Tuesday, April 21, 2020

“Keep Your Job, Ken!” Part 7: Other

 by Professor Kenneth Hanson, Florida State University

As a conclusion to the “Keep Your Job, Ken!” series I offer a few random, additional suggestions for new assistant professors.

1) Seek out other young faculty to share the journey with. As I noted in my Memoir of a First Year Assistant Professor the transition from postdoc to faculty member can be a lonely journey. Family is an important support network but there is something to be said about talking to someone who is experiencing the same things. As such, I encourage you to actively seek out and make friends with junior faculty in your own department or elsewhere in the university. Having someone who can sympathize as you vent can really help you feel less alone.  While your senior colleagues can be great they are at a different point in their lives/careers and it is a massive relief to be able to speak to someone candidly without fearing the political or social ramifications of accidentally offending a senior colleague. Likewise, while you are only a few years separated from them, to maintain professionalism you should not be casually hanging out with graduate students and postdocs. The power dynamic makes non-work related student-professor interactions inherently problematic.

2) Identify your local major flight company and set up a frequent flyer account. Flight miles add up quickly.  It may even be worth paying the annual fee for a credit card affiliated with the airline to access the bonus bells and whistles (e.g. companion flights, lounge access, seat upgrades, etc.).

3) Don’t buy a house until you know the city and roads. Getting your first “real job” and real paycheck can be exciting, but I strongly encourage you to wait at least a year before buying a house. Even if you love a house and/or location, it could be a costly mistake if you don’t already know the city and its traffic patterns. A 20-minute commute at a low-traffic time of day can quickly turn into 45 minutes during rush hour. Commuting 1.5 hours per day, 6 days a week, for five years is 2,250 hours or ~90 days of work! If you are taking public transit and can work during the trip, that is one thing, but if you are actively driving that is a lot of time away from home or work. Additionally, the first year is stressful enough without having to worry about fixing and troubleshooting house related issues.

4) Come up with financial book keeping strategies. ‘Financial management’ is another item that can be added to the list of required professor skills that we aren’t formally trained for. At the beginning this is less of an issue because our startup funds provide a large, unrestricted budget that can be spent without concern. However, as those funds are depleted and/or your awarded additional funding, it becomes increasingly important to track how much is spent in each account. The finance office will track this information for you but due to processing lag, their numbers are typically a few months behind. With that in mind, I strongly recommend coming up with a financial bookkeeping strategy as soon as you can. I use an excel spreadsheet that tracks every purchase, travel cost, and personnel expenditure as well as how much is left in each account.

Also, when your spending rate has stabilized, it is worth figuring out average, total monthly operating costs and where those costs come from. This information will be useful for not only planning purposes but also when generating a budget for proposals. In case it is of  use I am happy to share my spreadsheets with anyone who emails me.

5) Create an archive with standard email responses. After starting this job I quickly noticed that I was receiving some of the same emails over and over again and for the most part I was repeatedly generating the same response. I then realized that I might as well re-use the same copy and paste response. Rather than searching my email archive every time, I created a word document that contains my standard email responses. For example, I probably average 1 or 2 postdoc requests per week. I will ignore the generic, bulk emails but if someone has taken the time to include my name and something about our research, I will at least provide a quick response like the following:

Hello [name],

Thank you for your inquiry into joining my research group. Unfortunately, I do not currently have funding for an additional postdoc at this time.

I’m sorry the timing did not work out for us. Good luck with your post doc search.


Or when, at the start of the semester, I receive at least 30 emails from students seeking to get into my Gen Chem class I reply with this message:

Hello [name],

Unfortunately, I am not involved in the class enrollment process. It is entirely handled by the chemistry advising office, so please contact [name, email address] with your question.

I do know though that the class size is limited by the number of seats in the room.  I recommend keeping an eye on the registration website to see if anyone voluntarily drops or if the reserved seating opens up. 

Sorry I couldn't be of more help.


Over the years I have accumulated a library of responses that have collectively saved me countless hours of writing or searching for a past replies.


  1. I definitely agree with point #3. I feel like my grad school experience got started off on the wrong foot at the beginning when I picked an apartment without knowing the area. I was stuck spending my first year in an undergrad neighborhood with heavy-handed parking enforcement, puddles of puke on the sidewalk, drunk fraternity idiot types in the building next door who kept thinking it was funny to pull the fire alarm at 3 AM, etc. There was a middle-aged guy in my building in the same boat as me, a staff scientist who had made a long-distance move from another university, and he hated it even more than I did.

    1. This. Even if you know an area, you can make mistakes. I moved back to my hometown (Bay Area) for my first real job. Housing was tight (as always) so I got an apartment in a nice safe suburban neighborhood about 7 miles in the absolute worst direction, traffic wise, from my job. There was a bar, good restaurants and a donut place around the block, so that was good, but it just wasn't my cup of tea since I was spending all my free time in other neighborhoods and so were all of my friends. Things improved greatly when I moved after the first year

  2. Ken, thank you so much for writing such detailed, helpful posts in this series!! The de-mystification of assistant professor job is very rare, and is incredibly useful to us upcoming new PIs.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20