Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dispatch from the future

I spent 4 years preparing to apply to graduate school, then another 6 years getting my degree and preparing to go on the academic job market. I also spent a good long while dreaming of what life would be like when I was married, and when I owned a house, and wondering where I would end up if I was lucky enough to get a job as a professor. Wondering what my "grown up" life would be like.

We moved here about 3 weeks before classes started, so I started going into work every day about a week after we moved. Then I spent the rest of the year with my head down just trying to get through the infamously bad first semester, dreaming of future semesters where the work load would never be as bad again. And it was bad. I would work through almost every single weekend, and was lucky if I had Sunday afternoon off. Every Monday I would wake up completely overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do that week. I was prepping two new classes entirely from scratch. For my class on population studies I was writing approximately 15 pages a week, single spaced, for my lecture notes (or a 30 page double spaced paper's worth of material every week), and made 2 powerpoints to go along with it. For my other class, graduate level statistics, I was preparing a 3 hour powerpoint on statistics (usually 30-40 slides), and much of the material was stuff I hadn't really gone over since I took statistics myself about 6 years ago. And it turns out you have to know statistics really really well in order to know them well enough to teach to other people. I also had a number of "problem" students in both my classes last semester, which resulted in a lot of stress on my part, both because I dislike confrontation and because I had to learn how my school and department deals with a large range of issues.

This semester I'm teaching 2 sections of a class on the family, which I've taught 3 times already (so it's more a matter of editing my notes and updated material) and my other class is undergrad statistics, which is a matter of expanding my grad statistics notes and going a lot slower. So while my undergrad stats class still has significant prep involved, and while I'm stepping up to teach 3 classes a semester instead of 2 (they gave me a course release last semester to start me off), I'm thinking this semester will be a lot easier than last semester. Plus I don't have to learn all the administrative stuff you have to learn when you first start off in a university, since I learned it already last semester.

Meanwhile it's this odd I spent a freakin decade trying to become a prof and dreaming about where I would end up, and last semester trying to get through that bad first semester, but now I'm through it, and tomorrow I start my second semester as an assistant now I've arrived. This is the thing I've been dreaming about for a decade, and I'm finally here. On the one hand it's a bit surreal to be living in the 'future', what now? After so much time spent dreaming about a time in my life, the getting here is over, the beginning part is over, and now all I have left in front of me is the rest of my life. I feel kind of like a person who spends all their time and effort planning a wedding and doesn't think about what the marriage will be like. Not that I'm unhappy, just that I spend all this time focusing on applying to become a professor, I didn't really think about what a professor would be like. I mapped out my whole life up until applying for a professorship job, but now the map is useless cause I've gone over the edge of what's been mapped out.

And it hasn't really quite hit me before now that this can be and probably is permanent. That this job (unlike every other job I've had) is potentially a job I could stay at until I retire. I was so busy getting through that first semester and worrying about impressing my colleagues and worrying about just getting by and getting everything done that needed to be done that it never quite hit me that I could be here for the next 40 years or the rest of my life even. That even though I never thought I would end up in the south, I'm probably not going to ever move back to the northeast, because this is where I live now. And now that the whirlwind of the first semester is over (or has at least been temporarily paused until it starts over again tomorrow), it's starting to sink in a bit.

On the other hand it's a bit of a let down. A year ago I had this big blankness after graduation that could be anything. Now I'm in a job and a house where I could potentially stay for the rest of my life, and there's a pretty good chance of me doing that. So everything is kind of settled, and while I love my job, my colleagues are awesome, and my house is super awesome (and so is my husband which goes without saying) having everything settled is not nearly as exciting as my future being a big blank, if that make sense. But now that it's settled I can also look around a bit and start figuring out how I want to live the rest of my life.

It's a weird place to be.


  1. Yes. "Okay. We're here. Now what do we do?"
    You'll find other journeys to take even if you stay right where you are.

  2. While a lot of people stay in their first tenure track job forever a lot don't. So you have to decide which you want to do. And if you want to move to a more research oriented job or to a more popular location you will have to get producing "research outputs" at a higher level than what is needed for tenure at this university. Longer term is the question of what you really want to achieve in your career in terms of impacts - undergrad teaching, grad training, influencing the discipline, influencing policy etc.

  3. I can relate to this. I'm also married to a great guy, two kids, a new home and a good job. I also have gotten everything I've ever wanted and its like 'now what?' Try to enjoy the fact that you've reached so many of your dreams and continue to find hobbies and interest and goals to work towards. Thats what I hope to do!

  4. This is why a lot of people have kids.

    Homeschool Mom

  5. For what it's worth, those boring, basic pieces of our lives are the ones that allow our dreams to soar. It just takes time and a belief in the possible. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  6. If you like your job, you can stay on it for whole life. But if job is routine for you - its better to stay on it no more than for a few years

  7. I can totally relate. For me it was *finally* getting my license as a psychologist. It took a number of years after grad school.

    If you guys decide to have kids, I promise, every stage when raising one is a new challenge. There is no end point. If you really want a challenge, try foster care :)

    Also, for me, I still have dreams of travel, making significant home improvements (which we are just getting started doing), learning to speak Spanish and saving for an early and comfortable retirement.

    It was such a relief to be at that point where my career was off and running and I had, like you, married in the midst of that - so I had also found my life partner. Enjoy it, even if it could be, inevitably, a bit anticlimactic. The new challenges and goals will create themselves!


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