Guest Contributor: Dr. Brian Day, Butler University
My charge is to write something of a reflection about my first year as a tenure-track faculty member. As I sit here, on the same day I submitted my final grades for the spring semester, officially done with my first year, my viewpoint is not one of backward-looking reflection, but rather forward-looking excitement. Alas, some reflection is in order, especially to explain why I am so excited for the future.
Two things that I told people who inquired about how my first year was going were: 1. How tired I was all the time (which constantly surprised me) and 2. How the students in my class and other faculty members in my department make my job easy. In regards to the first point, I worked hard through my undergraduate and graduate career, but the demands of a faculty position far outstrip the demands of a graduate student. I felt perfectly equipped to make the transition from graduate student to faculty member, especially since I had spent the past few years teaching a class. What I found was the fact that I was responsible for more than just myself and perhaps one class – now I am responsible for three classes worth of students, an entire research lab, and my group of advisees. This is not to say that all of the work was impossible or overly challenging, but rather in the past when I would make a decision to spend an extra hour doing what I wanted that would only impact me. Now, if I spend an extra hour at dinner or at the gym, that has the potential to impact many more people than just myself. However, it is quite humbling knowing that the efforts you spend working on your class or getting the research project ready to go will be valued by your students. With that being said, when I made it to the end of each week I was exhausted. The chair of my department said that will likely never change, but when I really think about it, I’m not sure I want that to change – knowing that I gave my personal best for my students is quite the feeling.
Secondly, most everyone I came into contact with made my first year easier. For example, every last professor in my department would welcome me into their office so I could ask for a piece of advice or learn how things work here at my university. Not once did one of my colleagues fail to make time for me when I needed help. Their efforts, and importance for my success this year, cannot be understated. Similarly, I was consistently impressed with the caliber of student in my classes, particularly their dedication to their education. This past semester, in both of my introductory psychology classes the majority of students were engaged and fully invested in each and every class. Participation is always a large part of my grading scale, and I let students dictate how they can earn those points, and this past semester I had students emailing me news stories with paragraphs explaining how concepts we learned in class show up in the story, describing how they were teaching their friends about what we had been learning, showing up for weekly meetings with lists of questions, constructing exam questions after each class, and on and on. The students did not have to do any of these things but they choose to show me that they cared about being a member of my class, which only drove me to match their efforts as an instructor. So, to my fellow faculty members and the students in my classes, I owe you all a thank you – thank you for making this a wonderful place to show up each day, and thank you for making my job what it is – challenging, enjoyable, and motivating.
A few more semi-random musings before concluding. Two more outstanding aspects of my first year (in this position I am incredibly fortunate to have) were the ability to work with students individually and my involvement in a ‘new faculty and staff learning community’. During my career as a student, what I valued most was the ability to spend one-on-one time with most all of my professors. Fortunately, I have already come into contact with a few students here at my institution who share the same value. Seeing a student interested in a subject matter, doing extra readings, and showing back up week after week to continue learning about a topic is pretty darn cool (sorry for my colloquial phrasing, but that is the best way to sum it up). I was also fortunate to be part of a ‘new faculty and staff learning community’ here at my institution, and the point of this group was to foster a sense of community and connection between other new faculty members. My involvement with this group was one of the highlights of my year, because I now have new friends in the faculty, an increased sense of belonging at my university, and a shared goal with a group of like-minded people (we all will be participating in another faculty learning community next year).
Lastly, out of everything I learned about myself and this profession in the past year, two things that stand out above the rest are as follows: 1. I would 100% rather take a test than create a test - test writing is hard! Particularly when you want your examination to be appropriately difficulty yet fair, and 2. While there is a science to teaching, a mix of compassion, energy, belief in your students, and relationships built on mutual respect with students in your class can take you a long way as in instructor.
You might notice that I have conveniently failed to say much of anything negative about my first year (out of respect for fairness and balance - grading is the absolute worst). Yes, there were a few stretches where I had no work-life balance or a few frustrating student interactions, but frankly I do not plan on remembering those. Instead my experience as a first-year faculty member was colored by positive interactions with outstanding people both in class and outside the classroom. Holding a faculty position is time-consuming and challenging in a variety of ways, but I have grown both as an educator and a scholar in the past year, and for this reason my first year has been nothing short of fulfilling and rewarding. One year down, but hopefully many more to go…and I cannot wait.
Dr. Brian Day is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN. Thus far, he has taught Introductory Psychology, and Research Methods and Statistics, Sensation and Perception, and History and Systems. Brian holds a PhD in Human Factors Psychology from Clemson University and a MS in Cognitive Behavioral Sciences from Illinois State University. His research interests include visual depth perception in real and virtual environments, perception of affordances, direct perception and ecological psychology, and other topics. Brian may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.