Wednesday, June 17, 2009

one year

I'm officially one year done - I'm not the newbie anymore, I'm no longer on the "new faculty" email list. Most of the other faculty recognize me as a fellow faculty member, even if they still don't know who I am. Most of the facilities, business and purchasing people definitely recognize me.

I think I've been away from the classroom long enough (and have had enough time to digest the final student evaluations) to reflect on the first year, even though part of me is shocked to find myself suddenly in "summertime." It went quickly, that's for sure!

So let's start with the most obvious failures! Whoo!

Research:

Huh what? Yeah...not really. I bought shit for my lab. Not all the shit I need, but a good starting batch of gear, and I am mostly set for physical space. But research didn't happen this year. At all. Unless you count a little bit of literature review for some grants and stuff, which I really don't. I did a good deal of talking to people and feeling things out, and spent one day in the field testing some stuff that I bought. I think that after all that, I have a good idea of what I want to do with myself from here, but I didn't make any progress at all in terms of obtaining real results.

The one thing I did accomplish was to figure out that the fancy machine here at SLAC that I was excited to use for FREE will not actually tell me anything useful. Which is too bad, but it's nice to get SOMETHING out of a hypothesis, even if it's just a negative result.

Grant Writing:

I wrote up two small external grants - one rejection and one success. Not that fabulous, particularly considering that I haven't even STARTED writing a larger grant. Which I really need to do. But I think the grant I write will either be related to the new project I'm starting this summer or to a collaboration that has been only very briefly discussed and will be started in earnest in the fall. So I need to get my ass in gear in terms of grant-writing in the fall, Priority One.

Publishing:

I got two papers revised and finalized and in press or published. I resubmitted a rejection to a different journal. I gave two talks at conferences and proposed a session for an upcoming meeting. I have one additional paper in review, and will hopefully be getting the preliminary data for a new paper sometime next week. Even though most of this was carry-over from the year before, I don't think it's that bad for the first year, and I'm guaranteed to have papers with my name on them from both the current calendar year and the next. That gives me time to work up the next batch and try to keep a paper-a-year minimum, which should be more than enough for SLAC tenure.

Teaching:

Here's where I spent all of my time. I made a lot of mistakes, but I also learned a lot, and I enjoyed it. In general, I've done pretty well. My reviews have been pretty good for the first year, or so I've been told, and by this last term I was getting some very nice, ego-boosting feedback from some of my students. They seem to like me, which is always gratifying, and they seem to be learning something too.

A lot of the mistakes that I made are easily fixed. I need to be more clear regarding expectations, particularly in my lower-level classes. I need to spell things out, and explain WHY we're doing all the things we're doing. I thought I was doing that, but it became obvious that the things I needed to clarify were not things that would ever have occurred to me on my own. So, live and learn. I get to repeat my fall class this coming year, so I'm really looking forward to making it better.

I think my biggest failure was my upper-level class. I need to get myself out of the mindset of my own background and think about what these kids have actually done and how prepared they might be for the material I want them to cover. I also need to get better at leading discussions - I think this is my biggest weakness. I feel that I've really found my place as a lecturer in terms of style and level of interaction (at least for a beginner), but I suck at leading discussions. I tend to either talk too much or too little, and the students either feel that I'm lecturing them or that I'm letting people say whatever they want without direction or cohesion. I think I might try to find a good discussion-leader and sit in on a class or two in the fall.

Despite those shortcomings, I haven't gotten any hate mail or horrible reviews, so I'm pretty happy. I think I can be GOOD at this, and I hope things will start to come together next year. I hope that I'll eventually be able to tweak the details instead of overhauling entire courses before I teach them again.

Overall:

I really like this job. There are a few places where I really need to improve, but I think I know what they are. I've largely been left on my own during the first year - freedom to fail, I suppose - but SLAC has also been very supportive whenever I've needed some help. That might not be the case everywhere, I'm sure, but I appreciate the atmosphere here. And the students make it very worth-while, even on the bad days.

This summer I'm back to some research, which will be nice and will hopefully motivate some grant writing in the fall. If I can manage that and get a paper written, I'll be happy with my progress in 2009.

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