This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.
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you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.
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This semester is my third semester of work as a professor at Universidad
San Francisco de Quito. Since my first semester, Spring 2014, I've been
in charge of 3 courses per semester - each course of 3 hours of lecture
per week. The courses include midterm exams, homeworks, projects and
more fun stuff that needs to be graded.
I'm not going to lie about it - the first semester was really tough.
I had a hard time preparing all the material for these 3 new courses; I
set up 3 courses entirely from scratch, and it was a ton of work. On
top of preparing and teaching the courses, I also had to grade, hold
office hours for questions of students, and reply the massive influx of
email that comes with being a professor. Oh, and set up a new lab and
write my papers. And find time for having something like a life too. And
get adjusted to a new country.
With a few semester of teaching in the pocket, there are a number of
things I wish I knew when I started as a professor. Here are my 10 best
pieces of advice for new professors (especially those who skip the
post-doc and roll straight into a faculty position).
1. Slowly move your papers forward
Even with a heavy teaching load, the most important aspect of your academic life is still your publications. If you did not get to write the papers from your dissertation during your post-doc,
you need to do it while getting settled into a new job, new university
and maybe even a new country. Try to carve out at least 2 blocks of 2
hours every week to work on your papers. Have a planning for which papers you want to write and where you need to submit them.
What's important: writing papers, research projects, having class
prepared before the actual hour of class, setting up the lab, technical
What's not important: e-mail, meetings, review requests.
Learn how to set up an urgent/important matrix, and prioritize.
Learn to accept that, as long as things move forward, you are making
progress. Things will start to move forward much more slowly than before
(I recently booked 70 hours on a project between September and March -
as a full-time researcher I'd have done this work in 2-3 weeks' time).
3. Make self-care a priority
If you have a lot on your plate, you risk getting sick if you don't take proper care of yourself. Hear your mom's voice telling you to sleep well, eat well and take some time to relax every day. Getting
more work on your plate does not mean that you need to start inflating
your working hours. You are not more productive if you work more hours.
Cut down on the dead-end tasks and focus on what really matters - and
yes, you, yourself are something that matters.
4. Tell others when you need time to arrange paperwork
If you are one of the few foreigners in a given university, your
colleagues might not even be aware of how hard the people at
immigrations are being on you. Tell your colleagues when you need to go
and sit in a government institution for yet another entire afternoon.
Explain them how complicated simple things become for foreigners. Ask
them to give you a little break when your in the middle of sorting
5. Hide when you need to
Set up a home office, and work from home if you can't be undisturbed in
your university office. I use two early-morning blocks of time for
writing my papers, or doing research-related work. When I need to
concentrate, I make sure I can't be found. Yes, this attitude might
sound egoistic, but you have a lot on your plate and you need to learn
to be ruthless: if you want important things to be able to move forward,
then take that time off from being available to colleagues and students
and work from home.
6. Minimum preparation
Having class notes is enough. There's no need to develop notes and
slides and a handbook and examples and everything in one single
semester. I developed the basic notes in my first semester, and from
then on have been focusing on a single course each semester that I am
improving. These improvements might include the development of
additional examples (future work for me) or making slides instead of
writing everything on the whiteboard (my project for one course for this
7. Take matters into your own hands
So you need a lab? Start making a proposal, and once you have
permission, start bugging every single person to move things forward.
You can't just send a document to somebody and expect them to get back
to you (the mistake I made several times, and still tend to make). You
have to continuously remind people to look at your proposal, to ask for
money even though you might have received the approval, and follow up
with the flow of the budget as much as you can. If possible, hire a lab
assistant right when the first equipment starts to arrive - you simply
won't have enough time to do everything so you need to learn to
8. Keep reading papers
Whatever happens, reading papers is very important to keep up with the
recent developments in your field. I'm currently trying to schedule two
blocks of an hour every week to read papers, and I plan in advance what I
need to read. The time you sit in supervising exams is also a great
little window of time to catch up with reading. Remember that reading sparks creativity - learn to read papers hunting for possible thesis ideas that might help your research move forward.
9. Set up a grading system
Don't fret too much over how you will grade exams. I simply subdivide
every answer into different steps, each with an assigned number of
points. If a student reaches to a certain step in the answer, he/she
might get the points until that step of the answer (provided that he/she
developed the work correctly until there, of course). Just sum the
points, and move on. Grade per question, not per exam - this technique
helps you to keep in mind what the previous student wrote and how much
points you are taking off for standard mistakes (such as: missing units,
calculation errors, and the like).
10. Have a schedule
If you need to fit in many different tasks, you can benefit a lot from
having a standard schedule. I ran a series about academic schedules on
PhD Talk previously, in which guest authors talked about how their days
look like. My schedule is a general blueprint of different tasks I need to get done in a typical week,
and I fine-tune my schedule every Friday night for the next week.
Meetings might move my time around, or I might need to book a time slot
to grade an exam - so I move the blocks around and see where the pieces