Seven things I did during my first seven years at Harvard. Or, how I loved being a tenure-track faculty member, by deliberately trying not to be one.
- I decided that this is a 7-year postdoc.
- I stopped taking advice.
- I created a “feelgood” email folder.
- I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
- I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
- I found real friends.
- I have fun “now”.
The article describes a workable approach to being an assistant professor without burning out. It is not guaranteed to get you tenure at a place like Harvard, but given the weird tenure competition at Harvard or MIT, nothing is guaranteed to achieve that. What Dr. Nagpal’s approach provides is a way to stay sane as an assistant professor, which is a much more important goal.
Her approach was a bit different from mine—I concentrated on having fun in my research and (to a lesser extent) my life. But I had it a bit easier, as I did not have a kid until after I got tenure. (It wasn’t planned that way, as I wanted kids sooner, but that’s how things worked out.)
My approach was to act as if I already had tenure—to behave as if the tenure decision didn’t make any difference. If my colleagues at the university liked what I was doing, then giving me tenure would allow them to get more of that behavior. If they didn’t like it—well, industry was always out there, paying far more than the university for fewer hours of work (but less job security).
I’m not sure that my approach would work for others, nor that Dr. Nagpal’s advice would work, but I certainly recommend that grad students, postdocs, and junior faculty read her advice and decide whether it applies to them. It is better advice than most I’ve seen on the subject.