In catching up with grad school and conference friends this winter--whether over email or in person at the MLA--I've mentioned several times how unremarkable, how easy, I've found the transition into a tenure-track job to be.
And in most ways this is entirely true. Unlike some of my friends who are also in their first year on the tenure-track, I've been moving away from grad school for a long time now. I left Grad School City at the end of my fourth year, and consequently wasn't around campus for most of the last two years that I was enrolled (my fifth year I was on fellowship and my sixth I commuted in just twice a week to teach one class). I also had a part-time office job for all six years, working an average of 14 hours a week, and I consider this to have been good preparation for all the paperwork and administrative nonsense that comes with a t-t job. And then last year I was a full-time lecturer teaching a 3-4 load, which means that I got used to teaching--and to thinking of myself as a teacher--in a hurry.
So, as I say, it makes sense that this transition is easier for me than for people who went on the market early, with little teaching experience, and got jobs straight away; it also makes sense that I'm happier and more comfortable in this new role than those people who really, really liked grad school. In case it isn't clear yet, I wasn't one of those people. In theory, grad school was great, and in theory I liked everything I was doing--being around smart, fun people, taking interesting classes, etc. I was well-trained, I liked my teaching and my research, and I received more or less adequate support. But in practice? I was unhappy on nearly a daily basis. (Grad School, I'm sorry: it wasn't you. It was me.)
But if the transition has been easy, it's still been a transition, and in no way more shockingly than this: suddenly, I'm important. I'm in charge of things. I matter.
That's something that grad school and even visiting positions don't fully prepare one for. One minute, you're being infantilized by your institution, left in the dark about the workings of the department, and given minimal control over your teaching. The next, you're on committees, you're being asked for your input on a thousand things, and you're the most important person (at least for three hours a week) in the lives of your 40 or 60 or 80 students.
One minute, you're convinced you'll never get a job, that your research is crap, that you'll be eating ramen for dinner for the rest of your life (and still be in debt)--and when you say you're a student, people look at 30-year-old you with pity. The next minute, you have a good retirement plan, a doctor with a plush suburban office, and your realtor and mechanic consider you a person of status (after all, you're "a professor at the university!").
In other words, at age 30 or 35 or whenever you get the damn job, it's as if you suddenly vault from a decade of being 23 (entry-level job, little direction, little control) into having the sort of life that most of your friends have. If we'd gone into law or business, by now we'd be managers or partners or Vice Presidents of Whatever. We'd have long since grown accustomed to being in charge, being taken seriously, and being confident in our decisions.
But in my experience, these aren't things we're really prepared for in grad school. Sure, we build skills, becoming better and more assured teachers, researchers, and presenters, and most of us do come to feel in our later years that we have at least a toehold in the profession. But there's still a big psychological gulf between being a sixth- or seventh-year graduate student, however accomplished--or even a Ph.D. in a nice visiting position or a multi-year lecturer--and being made to feel an essential part of one's department and institution.
It is, as I say, more a psychological adjustment than a real one, but let's be honest: it's not only psychological. Our profession treats us differently once we have a "real" job. I've been at Regional U for four and a half months, in which time nothing new of mine has come out in print and I've presented at no conferences. I'm not at a big-name school. And yet in those four months, four different publishers or publications have contacted me to review manuscripts or to write book reviews for them. Call me cynical, but I'm disinclined to believe that more than one of them would have contacted me had I still been a lecturer.
So although it's probably no great surprise why I'm happy in my new position--happier than I've been for at least eight years--I'm also angry that it's taken this long for me even to start to feel like an adult again. Or to be treated like an adult. I'm not sure where to direct that anger, but there it is.