A Tough Time of Year for New Professors

The last week of October and the first weeks of November are what I call the “Uh-Oh Zone” for new faculty members. I first noted this when I supervised a cadre of graduate assistants who were teaching their first courses. A very large percentage of them filed into my office for a private chat and said the same thing: “I’m miserable and I think I should quit.”

When I talked to my very wise department chair, he said that this was common: They were snowed under with paper grading and with papers of their own and were exhausted. For most of them, it was their first time to be under the crunch of being both student and professor at the same time.

It is not only graduate students who feel this, though, it’s new faculty members as well. The excitement of the first full-time position has worn off, the joyful discoveries of a new location have turned to the humdrum of everyday life, and the realities of professional pressures have arrived in full force by this time of the year. It’s easy to begin to second-guess the job, the location, or even one’s chosen profession by midterm.

When folks come see me, I try to affirm their feelings: It is a difficult time of year. This is sort of like the “wall” that runners face in long-distance races: It’s hard to move forward, but doing so yields a reward all its own. This is the season for extra chocolate, a hot bath, or very long walks in the woods. Self-care is mandatory in order to make it to the end of the semester (and beyond). And these are the days that create the rhythm that drives much of academic life over the long haul.

What advice do you have for colleagues who have entered the “Uh-Oh Zone”?

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