After almost ten years of higher education—of interacting with faculty and observing them on a daily basis—this past semester, it was finally my turn. I love my job even more than I suspected I would, though being an assistant professor is much more than I ever imagined it would be: more fun, more challenging, more exciting, and, yes, more work. I've learned a lot over the past few months, including: most aspects of this career are truly great, departmental meetings are not fun and will take twice as long as they were supposed to, and time management is everything.
Being a faculty member is a curious mix of freedom and obligation. The biggest thing to change for me this semester is the way that I look at, understand, and manage my time. In some respects, being an assistant professor affords me a tremendous amount of discretion regarding how I spend my time, which I love. The only hours that are truly spoken for are the ones that I spend in the classroom. However, teaching and time spent preparing to be in the classroom is just the tip of the academic iceberg. As a grad student, I never really thought about the job of a professor as being a 30-30-40 time split between teaching, service, and scholarship. As a new professor, however, finding a balance between the three has been essential.
The way that I looked at my writing, both creative and scholarly, also changed when I started my job. The reality of the academic system is that as soon as you sign a contract, the promotion clock starts and everything you do becomes a quantifiable measure of your professional success. For me, this was actually a good thing because it made me block out time every day devoted to writing and sending out work, establishing a routine that I've struggled with in the past. I've also learned that designating time is a necessity, because if you don't claim time for each thing that you want to accomplish, that time disappears.
The service category was somewhat of a mystery to me when I began my job last August, and in hindsight I feel a little silly for worrying that there wouldn't be enough opportunities (ha!) for me to fulfill this requirement. Fear not, future professors—service opportunities abound. Committees and meetings are a fixture of the academic environment, and I had no idea how involved and time-consuming they can be. Though meetings themselves can be tedious, I ultimately really enjoyed the service-related work that I did this past semester, which included being on a job search committee, running an essay contest, and volunteering at events.
My first semester as faculty was a wonderful experience. I get to teach thoughtful, dedicated students in a fun, dynamic environment, and I also get to pursue my own writing outside of the classroom. While the first semester learning curve was somewhat steep, and I certainly wouldn't mind a few more days of winter break, I'm very excited to have a job that I love and I'm looking forward to getting back to work.
Courtney Watson is an alumna of the FAU MFA program and an Assistant Professor of English at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia. Her writing has recently been published in 100 Word Story, Into the Willows, The Inquisitive Eater, and more.