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Advice for New Faculty

May 30, 2009

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In no particular order:

  • You will want to commiserate about problems you will face, but be very careful. I recommend remaining completely reserved and professional around everyone until you find those few you can confide in or complain to without consequence or repercussion.
  • Be sure to meet all deadlines your first year (for grades, for textbook orders, etc.).
  • Everyone will ask you “how are things going?” and “do you like it here” or “what do you think of our school”—the majority of these people are probably not interested in your opinion so much as they are begging for compliments about the school, so have genuine, positive answers prepared.
  • Be friendly with everyone and don’t choose any “sides.”
  • Don’t be critical of anything (especially the quality of the students) until you get the lay of the land (there is always a minefield) and develop some social capital.
  • Don’t ever say “this is how we did it at [insert the name of your alma mater] ….”
  • Think about who you need to impress and direct your energy accordingly—if you need to be “active” in extracurricular activities, then go to one or two where your chair/dean will see you (as opposed going to 10 different activities where no one will see you).
  • Ask for advice in a way that compliments the other faculty:
    • Don’t say: “I’m having trouble with this, can you help me?”
    • Say this: “I heard you were excellent at X; can you share with me your experience?”
  • Know in advance that you will be overwhelmed at some point—everyone is.
  • Know in advance that you will screw something up at some point—everyone does.
  • Know in advance that you can’t put 110% effort into everything you do—some things will have to be “half-assed” and that’s okay.
  • My policy was to err on the side of being an easier professor than a harder one for the first semester, so as not to alienate students and get a bad reputation—this served me well.
  • Seek reasons to praise students.

Some of these I knew going in, some I came up with on the fly, and some I learned from experience (i.e., from screwing up).

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