I am not superwoman: 8 lessons from my first 8 months as prof

1. I am not superwoman
In my old job, I had a mantra which was “smile and say no”. My new role involves so much more that I can’t say no to… but I’ve got to learn when I can! The past 3-4 months has been dominated by reviewing submissions, proposals, applications – for people whose lives and careers depend on it. It’s too important to say no to, and it’s part and parcel of my role. It’s also a huge responsibility and privilege. But the quantity of applications I’ve read has been…impressive. Perhaps it’s a feature of the PhD/ECR/publication market at the moment, perhaps it’s just an unfortunate bunching of workload over a tight timeframe, but I somehow feel there has to be a better way. More seasoned profs will no doubt tell me that you get better at reading everything so quickly. But I am not superwoman, and there are only so many hours in the day! Hopefully this will get easier…

2. I love my job
Heavy workloads notwithstanding, I absolutely love what I do. My passion for research, developing new teaching ideas, working with mentees, exploring graduate school (funding) strategies and more besides means that I thrive on meeting and working with so many great people.

3. Students are wonderful
I knew this anyway, but it’s become particularly clear this past term, as I’ve had the chance to lecture and lead seminar discussions on a wide range of topics – teaching about Zola’s women on International Women’s Day, working on the Enlightenment politics of Les Liaisons dangereuses as Trump is inaugurated, debating Britain’s place in the world as Article 50 is invoked – what’s not to love? (apart from the crazy world politics at the moment!)

4. Where you work matters
The campus at the University of Birmingham is a super space. I love walking through it every day. But it’s also part of an amazing, vibrant city with so much going on. I’ve been to concerts at Symphony Hall, explored other venues in the city, and can’t wait to get to know it even better.

5. Don’t neglect life stuff too
Moving jobs also meant moving house. We’ve been decorating! And gardening! And more besides. This stuff matters, and I am so lucky to have such an awesome husband who keeps our house project moving in the right direction. It might be a lot on top of new jobs for us both too, but having a beautiful place for us to relax, have friends round for coffee, lunch, drinks, or dinner, is what matters. 

6. You travel more as prof
It may not always be to especially glamorous locations, but each week this term I’ve been away from Birmingham for at least one day a week – Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester, Limerick, Canterbury. And last term I also had a US visiting fellowship at Vanderbilt. I’m learning how to work better on trains and planes… iPad is the way forward (I just need to find a way for university IT to make things easier…!)

7. Colleagues matter
I am so lucky to have such a great team around me of support staff in the Graduate School and in the School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music. I couldn’t do my job without them. And my fellow academics – in the offices next door, in buildings across campus, and at other institutions – mean I can get my job done properly. It’s not without its politics, but a properly collegial environment is key. 

8. Nobody bats an eyelid when they realise I’m a professor
Impostor syndrome is a real issue. I’m in my thirties, I’m a woman, and I’m a full professor. Sometimes I feel like I’ve come to the wrong place. But I have been treated with absolute respect in all the meetings I’ve been in, irrespective of the level of seniority of the people around me, from the Vice Chancellor, to Pro Vice Chancellors, to admin teams, publishers, other academics in my field, and PVCs from other Universities. It suggests that young(ish!) female profs are becoming the norm. We know the statistics show there is still a long way to go, but in my experience, the profession is starting to make real strides in the right direction. I am not an oddity. In fact, no-one bats an eyelid. It means I can just get on and do my job as anyone in my position should. 


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