The necessity of habit

My ever-present “to-do” list: the bane of my existence, the slip of paper that sometimes keeps me up at night, the talisman that protects me from wholly succumbing to the absent-minded professor stereotype, the composition I celebrate by throwing it away and starting another anew.

My list has had items on it this semester that are not the norm for me. I’ve moved my lab several states over and many hundred miles from where it originated, so I’ve spent far too much time looking at equipment specs (and, of course, prices–ouch) and trying to downsize physically while figuring out how to maintain productivity. I’m not there yet. I was awoken a few weekends ago with an urgent text letting me know that the movers were having trouble getting one of our giant pieces of equipment in through the lab door. Who needs coffee when you’re panicking over a $20,000 piece of equipment being left on the curb for an indeterminate amount of time?

All this is to say, right now I have no routine in my work life, and I’m not liking it. Over the past 9 years, I had settled into a groove. I was a professor who would promptly respond to emails from students and faculty alike. If I said I’d get revisions back in three days, I did it. I took the lead on grants and kicked some ass in doing so. Review of journal articles would be done on time. I was ahead of the game.

Right now, not so much.

My week is spattered with meetings. I’ve gone from a department which was very “top heavy,” having many senior faculty but very few junior ones, to one that is completely flipped. As such, where I had relatively little service before, now I have an enormous amount. We’re also early in the creation of our department and college, and are finalizing a million little things–dissertation formatting guidelines, faculty and student handbooks, implementing seminars and journal clubs. Personally, I’m also working on creating new courses and trying to network with potential collaborators in this geographical area, all while recruiting students and employees to the lab. Death from a thousand cuts.

Previously, I’d split time between my two offices (one at my academic home where classes were taught, and the other at my lab a few miles away). I’d usually work on manuscripts and grants at the lab ~3 full days a week (and meet with students to discuss progress on their projects), and work on class prep and materials in my main office across town the remainder of the time (and meet with students to discuss course assignments, review material, and such). Once in awhile I’d do some lab work just to rattle the grad students and remind them that yeah, I still know what I’m doing in there. At least, I did whenever I could locate the pipette tips and enzymes and other materials that I swear they’d move around just to fuck with me. We’d go out in the field for sampling every few months, and I would typically go along on those trips as well. Now, instead of traveling paths that have been tried and true for years, I feel like I’m throwing darts and seeing what hits, working to figure out new field sites and find opportunities here.

All this to say, despite my magical sheet of paper, I think I’m dropping some balls right now because I don’t have a routine “day in the life” established yet in my new position. I’m a creature of habit, and right now my only habit is feeling perpetually frazzled and flailing and behind the curve. I’m OK with this for now; I knew this change would be difficult and that things will settle eventually. Classes are winding down for the semester. Birds are chirping outside and I’m percolating new grant ideas. We got the equipment in the door. One more thing crossed off my list.


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