7 things I wish I would have done during my tenure track

Recently I’ve seen some Twitter threads on advice for new PhDs/postdocs/PIs. I’ve shared this about my PhD before (see 7 things I wish I would have done during my PhD), and in my current job I’ve been reflecting a bit about how my previous job went, I thought I would also share the 7 things I wish I would have done during my tenure track!

They are:

  1. Being in the office less
  2. Not agreeing to only teach undergraduate courses
  3. Spending less energy on grants
  4. Divorcing my email accounts
  5. Getting a Macbook
  6. More papers with people from Twitter
  7. Sharing more work online

1 Being in the office less

After starting my tenure track in February 2017, my best-case scenario day would look like this: I would leave my house in Rotterdam at 7:20, to take the train and get to the office at 9:00. Similarly I would leave at 16:50 and get home at 18:30, in time for dinner. There were sometimes disruptions, with me arriving 1-2 hours late in either direction. Maybe not too bad considering depending from where in the world you are reading. And as a plus I could work in the train – I would often read or draft blog posts.

After two years of working at home, I cannot imagine being able to do these kind of hours again. Although I was already quite mindful of the hours I would spend on my job, I didn’t realize that doing productive things in the train also counted, and that I probably was not getting enough rest. I also don’t really understand why I felt it was necessary, as I wasn’t required to be in the office on specific days or hours unless I was teaching or had other meetings.

2 Not agreeing to only teach undergraduate courses

For the first three years, I was the course manager of a first year BSc project and taught in another third year BSc course. I enjoy teaching at multiple levels, but I think I shot myself in the foot a bit here. As I had no start-up, PhD students to co-supervise, etc, the main way to start new projects was to supervise MSc students. But since I wasn’t a person the then-MSc students were aware of, recruiting such students was rather difficult.

3 Spending less energy on grants

Funny given that during my PhD I wish I had “applied to all the things”! As part of my tenure track conditions I had to apply for two “medium” (1 PhD position size) grants a year, which was reasonable, and it was useful to think about the project proposal. But several of these applications were doomed to fail, as even with a perfect score on the research proposal, my CV just was not “good enough” to get funding. Given that there weren’t many other opportunities to apply for, I guess overall this was still a useful experience, but I definitely could have spent less time on writing workshops, endless revisions etc.

Another advice was to apply for all possible small grants (workshops, collaborations) that I could get. I did that and actually got several of the things I applied for. But this was too much – relative to larger proposals, these cost more time to write, AND require more work from you after, without the option of hiring somebody to help.

4 Divorcing my email accounts

I used be very much a “one inbox” kind of person, and forwarded my university email to my Gmail. But with a new job and email account, I decided to try it out. Although Gmail has a much better interface than Outlook (don’t get me started on this…), I like it a lot. I don’t have Outlook on my phone, so I mainly have access to my work email during my work hours. This frees up a bit of headspace during time off, which I would often already use to mentally draft emails, thus spending way more energy on emails overall.

5. Getting a Macbook

Similarly to me trying out a different strategy with emails, I felt brave enough to try out a Macbook after a lifetime of Windows. It’s kind of great, I’m still pretty inept at using shortcuts etc, but I don’t imagine going back anytime soon.

6. Starting more papers with people from Twitter

One of the most satisfying things in my career has been to work with people met on Twitter. The prime example is probably this paper about Twitter – some of us have met each other beforehand but I feel safe to say this was a Twitter collaboration.

Another highlight was this preprint with Gaël – it started because I agreed with him about AI being hyped too much and said “we should write a paper about this”. A longer revised version has just been accepted so keep an eye out.

I like slow science, so there are other projects that are amazing and that started on Twitter but are not out yet. Stay tuned 🙂

7.Sharing more work online

This perhaps sounds surprising since I share preprints, slides etc and would even write blog posts on a more-regular basis. But I still see so many things that I’ve done that could be possibly useful to others, that I did not share, either because the thing needed a bit more input (for example going from an undergraduate project to a preprint), or simply because I didn’t get around to it (for example rejected grant proposals).

I am not sure I will ever get to a point where I’m doing this better, but as usual, if there is something I have that might be helpful to you, just ask.

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This is just my list! There are also a few issues others mentioned in the Twitter discussion that maybe I did OK with? and are therefore not on this page – but that’s for another blog post 🙂

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