I’ve recently started at a new university. This is a good thing. It was time that I moved on, and I’m going to learn a huge amount in my new role. My new manager is amazing, and the team are excellent.
However, it is also a little bit odd. I’ve gone from being the person who knows everything to the person who knows nothing. Literally, nothing. Someone had to show me how to book a room. I don’t know how the systems work. I don’t know how finance works. I don’t know how HR works. I didn’t even know how the microwave worked (sorted this one out by myself, thankfully).
Some of these (photocopier, microwave) are mundane things, to be expected with a new environment. Some are a result of moving organisations – each university has its own way of doing things. In my old role, if I didn’t know how something worked, at least I knew who to ask. In my new role, I know almost no one. In one stroke, I’ve left behind a network that I’d built up over years. I have to build a whole new network (and I’m pretty terrible at the ‘names and faces’ thing).
Because of this, I’m keen to impress. There is so much that I don’t know, I’m trying extra hard when I do know something. I’m that kid in the class with their hand in the air, “Pick me, pick me!”. So keen to impress. So desperately keen. So desperate.
That means that I’m pouring myself into some tasks boots and all, and scrabbling to get other things done. I know that I should just be doing all the work that needs to be done, and absorbing new knowledge as I go. I should be easing into the role. But that is hard.
Along side the not knowing and the keenness is the fear. While my role is very similar to my old one, there are also some aspects that are new. I’m doing post-award work that I haven’t done before. I’m working on bids that are worth a lot more than I am used to. This makes me afraid – the discomforting fear of uncertainty, and the paralyzing fear of making a mistake. With each scary new task, I need to pull up my boots and get stuck in, pushing back against the fear. That means that I’m using a lot more energy than in my old job. In my old job, I could coast.
I also have a nagging fear that I’ll be found out, and that people will discover that I don’t really know everything. It doesn’t matter that I was chosen for my skills and experience. It doesn’t matter that they are happy to help me get up to speed. The impostor syndrome is strong in this one.
Intellectually, I understand that this is just what happens with a new job. There is inevitably a period of adjustment. [Full disclosure – as I write this, I’ve been in my new role exactly nine working days.] I understand that this will settle down but, right now, it is weird. I’m not used to being inside my head so much.
Don’t get me wrong – my new employer has been marvelous. There is a clear process for setting up new employees, and the team are all too ready to help. I’m just not used to needing to be helped.
Literally everyone that I’ve spoken to has sought to reassure me. They can see that my concerns are unfounded. I can see that too, at an intellectual level, but in my gut (where it counts), it’s still weird.
So, my heart goes out to those people who experience this feeling on a regular basis. If you are paid by the hour or working on short term contracts, this is how you feel on a regular basis, moving from job to job, from university to university. This is your life. Kudos to you when you have to deal with a whole new system every semester, every year, as you move to a new role in a new organisation.
It doesn’t matter if you love your work. It doesn’t matter if the work is fascinating or the students are inspirational. There is still a strong sense of dislocation that comes with having to navigate a new pay system, reporting system, or library system. Even when people are really nice, there is an initial sense of isolation, as well as the slow process of building a working network.
At least all the systems that I’m working with are the same. If you are working across institutions, there are two new systems to learn, for everything. Each of them maddeningly similar, each of them frustratingly different.
My partner works on multiple projects at once. By definition, this means that she is part time on all of them. However, her employing institutions assume that the majority of employees are full time. At least, that is their assumption when it comes to mandatory training and induction. Why do people need to do mandatory training modules every time they start a new contract, even though it may be less than 12 months since their last contract? Why do they need to attend a full day induction when they are working two days a week for a six-month project? Why not build systems for part-time temporary employees? Why not give more people full time jobs?
So, if you are part time, sessional, casual, short term, adjunct or otherwise changing jobs on a regular basis, you have my respect. The overhead involved in changing jobs is considerable. It isn’t easy, and it is a significant load on top of the work that you are ostensibly paid to do. I understand that, and I hope that this helps the people around you understand it, too.