The semester that *almost* ate me alive

Apr 26 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Allow me, for a moment, to borrow from the venerable and ever-quotable Keanu Reeves, as I take this opportunity simply to say:

Whoa.

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).

22 responses so far

  • Dr24Hours says:

    Wait, I want to do this why, again?

  • katiesci says:

    Great job! I feel ya on the TMJ though I know my semester was not even close to as difficult as yours.

    And now, when you teach the class again you'll have notes already!

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Hoping you know me well enough to know I say this with a smile and hug:

    I told you so.

  • Dr. O says:

    Yay for being through it, for now. 😉

    Stress-induced jaw pain notwithstanding

    I actually realized how tight my face was when I read this and had to relax it - something I've been forcing myself to do a few times a day the past couple of months. The moments of greatness really are just as great as I imagined. The moments of frustration, well, I never realized it would be this hard.

  • pinus says:

    I will tell you what a senior faculty member told me after year 1:

    It gets better...for a little bit. then it gets harder, and never stops.

    I think she was just fucking with me. I hope.

  • [...] Dr. Becca has a post up about her first semester of teaching on the tenure track. I haven’t myself had to teach yet, but nonetheless, I totally got it when I read this: 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. [...]

  • Dr 27 says:

    Congrats prof!!! So happy and proud of you 🙂

  • Dr. Koshary says:

    You made it through! Excellent!!!

    *frenzied Wyld Stallyns air-guitar*

  • Neuro Polarbear says:

    Heroic! I totally sympathise.

    My hope is that the stress level is enhanced because it's all so new. And that the same stuff will be easier the second time around if only because it's familiar. That's how writing papers has turned out to be.

    And if you want (uneducated) comments on your draft R01, I'm happy to do that.

  • NatC says:

    SURVIVAL FTW!!!!
    Congrats dude!

  • drugmonkey says:

    Well done!

  • Mountainmums says:

    Congrats for making it through "alive" !!

    Enjoy springtime !

  • Dr. Zeek says:

    You guys are scaring the crap out of me...I'm going to try to go through the next two months in ignorant bliss--

    ***LALALALALALA***I can't hear you***LALALALALALALA

  • anon says:

    I had a noob prof as an undergrad. It was a very small physiology class (liberal arts college), in the days before Google, powerpoint, or the internet itself even existed. The poor guy nearly killed himself with preparing lectures, and came up with the idea that we students should deliver the lectures. Being young and stupid, we went for it. Fuck, it was hard - even though we had the luxury of working from a text book chapter, it took a long time. But I think we all did well, and it was a valuable experience for us to get a taste for what it was like for the prof to have to do this every fuckin day of the week (we were not his only class).

  • FCS says:

    I could have written this post! Except I cheated and had some of my students give the lectures this semester, so didn't quite have 32.

    Here's to us on us making it through our first year! *terrorist fist jab*

  • GEARS says:

    I totally know how you feel. I had to teach a lab class last semester but I had heavy help from a technician. This semester, 4 grad students, 6 proposals out, travel for personal and work reasons, plus making up a new course.

    At least the next time you teach it, it won't be as bad (at least that's what I'm telling myself)

  • pyrope says:

    Congratulations!

    Isn't there some saying that women block out the pain of childbirth otherwise there would only be single children in the world? I think the same concept applies to creating new classes.

  • EMC says:

    Congrats! A few more days and I can celebrate too. Right now I am procrastinating grading the last unit exams and final papers for my classes... you give me hope! This semester has been rough here too. I am not yet tenure track, but I got a nice visiting assistant professor job for my first semester out of grad school. Holy cow, it is hard. I am teaching 4 classes (3 preps), all new to me, no support from the prof on sabbatical. It gets easier, right? I hope I can use these lectures again in the future!

  • [...] really liked this post, which described the feelings pretty well. I like it because it has balance, yes there’s a [...]

Leave a Reply