New Places, New Spaces, New Faces: The First Week of a Newly-Appointed Assistant Professor of English and Medieval Literature

After a busy summer of traveling and sorting out logistics, I have relocated from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, by way of Leeds, UK (for the International Medieval Congress) and Kent, Ohio (for the National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), to take up my post as Assistant Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri.

There are already a dozen things I love about living here, and we haven’t even unpacked all of the boxes yet. Chief among these lovable aspects of relocating from the mid-Atlantic region to the midwest is that for the first time, I have a fully unfettered view of the sky, and that sky is fully unpoliced by mountains, so the clouds and weather do whatever they want to and the result is generally breathtakingly lovely in its constant variety. I tried to take some snaps but they don’t do it justice:

On any given day, the sky changes dramatically a dozen times. One of these days, a storm will roll in, and I can’t wait to get photos of those clouds and that lightning!

My new university is beautiful. “Old campus”–where my office and classrooms are located–is exactly what you would expect from a mid-nineteenth century American university–red brick, some white columns here and there, lovely tree-lined drives and walkways, and a central park space. Here are just a few photos of Old Campus:

“New Campus” is where the student center, dorms, playing fields, and performing arts center are located; they are also building a new giant library. Here are some of those buildings:

I have a cosy corner office with wonderful hallmates who pop in regularly to chat with me and make sure I’m settling in okay:

And here is the the view from my office (can’t wait until those leaves start changing color for Fall!) and the pond just behind and slightly to the left of my building, where I am SURE I will be eating lots of lovely autumn lunches with books:

And now, having given some visual idea of where I am, I’ll get on to what you want to know, which is: what was your first week at work like?

The answer is, pretty much like the first week of work anywhere (sorry not to be more glamorous! But despite the persistent, romanticized notion that we are all in our scholarly monk’s cells thinking great thoughts and avoiding all forms of reality, the “life of the mind” does come with institutional obligations and work beyond reading and thinking and writing once in a while [and by that I mean pretty much all of the time]…. ) So no, I didn’t just settle into my office and get to work on revising my dissertation into a book that four people will read once it is published. Rather, I spent all day Monday in meetings–the morning was devoted to an all-campuses faculty gathering (Lindenwood has three campuses–one each in Belleville, Saint Charles, and Saint Louis) during which we discussed the themes and issues we plan to emphasize this year in order to better serve our students, while the afternoon was spent in small-group workshopping on the key points of student retention, scholarship, and pedagogy. In the early evening, after the opening day reception ended, I unloaded my carful of boxes and then just headed straight home because wow, lots of meeting new people and talking and thinking!

Tuesday was a major workday for me; I unloaded the second carful of boxes and got my office set up, then finalized one of my syllabi. I think I shocked some people with how quickly I get my office together, but I’m a person who really needs to have that dedicated space all squared away, so I have a home base to work from and can feel settled in and comfortable physically while I’m doing the mental gymnastics required of this job. If my environment is “organized” (meaning I know where things are and feel comfortable in it, not that it is actually organized!) then I just do better all around, so it is worth it to me to really push hard to get that done as quickly as possible so I can devote my energy to things I need to be doing (like meeting and getting to know my new colleagues, planning classes, and writing and revising articles!)

Wednesday morning was a Saint Charles campus all-faculty meeting, and Wednesday afternoon I worked on syllabi again; Thursday morning were the English Department and Humanities faculty meetings, and Thursday afternoon I attended a workshop on curriculum mapping. On Friday I got my courses loaded into Canvas (the online learning system we use) and we had faculty lunch with the incoming freshmen, so I got to meet some of the students at last, and they were fantastic. And of course, in-between all of these meetings and hours in the office were many conversations with people around campus about various topics, running around locating offices and classrooms, and general getting-settled-in kinds of things, so that by the time lunch was over on Friday I admit, I was D-O-N-E and ready for the weekend. However, I had one more thing in my schedule, because the English department has a standing convivial gathering at one of the downtown restaurants on Friday afternoons, and sitting down to just talk with some of my new colleagues was a lovely punctuation mark to this busy, hectic, productive week.

And now, I’m really looking forward to starting classes next week! Now that I’m settled in and moving towards a more consistent schedule, I hope to post a little more often than I have over the summer. I have planned posts on faculty advice for new professors and my current research agenda, among others, and of course I’m happy to write about anything my eaders might have questions about concerning graduate experiences, the job market, and being anew professor, feel free to make suggestions!

About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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