This is a quick followup to this post from the other day. Here I’m going to list a few of the strategies I’ve developed for keeping my job from driving me crazy.
- Find places to work: home, the library, the coffee shop, whatever. Although new professors are often able to get work done in the office, it only takes a few years before so many people know where you can be found that it becomes impossible to get uninterrupted work time. Closing the door is of little help.
- Say “no” to things. Many of us are abysmally poor at this, but eventually it becomes a necessity. Figuring out when to say “yes” vs. “no” is hard.
- Don’t be afraid to do a bad job on things. It feels awful to submit a poorly edited paper or proposal, but it is simply impossible to be a perfectionist when there are 30 things to do and a week in which to do them.
- Find ways to keep teaching fun. Teaching the same course over and over rapidly becomes boring. Ripping out and replacing lame lectures, coming up with new and exciting programming assignments, and offering interesting extra-credit work are all fun. My favorite kind of extra-credit work is a contest where students need to create the fastest or smallest code for some task — this really brings out the best in the students.
- Stay in shape. I spent a few years letting work destroy my exercise schedule and it was a terrible idea, I ended up 25 pounds overweight and with high blood pressure. I now run or hike 45 minutes a day regardless of how crappy things are at work.
- Keep doing technical projects. During my first two years or so as a professor I wrote too many proposals and spent too much time teaching and otherwise interacting with students. I was totally miserable until I realized that I needed to keep a couple of technical projects to work on myself. It’s not even hard figuring out which ones: there are always plenty of ideas that are too speculative (read: stupid) to hand off to a student, but are still great fun to work on.
- Stop caring about individual papers and proposals. It took a while for me to learn to get over rejections quickly, and to start to see the research process as sort of a broad, fuzzy, long-term effort with very vague ups and downs, rather than as a sequence of individual efforts punctuated by total victories and abject failures.
- Stop caring too much about tenure and just get work done. Obviously this has to be done in moderation, but it’s critical: the tenure incentives (lots of pubs, lots of $$, lots of service, high teaching evaluations) are simply too screwed up to take seriously.