When I got my job, I asked as many folks as I could for advice about the first few years on the tenure track. One thing that struck me was that most people said that, at the end of the day, my university would want me to succeed. As nervous as I was about getting out papers, bringing in students, starting a research program, and negotiating the socio-political landscape at my new position, I knew I’d have people rooting for me.
Lately, I’m just not feeling it. It’s not that I’m sensing any disappointment or hostility (my Year 2 review was glowing), but I’m just not feeling that support I was promised. People are nice, and I’m well-liked (to my knowledge!), but I don’t really need nice. I need to feel like I’m valued. Here are some examples that might illustrate what I mean:
1) It took me a year and a half to get a faculty mentor. The first person I was given turned me down, for vague reasons that were never explained to me, and I didn’t learn about it until I approached the person and asked to schedule our first meeting (awkward!). The second person was a near-retiree who never met with me once, but would occasionally bluster, “Oh, we should get coffee sometime!” and then never respond to my emails. I also applied for another mentor as part of a university-level program but despite repeated follow-ups, never heard back. This makes me feel like nobody cares whether or not I have support through this process.
2) I was hired at the same time as my Male Colleague (who is great, and I get along with him really well). Since we were hired, he has been invited to the chair’s house for dinner, as well as the house of the director of a research center we’re both affiliated with. I have not. Similarly, there are a few other faculty members who have invited my male colleague and his wife to dinner, but have never invited me. This may be because my office is in a different part of campus (I have a split position), but none of the faculty in my building have invited me to dinner, either. This makes me feel invisible.
3) I’ve been getting the runaround about my lab space. Fellow TSW blogger DrMsScientist and I are planning a comprehensive post on this, but the short of it is: I was told when I was hired that there would be no renovations needed, which has turned out not to be the case by a long shot. A number of upgrades are required, some of which are basic necessities for safety and electrical code requirements. I was told to just put these on my startup, and months have gone by where various people have passed me from one person to the next. This situation has left me in tears, repeatedly (in the privacy of my office, thankfully), but I feel like I shouldn’t have to ask for advocacy here. My chairs should be going to bat for me, and they’re just…not. This makes me feel like my success is not a priority.
4) I found out I was going to co-teach a class from an email from another instructor, who had apparently met with my chair without me. He was asking what my preferences were for setting up the course, and I had never been consulted or even notified that this was going to be a team-taught course. Meanwhile, Male Colleague has had multiple successful meetings about teaching. When I tried to schedule them, I’ve been told “let’s wait and see.” This makes me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and what the root is. I’ve worried that I’m taking it all too personally, and that none of this means anything, that it’s a series of coincidences, and I need a thicker skin. I figure that things like not being asked to dinner are probably unintentional. I think there are two kinds of people: those who advocate for others, and those who focus on themselves, and I probably have the misfortune of being in a department with a lot of the latter. Or, maybe because I look young, some of my colleagues are forgetting that they need to treat me as a fellow faculty member, and not as a graduate student? I wonder if they’re all assuming I’m not going to be here in the long-term, but that I’ve got one foot out the door? Maybe I just have a really shitty chair (which I’d be more inclined to think if Male Colleague’s experience wasn’t so radically different from mine)?
I know I need to be independent, and advocate for myself, but is it too much to ask to also feel like I not only belong here, but that I’m a valued member of my institution? It’s difficult to send a polite-but-firm email about my lab requirements without feeling like someone at an upper level is supporting me. I think all of these things are harder when morale is already low because of crappy federal funding rates or lack of state support for university infrastructure.
There’s a lot I can do on my own. I can develop peer mentor networks, and I can organize social events and develop collaborations and promote my research program, but at the end of the day, I’d still like to feel as though my university values me (and if I don’t feel that way, imagine how the adjuncts, office staff, and custodians must feel?). What do you think? Am I taking this too seriously? Are these expectations unrealistic? Should I bring these feelings up to my chair? Is this a cultural thing that varies across departments? Do you feel supported at your institution? Are these systemic issues that departments should be addressing, and are any of you reading this in a position to actually do something about it?