the third quarter.

8)   Be pro-active in meeting and talking to your departmental colleagues. In many cases this is how you are going to find a mentor of sorts. Most R1 schools donít have any decent mentor systems in place to really help junior faculty avoid the bear traps. Everyone is busy doing their own thing, so donít perceive this as they donít care about how you are doing. Try to make the connection with a productive senior colleague, and hopefully over time they can be the one you can seek out for advise along the way.
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onion
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« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2007, 10:35:44 AM »

The best thing I did was make friends with people in other departments who share my academic interests.
I wish that I had never opened my mouth in faculty meetings.
Congratulations and good luck!
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psyche
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2007, 11:39:29 AM »

Wow, thanks!  That's great advice!...for the record I've had 1.5 years of postdoc experience.  Probably a bit less than average and, yes, I was a litlle surprised to get this offer.

-P
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activa_vita
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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2007, 1:47:57 PM »

I think this is the thread Larryc was referring to:

http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,27883.0.html
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activa_vita
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2007, 2:21:40 PM »

There's also another thread running right now that's worth checking out. It ought to be named the "SHUT THE F. UP / STFU" thread:

http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,34335.0.html


STFU would be a the top of my list of TT maxims--actually, STFUAW:

SHUT THE F. UP AND WRITE.

And this applies not just to the first year. Avoid gossip like the plague, speak briefly at meetings (and don't be critical, contrarian, or smart-assy--and monitor the VOLUME of your voice); and read, research, and write, read, research and write, read, research, and write . . .

I once worked in a department that was so sensitive to this that you could pretty well tell whether a new person would end up in a tenure battle by the way they acted at the first meeting.
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tyy_rad_sci
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2007, 4:18:09 PM »

Hi -

These are two great questions.

I totally agree with advice from Larry C. 

Some observations which may be relevant to being @ R1 in the sciences, based on my own experiences:

Good things to do:

-- Identify one or two new areas in the field, which you and some trusted senior people agree are likely to become hot.  What you should be looking for are high impact areas which require new, or at least different, techniques, or knowledge base, from well established areas.  As I have constantly observed, in the life sciences, scientific leaders are usually too busy to bend over and pick up even a gold brick -- they already have too many great projects going!  If an acronym can be attached to this, that is a big plus. (I know, this implies we academics are superficial.  mea culpa).  It should not be too narrow.  Can you imagine at least 15 yrs worth of work for your lab in this area?

-- Do not simply push your PhD area unless it fits all the requirements above, and you will be clearly seen as being independent of your PhD advisor.   

-- Once you find this area - push like hell.  Start submitting abstracts related to it, even if the abstracts represent very incremental work.  Lay out a plan which builds up to a long-term ability to be one of the one or two best US groups in this area. 

-- Carefully decide when to start the NIH/NSF grant application process going.  You will need one or two of these to get tenure, usually.  If you are going for NIH monies, they now have a deal where new investigators can resubmit rapidly.  But only do that if you don't need the time to make a stronger application.  Delay this if need be to get good prelim data.  Pay lines are very low now.  You will need at least a year of the grant done and in the prelim results section, as well as an accepted manuscript to be successful (usually).  Submit cut-down or modified versions to foundations and other granting agencies.  Go for seed grant funding.

-- Have senior scientists read your grants.

-- Rapidly build a resume in one of those areas, such that when a symposium is eventually held on them you will be one of the 'obvious' choices.

-- Yes, you can do things faster yourself than teaching and correcting your help.  But tenure is made on the backs of good lab support (post-docs and techs).

-- Travel and go to the main meetings.  Hang around the big boys.  Ask questions.  Don't pontificate.  Ask about new approaches.  Don't be overly argumentative but don't be a potted plant either.  Tenure @ R1 science depts usually requires letters from leaders in the field.  Asking good followup questions at national meetings is a good idea, but mentally check twice that the question really is worthwhile.  Be nice: "Given that Asperagus et al. saw a correlation between zirgots and spit, could you comment on why you did not see it in your data."  Not:  "Why don't you agree with Asperagus et al.'s results?"  Much of what senior people could write will have to do with whether you are active and collegial at national meetings.

Bad things to do:

-- Ignore the political atmosphere.  It may be useful to see the end of lab patronage coming, if, say, the head of the P01 which provided momentum for your hire is relocating to Chicago. 

-- Play political games.  *Do not try to be a player*.    "Nothing to win and everything to lose" as another poster put it in another thread (or Ms Mentor?).

-- Be rude because you really don't have time to say hi and act like you care whether the other scientists around you are dying of cancer, getting grants, or making great discoveries.

-- Get sucked into low return technical tasks because, gawd I just love doing this so much.

-- Post-docs and research techs are better at this stage of your career than grad students (who take a long time to mature).

-- Getting sucked into heavy teaching loads because you were willing to do it, and hey they will appreciate it.

-- Get sucked into providing 'service' measurements to senior scientists (good after you have established funding, bad before).

------------------------

Bottom line: When you go up for tenure either you will be Dr NES (New exciting sub-field) or not.  If not, making it, and keeping a lab going for the next bunch of years will be a lot harder.

Good luck!

TYY
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allbutfoundajob
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« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2007, 6:58:03 PM »

I guess I need to change my username, as I now have an a job at an R1 in the life sciences as well.  My main question is in regards to personnel.  What is the best way to find a productive lab technician or post doc?  How do you avoid hiring a personality who will conflict with yourself?  Which is better a lab tech or a post doc?  would any good post doc even want to come into a lab with a new assistant professor?
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tyy_rad_sci
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« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2007, 2:00:25 PM »

whoops - meant to say I agree with advice from pt767.

Quote
What is the best way to find a productive lab technician or post doc?  How do you avoid hiring a personality who will conflict with yourself?  Which is better a lab tech or a post doc?  would any good post doc even want to come into a lab with a new assistant professor?

Talk to others who hire in your field.  These days, there are several online services which are monitored by new talent.  In my last job search, I posted ads on 4 different services, and got at least 5 CV submissions from each.  Make personnel criteria very multi-dimensional:  evaluation how well the job response email is written, the CV, talent, relevance of background, evidence they work well in teams, good writing abilities, ambition, intellectual curiosity.

The couple of times I had to let people go, the warning signs were hard to pick up ahead of time.  But the key warning sign (which I pay a lot of attention to now) I would say was low productivity as a PhD student and lack of the associated letters of support.  Having said that, I do try to hire 'nice people.'  I also try to enjoy the inevitable personality quirks of those who can only find their way by becoming scientists.

Postdoc vs. lab-tech is tricky.  It depends (at least) on whether the experiments you need done are something which a lab tech can handle, or if you need a more creative, higher level mind involved.  Postdocs can help develop new methods, and the value of this should not be under estimated.  If you know just where you are going and how to get there, maybe getting the tech and getting out of the lab is the way to go.

Good luck!

- TYY
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Angels caged in what I see, externity in guaged antiphony 
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sabovision
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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2007, 12:46:49 AM »

I agree, as odd as it sounds, keep your mouth shut for the first year...
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tigerseye
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« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2007, 8:47:13 AM »

Teaching that 100 level general science course will (surprisingly) be one of the more challenging things you do.  You have to re-teach yourself lots of things from the parts of your field that you haven't thought about in years.  If you can get a textbook and start reading a bit now (a few sections after dinner or at bedtime), it will pay off in the long run. 
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tigerseye
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« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2007, 8:48:33 AM »

\
STFU would be a the top of my list of TT maxims--actually, STFUAW:

SHUT THE F. UP AND WRITE.


STFUGIL

Shut the f up and get into the lab!
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arts4ever
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« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2007, 3:27:43 PM »

1. Don't make friend at work, at least in your department: be equally friendly to all, but close to none.
2. NEVER say anything about one colleague to another that isn't a compliment.
3. Don't speak at meetings. Don't expect colleagues to take an impulsive statement or complaint as just that.
4. Don't ever make a comment that could be taken as a boast.
5. Don't provide too much info.
6. The more you out-perform your colleagues, the meeker and humbler you must act.
Good luck!
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