The end of year 2

Although the Gregorian calendar and my tenure track clock do not run entirely in sync, I find myself at the end of 2015 as well as at the end of my second year of the tenure track right around the same time. Looking back on 2015 is quite easy: virtually all I did was work. The friends I still have left will confirm this.
Looking back on year 2 of the TT is a bit scary. It means I'm almost halfway done and people are expecting output. One of the most ridiculous things in my bit of the world is the fact that the evaluation procedure at the end of the tenure track is pretty much spelled out at the start. There was a bit of room for negotiation before I signed the contract (but not that much, really) and it was made very clear to me that it was either in or out: if I didn't hit my targets, it would be over. In contrast to other places in the world, where I have seen examples of TT evaluations that actually leave some room for interpretation (e.g. "good output in terms of papers in respected journals"), the hoops I have to jump through leave very little room for anything. I need to publish X numbers of papers with at least Y number of impact factors. And those are the demands that still make some sense... With contracts like that you run the risk that people are going to sit there and make sure they tick all of the boxes. The problem is: that's not the kind of scientist I am. That's not the kind of human being I am. I like to feel like I am part of the place I work in. I like to do things that may pay off in the long run, rather than ensure I pass the next TT hurdle. This is academia, for crying out lout. I am not some kind of sales person that is expected to hit a certain quotum. Except for that, well, I am.
Personally, I think that if I set up an awesome network or a new line of research that attracts the interest of students that should count for something. But alas, it is not measurable and therefore it would be wiser for me to focus on blindly getting papers out than on some of the other things that I think are important for me to grow as a scientist as well.

And so, looking back on year 2, I feel pretty good about actually making my midterm evaluation (coming up at the end of year 3). I ticked all of the midterm boxes, as far as I can tell. I was fortunate enough to actually get some grant proposals funded, or it would have been bye bye already. But most importantly, I did well by just being me and by not focusing too much on what the powers that be actually demanded of me. Being a good scientist and teacher, it turns out, has sufficed so far. A scientist and teacher that worked her ass off, had two weeks off during summer and spent those sick and exhausted in bed and who barely made it to the Christmas break alive, but hey, those are details.

What I am worried about, however, is those X's and Y's that need to match up between reality and that stupid ass contract at the end of year 5. Oh, I could go on and on about how ridiculous it is to put easy-to-tick-off numbers and qualifiers on whether or not someone is a good scientist. I also tell it to everyone who wants to listen, including upper management. So it's not like I am blindly playing along with the system pretending it's all roses and fairytales. But I am finding that I am developing a pokerface when answering questions about my "progress", even though I am quietly shitting my pants.
It has taken up so much time and energy to set up the team and the experimental pipeline and now that everything is running smoothly for the past 6 months or so, papers should really start to come out this year. At least, I am getting more and more questions about this from the peeps that will actually be evaluating whether I am worthy of tenure ticked all my boxes at the end of the run. So I put on a brave smile and tell them we are "on track", but deep down inside I know that "on track" merely means we haven't derailed. We've barely left the station for most projects, encountering bumps in the road and troubleshooting like the cool science cowboys that we are. We are picking up steam but we're far from there yet. I am just hoping that scientific output (at least the one measured in papers) doesn't have to show a linear increase. Otherwise I might as well start packing up already.

Unfortunately there is a move in the future, which means massive disruption and delays, since I will have to set up everything at a new site again. Plus I will be required (as I was much of last year) to devote my time to designing lab spaces and office spaces and fights for equipment so my people won't suffer too much while I really should be focusing on science. All of this scares the bejezus out of me, but I'm not letting anyone in on that little secret. At least not the people that need to think I have my shit together.

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