5 Things No One Can Prepare You For Once You’re In A Faculty Appointment For The First Time


1. All. The. Emails.

Truly, while I was thinking about being a full-time professor with a full-time workload, I was thinking about all of the papers, and the meetings, and the paperwork, and the meetings, and the class preps, and the meetings …but even if someone had told me “be prepared for emails” I couldn’t have imagined how many emails I would receive every day. I have very quickly grown very selective about which ones I actually open. If it has an exclamation mark next to it, or a student’s or fellow faculty member’s name attached to it, I open it; otherwise, it just sits in my Inbox for the magical day when I will have time to go through the non-urgent emails. (I assume that magical day will come. Sometime.)


2. How Long It Takes To Get Everything Done

Planning classes takes forever. Grading assignments takes forever. Answering emails takes forever. Writing an abstract takes forever. Reading an article takes forever. Getting to class in the building next door takes forever. Brushing my hair and teeth takes forever. I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and I’m still not on campus until almost 9 or 10 most mornings, because mornings take forever. I finish teaching at 3:45 on T/R and 5:15 on M/W/F and I’m still not home until after 7 most nights, because everything takes forever. I’ve taken to giving myself two or three times as much time as I think I need for anything and everything. This never used to be the case. Literally every task I set out to accomplish takes almost twice as long as I think it is going to. I have no idea why.


3. How Quickly You Fall Behind And Stay There

I’ve written before about my wonderful committee member who used to say that the Academic Year is a roller-coaster for faculty–it always starts out nice and clean-slated, and by October she was behind; and by the Spring she was crazy behind; and then May rolled around and the roller coaster paused until the next Fall. I now have carnal knowledge of this phenomenon. The first few weeks of the term I was on top of everything, returning all emails, answering all requests, assessing student work immediately. By Week Five, forgetaboutit. If I think “hey, wow, look, I’m on top of things” it is only because I have conveniently forgotten at least ten things I am supposed to be doing. It does not matter how much time and effort I put into getting things caught up. I am never going to be caught up. That this is every faculty member’s truth is one of the dirty little secrets of academia. Fortunately, because this is true for everyone, just about everyone will cut me some slack here and there; otherwise I’d be totally, utterly manically overwhelmed instead of just mildly so.


4. How Appreciative You Will Be Of Great Colleagues

Boy, have I lucked out in this department. I can’t overstate how generous and welcoming my colleagues have been as I make this transition into full-time professorship. There’s a true sense of “we’re in this together” that makes the hard days a little easier to get through, and the easier days just really a pleasure. When everything seems to be going wrong and I’m totally overwhelmed, confused, anxious, or just exhausted and frustrated, I know there’s someone here who has my back, who is willing to talk with me about it or coach me through it or just offer a sympathetic ear. That collegiality is such an important lifeline for new faculty. I genuinely appreciate every kind gesture and encouraging chat.


5. All. The. Emails.

Honestly, nothing can prepare you for this.


How about you, Readers–What aspects of the job were you unprepared for when you first entered academia? What aspects of the job are still astonishing now, if you’ve been a professor for a while?


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.
This entry was posted in New Faculty Experiences and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 5 Things No One Can Prepare You For Once You’re In A Faculty Appointment For The First Time

  1. Julie Blomberg says:

    Hi Melissa! I really enjoy your blog. You have a good mix of academic and human that I really like! I recently started my PhD and am considering starting a blog, however I am not sure what direction to go in. The line between personal and private, academic and other blogging seems to be a hard nut to crack. Do you have any advice? What are your thoughts about academic blogging?

  2. Melissa Ridley Elmes says:

    Hi Julie, thanks so much for your comment, I’m glad that you are enjoying my blog. To answer your question, when I decided to start this blog, it was in response to my experiences meeting propsective graduate students who weren’t quite sure how to go about applying and making themselves competitive, graduate students less far along in their programs than I was who didn’t seem to be getting the same support and mentoring I was receiving at my institution (or who didn’t feel comfortable asking questions they thought they should know the answers to), and just general interest from those people in my life not affiliated in any way with academia who were interested in learning more about what I was up to. So my blog needed to bridge these groups, and also be accessible to someone just stumbling across it on the Internet. I also wanted it to be a helpful resource, as much as an interesting thing to read. I decided to focus mainly on what it was like (for me, anyway) to be a graduate student, and on pedagogical issues, because that seemed to be where I could make the most contribution. But one of the things that makes penning a blog enjoyable is that it can evolve and change in ongoing fashion along with its writer. Now that I’m out of graduate school, the blog’s focus will shift to what it’s like to be a new professor, but there are already a lot of good blogs out there on that subject, so I am also toying with the idea of adding in more about my research and ongoing scholarly work. In terms of balancing the personal and the professional, I think that really boils down to your individual proclivities and what you are comfortable with. I’m very comfortable with a blended approach where I toss in a little personal, but that’s also my teaching and writing style in general. I have a lot of colleagues who blog who focus solely on their research and/or other scholarly activity and never even mention their gender, let alone their personal life–it really boils down to your own style.

Comments Positively Encouraged!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s