Reflecting on my First Semester on the Tenure Track

Dear all,

I hope that this message finds you safe and well. At the time of this writing, it is 26 December 2020, and 2020 is rapidly drawing to a close. I don’t need to labor the point that 2020 was a memorable year, or why it was. I need only to gesture generally and nod.

I last wrote here in October 2020, midway through the Fall semester here at UNC. At that point, I had been in my role as an Assistant Professor for 3 months, and it was quite an adjustment. I was caught off guard by how drastic the role change- from PhD candidate to junior faculty- is. I did not (and could not) anticipate how changing roles come with changing needs. It’s hard, because I- and many others, I think- lacked the vocabulary to articulate those needs. And that was amplified amid the pandemic, which reduced the likelihood of casual, low-stakes interactions with the people who keep the Department running. I said it before- I couldn’t just go down the hallway and ask who handles what. Instead, getting the answers to these questions required emails and phone calls to people who are and have been quite busy.

Since then, I’ve gotten a better sense of the administrative processes for submitting a course to the catalog or submitting grant proposals. Working with people who are senior to me has been invaluable for learning to navigate these processes.

Now, for a retrospective: am I happy with how I used my time this Fall? I paused, and I have to say that I am. It took a minute to build a routine while adding projects to my plate. My workflow looks very different, depending on the methods, or the stage that the project is in. For quantitative projects (esp secondary data analyses), I estimate that about 60-70% of my time is spent acquiring, managing, and merging datasets. I try to do these tasks concurrently with the literature search and synthesis for the literature review/introduction that sets up the analysis. And how I do that is changing, because I’m collaborating more, and delegating tasks to teammates. So that changes the workflow. But really, research is a team effort, and every team moves a little differently.

That said, I’m finding that my “soft” skills and prior experience in project management has been an asset for my collaborative work. In part, because my training emphasized data management, I am able to communicate just as well with the programmers and statisticians as I am with the methodologists and subject matter experts (not mutually exclusive categories, BTW). Thus far, I am finding that it helps a lot to make sure that everyone is in the loop- and preferably, in the room- when decisions are made. It’s easy to say, “oh, let’s do XYZ” but when the team members whose work enables “doing XYZ” are in the room, it’s more likely that we discuss and work out potential issues earlier, rather than later.

On the research front, I got my first paper rejection in November. Yep, first ever. And another rejection for another project followed. Grappling with the rejection was difficult, but I’m preparing to re-submit in January. Honestly, what made the first rejection hard was the fact that it was my first foray into translating geospatial methods for a health services research/public health audience. I think I pinned my hopes of successfully translating my work as a medical geographer for a new-to-me field on an eventual acceptance of this particular manuscript (yes, that’s a lot to pin on a manuscript).

So, as the year draws to a close, I look forward to another term filled with research and teaching prep. I am still holding onto the recognition that this is the most unstructured time that I will have as a faculty member (barring a sabbatical of some kind), and I want to move accordingly.

All the best,


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