A few days back, Kenneth Hanson shared his experiences of his first year as assistant professor (read it!). I asked him if he could give one, single advice for someone starting his or her professorship.
Here is his answer:
That is a tough question. I spent a few days thinking about it and could not come up with one definitive piece of advice. Here are several:
1) Be willing to let go of lab work. We spend most of grad school and our postdocs in complete control of our projects and day-to-day measurements. It is basically impossible to maintain that level of control when supervising several people/projects. The sooner you trust your students and let go of lab work, the sooner you can dedicate to writing papers/proposals.
2) Prioritize based on importance and rate-determining step. Prioritizing based on importance is easy. There are some things we want done first. However, in addition to importance you have to account for your reliance on other people that do not have the same priorities. Just assume that if you are relying on someone else for equipment/training/renovations that it is going to take longer than you think and longer than they say. Make the initiating steps and follow up on those projects a priority even if they are lower on the list. I won’t suggest that you hound people aggressively but friendly reminders will get you far.
3) Be a good coworker but be willing to say no to senior colleagues. Sometimes you just can’t take on another project.
4) Set up group meetings as soon as possible. It will likely start out as a regular literature review or you explaining an instrument/concept but at least it gets something on the calendar. This formalizes the schedule and gives you a venue to talk to prospective students even through your lab might not be up and running.
5) Partition your day, in formalized time blocks, i.e. 8-10 course content, 10-12 proposals, etc. You cannot wait for those two open days to write a proposal, those days will never come. Instead you should rely on a few hours per day. It adds up very quickly.
That is all I have for now.
Lets see 🙂