Wednesday, April 1, 2015

And now year 3 begins!

It's 730 days of being an Assistant Professor. After the absolute exhaustion and chaos of the first six months and the light at the end of the tunnel of finishing year one (Y1), year two (Y2) was a very different beast. The mad foundation grant writing of Y1 paid off, so most of Y2 was devoted to getting the lab going to gather data for R01 funding and getting our work "on the map". Plus settling into the job of the professor, teaching, giving a few talks, joining a couple of thesis committees, a faculty search committee. As I've mentioned before, this job is like weight-lifting: once you're comfortable with 100lbs, you bench 150, then 200, and so on and so forth. In talking with senior faculty, everybody says it never gets easier, you just become better at juggling more and more things. I can totally see myself facing the same struggles Scitrigrrl described on Tenure She Wrote in her post about being a 3rd year faculty: being tired and overwhelmed and pulled in multiple directions. With the end of the newness (I can't say any more "I've only been here a year and a half"), come several responsibilities which are mostly self-imposed: the need to bring in substantial funding, to provide job security to people in the lab, to set the stage to become established in the field, to be a good community member.

I'm not frantic or scared yet, but I feel a sense of urgency right now. During Y2 I mostly felt good, I was learning, exploring, getting stuff done. Now, I'm on shakier ground. One day I feel like I'm completely inadequate and have a meltdown, like the one I described a couple of weeks ago when I freaked out about a talk I had given. The next day everything is rosy when I get a 2 as a mentor on my postdoc's NRSA scores. A 2 is "outstanding", thank you very much! Of course I had a senior investigators with oodles of grants and multiple NRSA mentees as co-mentor on the application, so maybe he's a 1 and I'm a 3, but still :) So one day I'm happy, one day I'm panicking. I've gotten over looking up exes on Facebook, and instead I pick at emotional scabs by PubMed-ing people in my cohort. How long did it take them to get that first paper out? How much better is their CV than mine? How much worse? The new NIH Biosketch format, where you have to sell yourself and your contributions to science, is not helping at all.

It also doesn't help that I'm putting out fires all day long and sometimes I look at the clock and it's 5pm and I haven't opened my Research Approach file for the R01...or is it R01s? I have two sets of Specific Aims written, but time is flying aways at an incredible speed and preliminary data is not coming in fast enough. I am still stuck making all the decisions in the lab and I really don't want to be there. Maybe one of my goals for Y3 can be to learn how to let people in the lab walk on their own two feet. It's so hard to let go, but if don't do it, I'm not sure I can survive.

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