Saturday, August 6, 2016

Transitioning to a faculty position

This will be my new home!

I am visiting Statesboro and Georgia Southern University this week for my new faculty orientation and to try to find a house to buy so we can move here soon. Both things have been successful! I am officially onboarded and have my email address and we had an offer accepted on a house! I even visited the GA Southern Museum on campus, where I hear they might have some ideas in store for me!

Swag acquired at orientation

Mastodon selfie

Georgiacetus, the oldest fossil
whale from N. America

I have also had a lot of time to think and reflect on the transition from student to faculty. Now that I am standing in GA and  they're pointing to where my name is going to go on the door, it's becoming real. I am still in shock that this is all happening - that I am going to be a tenure track faculty, have graduate students, run my own lab, and create my own courses. Maybe it's the imposter syndrome, maybe it's all the grim social media posts about the low percentage of us that make it into academic jobs, maybe it's that I still feel so young compared to my advisors, or maybe all of the above.  It's hard for my brain to realize that I am transitioning from being a student to now being the teacher. I know I will still continue to learn, but I'm supposed to be an expert, passing on my wisdom to the next generations. I have only ever been partially responsible for molding young minds because I always had to report to an instructor or coordinator. Now I am going to not only be the instructor, but also an advisor, and mentor.

I am starting to spread my wings and fly on my own. Some days I feel like a tiny baby bird with no feathers, and I just need someone to toss me a caterpillar and tell me they'll help me get there. Those are the days that I wonder how I am going to do it all. Other days I feel like I've been flying on my own for years now and am essentially running my own lab out of Cameron's lab. I'm the one handing out caterpillars and helping students discover their own wings. Fortunately, those more mature days now outnumber the helpless days, so I know I'm heading in the right direction. Part of how I judge my success is based on my students' successes. So part of why I feel unsure sometimes is because I am still new to the game and the number of students I have interacted with is small compared to someone like Cameron, Tim, or Chris (my advisors), but that doesn't mean I am bad at teaching and advising. I have to remind myself of this a lot.

The Kane Lab at GSU

Still, it is intimidating to look at my lab space and see a blank slate and think that I am responsible for making this work. And while I am figuring that out, I also have to learn to teach a new class, get involved in service opportunities, and move to a new town with 2 dogs, a rabbit, and fish. It's also intimidating to think that my colleagues consider me an expert on functional morphology and that they will come to me with questions on how animals work. I have always thought of others, particularly those with many book chapters and symposia papers, as the experts. But I am doing those things too, and in fact, I do know a lot about functional morphology and how animals work. I have to accept that we all have specialties, and if someone asks me about seal whiskers or lizard muscles, I might have to send them to someone else, but it's a different story if they ask me about fish heads!

I've been promoted from crew to captain, and it's my turn to get this ship into port safely. It's a challenge, but it wouldn't be exciting if it was too easy.

About to head out for a sail
at the Sea Scout Base in
Galveston, TX