Being New Faculty is Hard
I can still see the cart picking up speed. It was some time in early 1998, and I had been an assistant professor at Georgia Tech for about six months. After work, I stopped to pick up a few groceries at a supermarket where the parking lot is on a steep hill. After putting my groceries in the car, the cart started rolling down hill. And I was so exhausted I couldn’t run after it–I just stood there staring as it picked up speed and went WHAM into some poor person’s car door well down the hill. A man in the lot glared at me like I was mad. I wasn’t insane–I was just tired. Very, very tired.
I retold this story to my excellent new colleague assistant professor Eric Gilbert, who sounded vaguely like he was about to cough up part of a lung. I was sick my first year as faculty more than I ever have been in my adult life. Stress does that to a person. Eric made me promise I’d post the cart story. For those of you who are nearing the end of your first year of teaching (or about to start this adventure in the fall): it is not your imagination. Being new faculty is stressful. The stress comes partly from the sheer amount of work you have to do, and partly from second guessing your every decision. Not just big decisions but even little remarks in the hallway to new students and new peers. (Did I just say the right thing?) Combine that with (for most folks) moving to a new city, a new home… yikes.
But, to repurpose a meme, it gets better. Hang in there! And if your shopping cart or your unread email accelerate away from you, know that you are not alone.