Advice for Assistant Professors

Today FCS posted some great advice for new professors, reminding me that I had a collection of notes on this topic:

  1. Follow Patterson’s advice.
  2. Across your research projects, make sure there is potential for both short-term and long-term payoff.
  3. Understand your institution’s retention, promotion, and tenure policies. More importantly, understand what is being left unsaid in those policies.
  4. Get one good PhD student right away, like in your first year. Two or three would be great. For most people, six students would be a disaster.
  5. Stop working with a student as soon as it becomes clear that the relationship isn’t going to work out.
  6. Be careful about taking on a new course prep; try to do this only every two years or so.
  7. Do not suck at teaching.
  8. Take student course evaluation reports very seriously while also not taking them seriously at all.
  9. Avoid projects that have massive infrastructure-building requirements.
  10. Let students take ownership of their projects.
  11. Keep doing research yourself, you’re not just a manager.
  12. Learn office politics. Make friends and allies. Do not make enemies. Do not get caught in the middle of existing disputes. Speak up at faculty meetings, but not (often) to say how something was done at your previous institution.
  13. Get on conference program committees right away. Conference chairs love hard-working PC members who are not yet saddled with all of the responsibilities that senior faculty accumulate.
  14. Always be in the middle of several papers and proposals.
  15. Become known for something (positive). Better yet, become famous for something.
  16. Drop untenable hobbies and outsource household duties that you don’t enjoy.
  17. Take advantage of early-career funding sources.

One of the hardest parts of being an assistant professor is knowing when to really listen to advice and when to nod politely while giving someone both middle fingers inside your brain. I fear that I almost always erred on the side of not listening, and I generally expect that promising young faculty will do the same. In other words, if a person has the courage and tenacity to actually pursue a research program that matters, surely they’re not going to spend a lot of time listening to random life advice.

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