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I'm currently in my first semester as a tenure-track faculty in a small liberal arts college. I also finished my dissertation and defended about 5 months ago. While I'm grateful that I've got a tenure-track job as a newly minted Ph.D., I'm struggling to do research at the moment. Of course, I've been busy adjusting to the new lifestyle, but honestly, it hasn't been bad at all.

So, to cut it short, making time for research or lack of energy isn't really the issue for me. I consistently have at least 3-4 hours of writing time everyday. I think I'm just burned out from research after finishing my dissertation. When I sit down to do research, I spend hours doing nothing on my computer. I can't get myself to focus and write. I thought resting for 3 months after my defense was enough, but this state of unproductivity in research makes me very anxious.

Sometimes, I even think that I might not be apt to do research anymore. Is this normal? What was it like for you? Does it get better? How do I get over this?


Added:

Thank you for your answers. They were all helpful to read. I know I'm not the only junior faculty suffering from a burnout after getting the degree. I've seen more people taking at least a year off after they finish than continuing with productive research. I needed to acknowledge that my 3-month break was not enough. I'll take it slow for now. I need to find my passion for research again from within, and it will happen soon.

Another problem is that I still haven't quite figured out what kind of scholar/teacher I would want to be. I'm not sure if I want to pursue my career in an R1 university or a teaching school. I come from a very large R1 university and didn't want to live a research-oriented lifestyle that would make me work 70 hours a week. And at that point, I was already burned out from my dissertation even before I finished it. But now that I'm in a teaching school, I miss the environment of intellectual conversations and academic discussions. I'm not sure if I'll be content in teaching-focused environment.

How did you guys decide or know which environment you wanted to work for?

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    Before you follow people who jump to a clinical diagnosis, consider that one of the major differences in you current situation is that you're not being scientifically supervised like when you were a grad student. I suspect you need to find strategies to cope with this. Interest and discipline will need to come from you. – Cape Code Nov 13 '16 at 8:46
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    Since you are more free now to pursue in any direction of research, try to find something that you enjoy. Also, consider taking a short vacation from research of max 3 weeks. – Mikey Mike Nov 13 '16 at 13:13
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    OP already mentioned a 3 month break; the wording makes it seem like that time has already passed. – user58748 Nov 14 '16 at 7:43
  • To the OP: you seem to have two accounts. If you want to merge them, see: I accidentally created two accounts; how do I merge them? – Massimo Ortolano Nov 14 '16 at 21:04
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You may be suffering from burnout. You've been running at full speed for well over 20 years (K+12+4+7). You may just need a break.

First, check your department and college expectations for tenure. Talk to newly minted associate professors about their experiences before tenure. You may have to only do a modest amount of additional post-dissertation research in order to clear the tenure bar at your institution. At a small liberal arts college, it could be a book based on your dissertation and a few peer reviewed journal articles combined with some college service and not pissing off your colleagues ("collegiality").

This is eminently doable even if you take off your first year to recharge your research batteries by focusing on teaching and a recovery of some modicum of sociality.

Finally, you might ask if your university welcomes you taking a leave of absence to do a postdoc somewhere. A writing fellowship in the Berkshires can do wonders for mental health as well as ones’ publications list.

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    It took me a while to get that SLAC was not the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center ;-) – Massimo Ortolano Nov 12 '16 at 22:38
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    ... and the rest of us shouldn't have to google that term. Please edit in an explanation. – E.P. Nov 13 '16 at 0:11
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    @Nij Do you know what RAFMD, HDNOMC, NMP mean? They are all acronyms of phrases used in the question too. – curiousdannii Nov 13 '16 at 2:13
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    @Nij: Since this site seems to be weighted towards STEM people, perhaps our excuse is that we are much more familiar with the accelerator facility than with small liberal arts colleges. It's rather like using IBM or MIT, you know? – jamesqf Nov 13 '16 at 4:13
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    I'm not sure it's appropriate to hastily diagnose a burn out on the basis of that short text. That's one possible explanation out of many. – Cape Code Nov 13 '16 at 6:58
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My own experience in mathematics is surely different in various ways from other academics... while, yes, still similar ... but:

Yes, "being fried" after working too hard for at least a few years to get that thesis done, while suspending one's own critical judgement (since, after all, it's only one's superiors' judgements that will get you the PhD, and publications, and jobs, or anything else...) it is utterly reasonable to find oneself "deadened" in some way.

This is not a good feature of academe...

But to over-appraise this as "not liking research" is wildly inaccurate, and self-destructive. That is, what one (reasonably!) does not like is being dictated-to, being infinitely vulnerable, and so on. The "apprentice-research" situation is very wonky, and many academics are stunningly bad at deconstructing the disconnects between "genuine intellectual practice" and "getting papers published and getting a job".

Genuine "research" is "trying to understand things better". Really, very many people do this as a matter of course. (The recent election makes me wonder a bit about how widespread this is, but, still, ...)

I imagine that if you went to grad school because you had an affinity for "trying to understand things (better)", you are not actually allergic to that process. Almost a tautology.

Allergy to the game-playing involved in acquiring peer-review-status-points is completely unsurprising. Duh.

So, please, don't confuse the professional game-playing, that administrative bosses impose on intellectuals (a.k.a. "thinking, curious people") with "research". :)

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I also graduated from my phd a year or so back. I was exhausted after I finished the sprint to complete my dissertation and find a job. So I was working at half capacity for over a year and having fun. Recently I have starting "thinking" again..

I have been reading a book called Writing for Academic Journals.

While the title suggests its merely for writing articles, it goes into a lot of depth on strategies/routines to do research and write articles.

I am finding the suggestions very useful.

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    Could you briefly share some of the strategies or routines that were mentioned in the book, which you found to be particularly helpful? – I Like to Code Nov 13 '16 at 10:57
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Read the late Richard Feynman's book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. In it, he described how, taking a teaching position at the end of WW2 and his work at Los Alamos, he found that he just couldn't get up any interest in doing research. He felt completely used-up and worried that he might be finished as a scholar already.

As he reported it, one day he was in the caf watching someone spin a plate on their fingertip, and he tried to figure out how to describe the wobble mathematically. Trying to work out that problem "re-ignited" him, and everything else followed.

  • "So I got this new attitude. Now that I am burned out and I'll never accomplish anything, I've got this nice position at the university teaching classes which I rather enjoy, and just like I read the Arabian Nights for pleasure, I'm going to play with physics, whenever I want to, without worrying about any importance whatsoever." -- Feynman – littleO Aug 31 at 9:21
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Two thoughts:

(1) Did you run into any side interests in grad school...maybe an area you didn't know much about? Maybe you could pursue one of those for a while.

(2) At some schools, especially smaller ones, 'research' may be interpreted rather broadly. Sometimes things like the scholarship of teaching and learning count; or perhaps you can work on something a bit lighter, but that leads to good student research projects.

  • Yeah I second the student research projects. Particularly at Liberal Arts Colleges, it's a great way to engage more students and it's even an opportunity to publish or present smaller projects. – cduston Nov 15 '16 at 3:54
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RoboKaren is very right, you need to check with the expectations of your department and school. See how much research was required for the most recent tenure cases, and even better, see if they have explicit guidelines. In addition, the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) supports tenure-track jobs which might not have the three common areas required for tenure. They imagine a "tenure-track teaching position" to be within the standards they've set for academic freedom and tenure.

Of course, none of that matters if your position (like most TT-positions) requires research, scholarship, and teaching. The fact is, you are having trouble with part of the requirements for the job. But everyone has their own path to tenure - you have some time, use it to figure out what kind of scholarship you can participate in. Depending on your field, it can be a great many things, not just papers and articles. What about data collection, textbook projects, research in teaching pedagogies? Maybe find a collaborator - organizing a project might help you become more interested in working on the project, and splitting the work might make it more interesting as well.

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