Posted on 02/04/2013 at 04:02:30 PM by Student BloggerBy Vicki J. Vieira-Potter, PhD
Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology
University of Missouri, Columbia
As past chair of ASN's Young Professional Interest Group, I believe the young professional members of our society may want to hear about my experience becoming an Assistant Professor of Nutrition at an AAU-accredited research university. I am proud to say, “I did it, and you can, too! I landed an academic position at a prestigious university, a feat that has become increasingly difficult in recent years.” What I wish I could tell you is that I knew exactly what I was doing, or that I was 100% confident I would earn tenure in 5-7 years.
When I finished my first semester, I realized first and foremost that this job demands excellent time-management and multi-tasking skills. As I type this blog entry, I am (half) listening to a tutorial on laboratory animal care, a vital element to my incipient research program. I also have several documents in progress on my already cluttered computer desktop. Just about once a minute, my computer's email server lets out a pleasant ‘ding!' keeping me aware that a new item requires my attention. All the while, some items never seem to get crossed off the continuously evolving ‘to-do' list. Although I have more to do now than ever before, I have less time to do it. That's because another aspect of my life has changed since graduate school and postdoc years: I now have a 10-month-old daughter who needs to be picked up from daycare by 5:45 each evening and demands all of my attention when I'm at home. With a new home to keep up with, the little one to take care of, and a spouse who also works full-time, working from home has become nearly impossible. That means time at work must be spent as efficiently as possible. Every minute counts!
My biggest challenge this past semester was deciding how to spend my precious time and money. Do I spend my time in the lab running experiments on tissues given to me by generous colleagues or do I sit at my desk and work on grant applications that are intended to help new faculty ignite their research programs? Or do I work on recruiting individuals to help run my lab? Spend time studying the material I will be teaching in a few weeks' time? I ended up dabbling in all of those areas, feeling like there wasn't quite enough time in my schedule to get anything completely done. And while efficient use of time was an essential aspect of beginning my tenure here, being a newbie on campus made that difficult at times. For example, I did the following: used the minutes leading up to the first departmental seminar of the semester (one where I would be presenting a few slides on my own research) to get just a couple more things done, like taking one more glance at my slides, and responding to an email or two. In retrospect, those minutes would have been better-spent going over my directions to the building where the department seminar is held! On my way out of my building, I consulted my smartphone to find out where I was heading. I tracked down the seminar flyer which indicated a room name, but to my dismay, no building name! I understand now that everyone here at Mizzou knows that Acuff Auditorium is in the Medical School (that is, unless you are a freshman on campus…or me). On my hunt for Acuff Auditorium amidst the swarm of students buzzing around campus on that warm fall afternoon, I somehow ran into another person who was looking for the very same place! So, this young gentleman (who ended up being a freshman, by the way) and I walked into the auditorium together, about 20 minutes late. (Luckily, I have a very forgiving boss and my entry and explanation offered some comic relief for the audience members).
I learned a lot this past semester. Not only do I know where Acuff Auditorium is but I also know the procedures for ordering research supplies, submitting animal protocols, making copies, faxing, getting chemicals picked up, using Blackboard… the list goes on. Any previous aversions to asking questions have gone to the wayside. Luckily, folks here are extremely friendly and willing to help in any way. What I can say with complete certainty is that I absolutely love my job. My boss, faculty peers, and students keep me excited, passionate, intellectually challenged, and BUSY. Do I think I will survive the academy? That is, will I be able to manage excellence in teaching, research, and service (while preserving my sanity) and get tenure? I think I will. It just won't be easy. But then again, we didn't get into this business because it would be easy, did we?