How to Survive the First Year in your First Academic Job

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The PhD over, the research books neatly archived in boxes, the loans only partly paid, you have just returned from that well earned gap year measuring genetic variations in South American bees. So, what’s next? It’s time to start work and enter that hallowed institution of academia. What can you expect and, more importantly, what strategies do you need to survive your first year?

Making the transition – from poacher to gamekeeper

Making the transition from a relatively static PhD environment to the more active world of lecturing in academia can be fraught with difficulty. As a junior lecturer, do your homework and make sure you’re aware of the following:

  • The department’s Code of Conduct and Ethics rules, your teaching load, any other time-consuming work to be done such as supervision or editing and proofreading of student theses, or your attendance at functions, meetings, and presentations.
  • Exhibiting an openness and flexibility towards different learning environments, different learning technologies, and a willingness to learn to use new or unfamiliar technology in general, is also of vital importance, or your peers might think you a Luddite.
  • Above all, in your first month, go out of your way to make friends and make yourself available for all social events.

Teaching – from theory to practice

There’s a huge difference between meeting a supervisor once or twice a month and actually standing alone at the front of a lecture hall with one to two hundred expectant freshers hanging on your every word. This highlights the need for certain kind of experience:

  • A PhD related specifically to your field of teaching or some kind of equivalent industrial experience.
  • It is now that you will be thankful for the occasional stand-in lecture you gave for sick colleagues at the PhD level, or any tutorials you led.
  • This is because the ability to teach largely undergraduate students and an awareness of the problems and pitfalls that will ensue are of paramount importance.
  • Also, not only is an understanding of the skills necessary to motivate student learning a top priority, but knowing the places to go for help when you need it are, too. Make sure you know where they are and don’t be too shy to ask for help.

Looking to the future - getting ahead 

Most if not all academic departments can be quite tribal in nature with academics vying for funding for research projects. This means that you, being the newbie, will be starting at the bottom rung of the ladder, so you need to be aware of the following:

  • Your needs will not be priority in terms of neither attention nor funding.
  • To get ahead, you’ll have to develop ideas for future publications e.g. books, journals, or editing for major academic publishing houses like Pearson, Blackwells, or Macmillan.
  • Your prior experience may only have been for a student newspaper or you may have no experience at all. If it’s the latter, start developing some ideas for a research paper as your superiors will expect you to publish something within a year or two of entering the department.

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