Allow me, for a moment, to borrow from the venerable and ever-quotable Keanu Reeves, as I take this opportunity simply to say:
I won't sugar-coat things, you guys. This semester--and I say this with absolute certitude--was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Ever. Like, soul-crushingly hard. TMJ hard. Last semester? Last semester was nothing; it was shopping. This semester, I had six people in my lab (including undergrads) who were counting on me to show them how to do science, while at the same time I had to create and teach a class completely on my own.
This class....where do I even begin? It was not an intro class; it was not a class anyone has taught before at NJU, or possibly at any U. It was my idea. There is no appropriate textbook. Each lecture--3 a week--was made from scratch. From my brain, from pubmed, and from the godsend that is Google Image search (and sometimes YouTube). It took ALL of my time. All of it. I have no idea how some of you do this 2, 3, or 4 (!!) times in a single semester, even without a lab to run.
Classroom time was not so bad, and at times it was truly awesome. I've never had a problem with public speaking, especially when I'm talking about things I love, and it made me so happy to share what I care about with NJU's neuroscience-inclined undergraduates. There were some real moments too--the kind of moments pre-professor you dreams that future-professor you will have--philosophical conversations about evolution and the brain and the human condition or whatever. And I have to say, those tiny flickers of an indication that maybe you have caused your students to really think about something...it is a fucking amazing feeling.
But I swear, putting those lectures together was very nearly the death of me. There was always one to work on. Always. There were nights I genuinely thought there was no way I could come up with more than 10 minutes' worth of material to talk about the next day. But I had to, because this was my class and mine alone. And so I did.
Here is the thing about being new faculty--the thing that you know in an abstract way, and that you want, but don't necessarily process until you're actually in it: everything, all the time, is all up to you. There will be a lot of things you simply can't delegate, because in the beginning, you are the only one who knows...well, pretty much anything. And in addition to all those things that you planned on having to do, a million little fires pop up Every. Single. Day. And you have to deal with those too, because again, this is your show.
And still! I am over the moon that this is my job. Stress-induced jaw pain notwithstanding, I feel like I've made it through my first "real" semester mostly unscathed. Without question, there were times I wasn't sure April would ever come, when friends and family would ask me how things were going, and it was all I could do not to burst into tears. It was so, so hard, but here we are. I am super excited for the summer, when I can finally shift my focus to getting the lab in high gear, and write my first R01. I'm speaking at an awesome conference in June, and can look forward to collecting vintage terrariums, books, and trophy cups for my wedding. I'm through the woods (for now).