Higher Education

A First Year as a Professor, in GIFs

A little over a year ago, I accepted a tenure track position at a small college in New England. I was… thrilled. I was really blown away by the school visit and it felt really… comfortable. I did my bachelors in physics at a small college in Pennsylvania, so I knew I could see myself there. Plus, I LOVE teaching, and that would be my main focus. Awesome.

Happy Minions

As my start date got closer, however, the old friend “impostor syndrome” crept up on me. Who am I to get such an opportunity? Can I even do this? Do I belong here? Seriously I am going to be a professor?! Most days I feel like I just barely pass at adulting.

Kimmie Schmidt adulting

Okay, so I show up on campus, and everyone is so welcoming! So my initial impressions from the interview were right, this place is pretty cool. And I get an office! And it’s really nice! And my department colleagues are helpful and wonderful and I walk into their office with a million annoying questions and they graciously answer. (Actually, this pretty much happens all year. I’m sure it got annoying.)

Yoda counseling Skywalker

So then the students arrive. And I have my syllabi! And all my worksheets printed and copied because we’re doing active learning in every class! And I’m all ready for a semester where I’m on the ball and never slacking and not falling behind.

Pat yourself on the back

But then by week 2 I’m thinking…

this is too much

and week 3…


Okay, but I eventually got my shit together and got into a groove. The students here are actually really great, and once I got comfortable with the fact that I’d just be scrambling from time to time, that was okay. I’m teaching Astronomy 101, which I LOVE, and Statics, a course I never even took before since it has an engineering focus. Thankfully, I have previous class notes from my colleagues to go through and learn the topic as I’m teaching it. I spend many late nights solving problems, remembering what I loved about problem sets as a student, in particular, getting the answer in the back of the book. I’m enjoying learning AND teaching all the things.

Belle and books

Then its finals time. And time to finish all the grading.

need booze for this

Actually, the students did well. But for some reason I take bad grades personally. What did I do wrong as a teacher? What did I screw up! But we make it through the semester, and I’m SO SO SO ready to get lots of extra work done over the break!

Um, yeah…

lazy in pjs

Semester two goes pretty much the same way. It’s amazing how little I learn from my mistakes!

There are other interesting parts of being a first year professor. For one, you want to get to know your colleagues, and not just the ones you see every day. There are plenty of ways to meet other professors at workshops and events and social gatherings, sponsored and unsponsored. Yay socializing!

hides under the covers

Or not. But I tried, I really did.

With summer coming, I’m looking forward to planning out next year’s courses, getting research going (I already have a new collaboration and a student signed up for fall!), but also not running around like I’m on fire most of the time.

guy on fire

I’m looking forward to being more like this.

walking away from an explosion

One day, right?

Inspired by sites like Academia Obscura and What Should We Call Grad School. Occasionally tweeting with #FirstYearProf and #FirstYearProflems, with props to @seelix for that latter hashtag. 
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Nicole is a professor, astronomer, educator, geek, dog mom, occasional fitness nerd, and maker of tiny comets. She is also very loud under the right circumstances. Like what you read? Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/noisyastronomer

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