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I'm a fourth year doctoral candidate who is ABD right now and recently got a full time position at a small liberal arts college (SLAC). So far, I'm not off to a great start. I showed up to orientation 20 minutes late in mid August (without giving a prior heads up) and showed up to that event and the regular faculty welcome back fatigued. Even after I moved into my new apartment, it took me well over a week (second week of the semester) to combat my low energy to an extent. At the time, I hadn't moved back to the area at all and had to drive 4.5 hours to it before staying at motels each weekend. Today, I also showed up to the regular newbie faculty meeting 2 minutes late since I first arrived at the wrong location (they changed spots). I should note that I was the only one late to all of those events. Sadly, I'm still going to bed extremely exhausted and waking up exhausted even after I do as little as go to teach for the day. Thus, even though faculty are attending all of these "extra events" at folks' houses and other places via event invites sent out via group chat or email, I've been so exhausted and fatigued that I do not go out to those events.

Throughout the welcome back days and faculty gatherings, they are all extremely lively and bubbly while I never was at all. I have severe social anxiety, so initiating conversations is already difficult. When I'm in group settings though, I'm barely talking or saying anything. When people meet with me one on one or become friends with me, they're often surprised when I tell them I have social anxiety since I've taught courses as a GA and an adjunct instructor prior to my employment at this SLAC (for those wondering, I haven't made friends at this SLAC so no one knows yet).

I've missed emails and not replied to them for upwards of a week (before I'm reminded) among other missed things. Notable one is Starfish and reporting attendance, which I didn't bother to figure out yet. Similarly, I'm also somewhat behind on grading since I have to grade some Nearpod assignments in my Intro sections I'm teaching right now.

For what it's worth, other faculty did notice at gatherings I wouldn't talk and they'd come up to me and ask how I was doing. Super nice of them to do and it's something I try to reciprocate. But, it's tough regardless.

I know something is up with me mentally for sure but I'm also concerned if it's something more than my current neurodivergent conditions. Those conditions (autism, ADHD-I) explain why I've missed so much, but the low energy is a massive struggle.

I'm currently looking for advice on how to comeback from my situation right now (if anything). My department hasn't exactly seen my tendency to be late in action other than one instance where I showed up 3 minutes later to a full faculty meeting (although I'm sure they didn't notice).

ETA: I also teach back-to-back-to-back classes that are 1 hr 20 minutes each. No doubt contributes to the fatigue.

Others have also considered me a "wallflower" who doesn't engage much with others in group settings. When I see everyone is talking a ton, I truly feel like the biggest imposter in the room.

Also, I'm non tenure track for a year in case that's relevant.

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    Not-a-psychologist... and maybe you need one... but being 3 minutes late is well within cultural norms in the U.S. Don't worry. No action required, except to somehow calm down and engage at least a little with your new colleagues, if only "formally". That is, say hello, and smile, in the hallway, rather than keeping your head down. You're not expected to be a social butterfly. Sep 15, 2023 at 22:36
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    Quick question that might be relevant here: What kind of physical shape are you in? Are you overweight? Any physical impairments?
    – Ben
    Sep 15, 2023 at 22:44
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    @Ben I'm 5 foot 9 inches and weight low 150s right now so I don't have any weight issues right now. I was underweight a year ago though and have had to eat more than 2000 calories to gain weight and maintain my current weight. I can also hear my spine pop sometimes too. What is odd is that I got bloodwork done and there wasn't anything noticeable other than low HDL. I didn't get my vitamin levels assessed though so that may be a variable.
    – zzmondo1
    Sep 16, 2023 at 12:54
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    None of that sounds like a big physical problem. (Didn't intend for you to have to give so much detail, but thanks anyway.) I just ask because issues with fatigue, tiredness, etc., can be caused or exacerbated by bad physical health. As a general rule, when you're having a hard time emotionally/mentally, it is useful to try to get into the best possible physical shape you can, so that you are physically strong and fit to deal with the other problems (and not make them worse).
    – Ben
    Sep 16, 2023 at 22:53
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    After you've had the physical stuff looked at, it's definitely time to check in with a mental health professional. Fatigue is a common symptom of depression, so at the very least, getting that ruled out or treated would be immensely valuable. A therapist can also help with insecurity and provide a non-judgemental venue for you to be as awkward as you need to be while figuring out how you want to interact with people.
    – user121330
    Sep 17, 2023 at 3:56

3 Answers 3

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I'm really not seeing a problem here.

  • Being 2-3 minutes late to a meeting is seriously unlikely to be an issue. In fact, it is (unfortunately) the norm in many places.
  • Being fatigued is pretty normal for early-career researchers. If others have noticed at all, it probably brings back memories of times when they were grinding and were fatigued.
  • Having poor social skills is not so unusual among brilliant researchers. It is important that you do some networking and improve your social skills, but I doubt you are so far outside the norm that you have already gotten a bad reputation.
  • Missing e-mails and being behind on grading are also (unfortunately) the norm in many places. Without knowing the details of your position, I doubt that such things are make-or-break in themselves, though you do risk annoying the wrong person or making more work for yourself.

My advice is to: (1) get some sleep, maybe a few days off, (2) prioritize what's important (probably research), what's less important but has to get done (grading), and what's unimportant (most other things), and (3) Have confidence that this is a long-term position and you have decades to get a good reputation and build relationships. So long as the line's slope is positive, it's likely to cross the horizontal at some point.

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    All of this is good insight. In case you're wondering, I'm non tenure track and my contract is for this year 2023-2024. I don't know if that changes your answer but thought I'd mention.
    – zzmondo1
    Sep 15, 2023 at 22:58
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    Thanks for the info. I wrote my answer from the perspective of a permanent but non-tenure-track position. I seriously doubt my answer would change now that I know you're talking about a 1-year contract position, but I admit I'm not as familiar with such positions.
    – cag51
    Sep 15, 2023 at 23:03
  • I was told at today's meeting that this SLAC does prefer re-hiring internally. They also said that those who have non tenure track will need to "make the case" to have their contracts renewed by the end of the academic year. The department told me that they are looking to convert my position to a tenure track one "down the road," but they didn't say how soon.
    – zzmondo1
    Sep 15, 2023 at 23:16
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    In a similar vein, a week isn't that bad a turnaround time for replying to an email. Sep 17, 2023 at 13:20
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    "2) prioritize what's important (probably research), what's less important but has to get done (grading)," <--- it's a teaching position in a liberal arts college. I'm not in the US system, nor have I ever been, but my impression is that these should probably be swapped. Sep 18, 2023 at 3:30
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Ah, if it's only a one-year (=temporary) position, you will want people there to give you glowing letters-of-recommendation for your next job.

So, yeah, you need to "make a good impression".

My suggestion is to not think of professional interactions (especially with students) as sincere expressions of your personality, but as expressions of the "professional persona" you would like to have. Infinite patience, and all that. :)

One can do the same with faculty colleagues! Try to imagine the persona you want, etc., and just play the part. I know, easier said than done, but, still, playing a desired part is easier than "really being" that person.

Seriously: I myself am, by nature, very impatient and so on, but in my teaching and other roles, I tell myself to "pretend to be" infinitely patient... Stressful in some ways, but worth it, I think. :)

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  • I can give that a shot. I should note that acting in general is super difficult for me because others know when my behavior is forced. Peer feedback has indicated that others prefer when I'm candid so I'm a bit hesitant but I'm open to trying.
    – zzmondo1
    Sep 15, 2023 at 23:56
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    Gotta be a better actor, then! :) Sep 16, 2023 at 1:09
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    @zzmondo1 the type of acting this answer talks about isn't so much forced behavior. Don't "lie", that doesn't work out well. Rather, you know how on some days we are super patient and on other days blow up easily? Look inside yourself for how you naturally behave on good days and then behave like that all the time (always try at least). That way, you're not lying, you're just making an effort to show your best side - but it is already one of your sides.
    – DonQuiKong
    Sep 16, 2023 at 7:11
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    "Gotta be a better actor, then! :)" <--- erm, isn't this a bit like "just get over your social anxiety and act normal"? Sep 18, 2023 at 3:28
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    @DavidRoberts, that's not what I intended, at all, but I understand it would be taken that way. My attempted point, which surely may not apply to everyone, is to "visualize" the person you'd want to be/emulate, and try to play that role, at least for necessary periods of time. I'm not really very social, either, but at least by this point in my life I can pretend, for an hour or two at a time. :) Sep 18, 2023 at 16:13
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I agree with many of the points by cag51, but I do want to address your comments about being neurodivergent (autism + ADHD).

You’re displaying some of the common symptoms of autistic burnout, so I strongly urge you to begin counseling with a professional in your area (virtual if that’s easier for you!). My wife is autistic (also a scientist at a private research lab) and all the meetings/interactions/socializing can really wear her down to the point of autistic burnout. Her work quality starts to deteriorate and her emotional/mental well-being quickly plummets. There are ways to work through it, but often the answer is exactly what cag51 proposed: give yourself a break.

You’re going through a lot of changes and you know that socializing in high-doses is physically and mentally challenging for you. Work on building a routine that you can follow daily. I have ADHD as well, I’m aware of how difficult this is. But you’re someone with autism as well who strongly benefits from routine. Again, working with a professional you could have someone help you stay accountable and build a system to meet your new responsibilities.

Finally, you could also consider seeing if there are any reasonable accommodations (if in US qualifying under ADA)that might help you moving forward—e.g. not teaching back to back, quiet office space, etc. As for making friends in your new environment, consider meeting with one or two colleagues over lunch or on a walk, socializing where neurotypical folks don’t usually notice you have difficult with small talk or eye contact (for example).

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    I have a DSW who I see currently and he is also autistic. He's helped me with reframing a lot of things and making sure I communicate in such a way that my workplace can accommodate me accordingly. My SLAC is currently reviewing an accommodation request form I sent them and they will talk to me at some point about making reasonable accommodations for me.
    – zzmondo1
    Sep 19, 2023 at 1:06

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