It's been a rough couple of weeks on a number of different levels for yours truly, but I didn't want to let too much time go by without weighing in. Being a new professor, I've found, is like being the parent of a newborn (so I hear): every month is noticeably different from the last. There are major milestones, and there are days when everything seems to regress. Most of the time, you look back and wonder how your child/lab ever used to take the form it did not even all that long ago. I've now officially survived two full academic years, and I have a few disjointed thoughts I thought I'd share before things morph so much I won't believe I was ever actually in this place, at this moment.
1. Holy shit, I'm going up for tenure in 3 years. I don't even know what to do with this information except to keep doing ALL THE THINGS. Like, every fucking thing I can. To date, I have applied for seven grants of varying denominations (awarded 1, denied 4, still waiting on 2), published one tiny little review with my technician, and created and taught two undergrad courses. I have a fully functioning lab, with a technician, a post-doc, and two grad students, who are all working hard and getting along well. I think this is pretty good, but I know my department would like to see me publish actual research this year. We have a couple of different data sets now that could probably be a couple of small papers, but I keep putting them off to write grants, which have deadlines. This summer, they simply have to get out.
2. I feel like most of my job right now is to be famous. Is that a weird thing to say? Maybe. I said this to my mom and she was like, "why do you want to be famous?" with this disappointment in her voice, like after all these years she was realizing that she had raised a shallow fame whore. But I said, "it's not that I WANT to be famous, it's that I think I kind of HAVE to be famous if I want any chance at having this be my career forever." What I mean by this is that I'm pretty sure a lot of my future success is going to depend on whether people remember my name when they review my grant applications and manuscripts and put together symposia panels. To this end, I am really kicking the networking up a notch. Being brave, talking to the fancy pants people at meetings if I have the opportunity; forging new collaborations, and following up on interactions. So far, I'd say this is going quite well, and for what it's worth, the feeling that I am actively remaining part of a larger scientific community is quite excellent. There's a lot of alone time when you're a new professor, especially in a department that's pretty different from those in which you trained--it's nice to be reminded that the world is not wholly going on without you.
3. The best people you can know are those just slightly ahead of you. I know I just said that thing about talking to fancy pants people, but the reality is that the most useful connections you can make are those with folks who are only moderately senior to you. They are perfect: they have their shit together, but also are not so far removed that they've forgotten what it's like to be in your shoes. They are a magical combination of sympathy and wisdom, and they are better connected than you are. Moreover, they are the ones planning symposia panels. Seek them out, and pay attention to everything they say, seriously.
4. The leaky pipeline (or something) for women is alive and well. I've realized that if I actually crunch the numbers, I can think of exactly three other women in my general field who competed for and accepted TT offers in the last few years, while the number of men is probably at least 3 times that. At the Very Exclusive Conference I attended last December I was happy to find that I knew kind of a lot of people, until I realized that almost all of them were men, and if I joined a group of dudes just standing around talking, there was this weird moment where everyone was like, "OK, I guess we should find something else to talk about besides how much we love our penises. Did you see the latest Deisseroth?"
5. Until you are 65 and donning nitrile gloves four times a day to empty and clean your spouse's nephrostomy bags, do not even begin to think you know the depths of true love.