Monday, August 27, 2007

Words to the wise for newbies and not-so-newbies

Tenured Radical has a post with excellent advice for new (and not-so-new) professors. While this is really just a post seconding her suggestions, I have a couple of other, more minor ones to add:

  • Learn to do whatever you can for yourself. In a department where I used to work, one of the administrative assistants had a sign up that said something like "Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency for me." She would reinforce this by sitting at her desk and reading the newspaper in a very leisurely manner, ignoring us while we were dancing around her, flailing our arms, imploring her to open the photocopying room (or to fix the copier, which was about as robust as Marguerite Gautier on a bad day).

    In addition to being nice and to saying "thank you," as TR suggests, some of us learned that if we could cajole Ms. "What? Me hurry?" into showing us how to change the toner, add paper, or whatever else we needed to do, we didn't need to bother her. The same holds true for ordering desk copies, calling for travel reservations, or whatever else is nominally in the administrative assistant's realm: if she (or he) is busy, and if it's not a usurpation of his or her power to do it yourself, do so and lighten the load, unless there's some kind of status war involved that you don't want to be part of.

    And yes, say "thank you."

  • Leave your door open and your light on. Obviously you can't always leave your door open if you're taking a phone call or are on a noisy hall, but colleagues who might be inclined to stick their heads in and say hello if it's open will walk right on by if it's closed. You want to get to know people, and this is a good way to see them, students as well as your new colleagues.

  • Don't take things personally; it's not always about you. The Chronicle and other publications on academe sometimes make the departments sound like a snake pit, where every movement, word, and gesture is parsed by mean-spirited colleagues waiting for you to slip up. Although some people may behave this way, thus leading to the widespread advice on the Chronicle's career boards to "STFU," most will want to welcome you and see you do well.

    This isn't the interview process: your new colleagues already decided that you fit in to some degree, or you wouldn't have been offered the job. They are probably giving you something of a popularity rush right now as everyone tries to get to know you. This will drop off in a few weeks, but not because of anything you said or did; it's just that everyone gets busy.

    Speaking of busy: I have yet to meet an academic (or anyone else, for that matter) who responds well to any intimation that he or she is not as busy as you are. This seems to infuriate everyone without exception. Yes, you'll be really busy, but to complain that you're more overworked or have less free time than X to X's face is stupid impolitic.

    The Constructivist said...

    On the snake pit thing, probably most of the places the average applicant is most likely to get a tenure-track job (i.e., smaller public universities that are doing a lot of hiring after not being able to advertise for a while due to budget cuts and/or are experiencing a wave of retirements and early departures) are quite the opposite. Those already there realize they need to retain the excellent people they're bringing in and have already worked hard at making the place welcoming and convivial. I can't believe I lucked into that kind of situation and that it's actually a rarity.

    undine said...

    I think that's true, constructivist, which is why the "scare new professors to death" stuff at the Chronicle and elsewhere seems so out of touch.

    Anonymous said...

    True, constructivist. Which is why I think the "scare new professors to death" does so much harm.

    On caring for self: it is key to read the catalogue and the faculty handbook. Amazingly, I have found that many new faculty do not do this. They then are very irritating and hard to work with because they are not familiar with basic information.

    I've discovered what the one thing is that most makes me like new people ... because I heard myself say it of someone: "She's great because she needs no supervision!"
    What the secretary said is funnier: "She's great because she is not perplexed!

    undine said...

    I don't know about others, cero, but while I can read some of the catalogue and faculty handbook, so much of it is boilerplate that I keep skipping and missing the good stuff.