First Month of being an Assistant Professor

Yesterday marked my first month as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Soil Science at UW-Madison! Coming from the fantasyland of a Californian postdoc, I quickly remembered my Canadian instincts, and that wearing three scarves and two pairs of pants was basic common sense in -24°C weather. Fortunately, it’s also beautiful here, the frozen lakes are great for skating (and ice fishing!), and even frigid weather doesn’t stop the bike-crazy Madisonians. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but I think I might be coming to the end of the forms I need to fill out, and took the occasion to reflect on what this first month has been like. There are four elements that stand out so far:

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My new office – featuring the amazing Ergotron keyboard and monitor arms and the Canadian Soil Science Society 2016 calendar (February features beautiful Gleyed Gray Luvisols)

Decision fatigue: I have probably never made so many potentially important decisions in such a short time. They’re all decisions I am lucky to have to make – which office to choose (I went with the south-facing windows), which health care options I want (complicated for a Canadian), which courses I am going to teach and when (intro enviro and graduate soil micro next spring) – but each one takes time to reflect on and choose, and sometimes it’s hard to find the data needed to make the best decision.

Diplomacy: It always takes a while to figure out how things operate at a new workplace. The Soil Science department and other colleagues have been awesome – everyone has been so welcoming and helpful – and I have been enjoying getting to know people, learning where the department’s strengths and challenges lie, and just getting a sense for how things work here.

Dollars (hopefully): Yup, I’ve already been submitting grants! My second NSF DEB pre-proposal went in at the end of my second week here, and I’m working on proposals for Hatch, EMSL, JGI, and DOE to submit within the next two months. I actually quite enjoy writing grants, (which is good, because it seems like in this funding climate, one has to submit a lot of them)!

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My office is in King Hall, which is >125 years old!

(Self)-Determination: It is really awesome to “be my own boss”. (Okay, so technically there are a whole host of people with authority over me, but it feels that way.) For example, we got promising reviews back on my final (yay!) Ph.D. paper this week. During my postdoc, I would have waited until the weekend to work on them, but now all my academic responsibilities fall under the same hat again.

I’m really enjoying this time of reflection on how to best set up the lab — establishing systems for electronic lab notebooks and lab inventory management, working on big picture strategy for the lab’s future, and building the heart of the lab: our team!  I’d love to hear from other professors: what are you glad you did when starting your labs, or what decisions might you have made differently?

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