On Finishing my First Semester as First Year Faculty and Finding Femmpowerment

What the hell was that!? It feels like I finished my masters degree yesterday and PhD this morning; I’m unsure as to how I finished my first semester as a tenure track faculty last week.

Professionally, the learning curve was and is steep. I have learned so much and continue to learn. My doc program prepared me well, but there is a certain amount of insulation that doc students receive. In my first semester I specifically had to learn how to navigate the newness that comes with any position change, but also paradigmatic change that comes from transitioning from student to scholar. Aside from just figuring out how to use our department copier and expense reporting system (real challenges actually), I am now seeing the backstage of higher education. It wasn’t really a surprise, but I am still learning how to navigate a system that can be difficult.

Being pre-tenure is a new status and also, frankly, a new emotion. I have always felt a constant pressure to succeed and perform, that’s just me (I self selected into the academe for sure). When you are looking at your tenure clock it really does become a thread in the tapestry of your life. Or a whole picture. Or whatever. It’s always present. Managing the feelings of “go go go” “write write write” is a task on its own. I want to produce (love to produce- research is my favorite), but I also need to integrate the other important parts of my role- teaching, advising, program coordination, mentorship, meetings (y’all there are so many meetings why didn't you tell me this!), etc etc etc. And personally, I am still a person with a house and a partner and two dogs and a cat. This semester has often felt like I was juggling about 10 too many balls and none of them could be dropped but also none could be delegated or off-loaded. I do love the multiple roles, and that is what drew me to academia. No day is ever the same. I am learning how to fit all those roles into my life in a way that will keep me engaged with work for a long time to come.

Another interesting factor about being pre-tenure is how post-tenure folks treat you. The attitude of “they are pre-tenure they want/need more work” is real. On one side, it is benevolent. This is the reaching out with something relevant to your dossier and connecting you with resources. I work with many people like that and I appreciate it. There is another side of this. I haven’t quite figured out if it is malevolent or lazy or a sign of burnout. This is especially apparent to me in committee work. It is the idea that as a pre-tenure person that I must want to do the work. Or complete inaction on the part of tenured academics, because they know I have to get projects done or my dossier and reputation suffers. This is an on-going problem in academia and is not new or unique to me. You just always assume the stories you hear are few and far between. They aren’t and they are frustrating.

Probably my two biggest challenges in this first semester of work is finding space that allows for femme empowerment (femmpowerment) and facing microaggressions in the workplace (and outside of the workplace).

My experiences with microaggressions are small in comparison; I recognize my whiteness protects me from a great deal of oppression and marginalization. I want to preface this with an understanding that I do not have it that hard.

Being a woman in the academe is weird. Being a relatively young woman is even weirder. I have learned in my first semester being a faculty member does not protect you from street harassment on campus (I had hopes, which were smashed and dashed I tell you). People will continue to comment on your looks, your hair, and your clothing in ways that are not innocent or complimentary.

In a culture that values youth and eurocentric beauty, being those things is a blessing and a curse in the academy. I am 28, and more often than not people outside my department assume I am a student (thanks sunscreen). When they find out I am not, interesting things spill out of their mouths:

“You aren’t old enough to be a professor, you’re lying!”

“You don’t dress like a doctor.” (not enough elbow patches I guess)

“I can’t believe they hired you to be a professor!”

“Wow you have tattoos!?”

“I didn’t know you were a doctor!” (It just says PhD on my syllabus for like fun?)

It sounds a lot like accomplishment and expertise only belongs to the old white men, and don’t you ever forget it young lady!

The biggest kick in the face learning curve for me was recognizing femme-identifying persons are still not welcome in academia. You can research, write, teach, and hustle with the best of them and you still will not be enough because as a woman, a young woman, you do not fulfill their expectations of what it means to be an expert.

So, I continue the hustle. I also continue to balance my productivity with my life, and my femininity with others’ expectations. I am figuring it all out a little bit at a time. I know that this figuring isn’t a destination but a balance, and it will ebb and flow with every year. Semesters go by quickly, and without really know it, I did the whole faculty thing. Sometimes you have to look back and recognize how much you did in such a short time. Pat yourself on the back, take a break. Recharge for the hustle that comes next (in my case, spring semester and a new course prep and more writing I want to get done).

Regardless, I enjoy my job and my students are wonderful. I am doing my best and my dossier is going up for my first year review in just about three weeks. And, in my humble opinion, it looks really good.

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