Professors Paul Gray and David E. Drew offer advice from their new book, What They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career (Stylus Publishing, 2008). As they note:
“Most new Ph.D.'s who accept faculty positions are shocked to discover that no one told them what their day-to-day jobs would really entail. They struggled as graduate students to master the literature, theories, models, and analytical techniques in their fields and wrote dissertations of which they are proud, but they quickly realize that this knowledge is separate and distinct from understanding and dealing with the challenges and obstacles that face a beginning professor.”
Some tidbits from the book:
Finish your Ph.D. as quickly as possible. Don't feel that you need to create the greatest work that Western civilization ever saw. Five years from now the only thing that will matter is whether you finished.
Don't take a tenure-track faculty position without the Ph.D. in hand. We estimate the odds are two to one against your ever finishing your degree. Furthermore, without a Ph.D. you will be offered a significantly lower salary, and you may never make up the difference.
Know that publications are your only form of portable wealth. Prioritize accordingly.
Never, ever choose sides in department politics. The side you are on expects your support and will give you no reward for it. The side(s) you are not on will remember forever.
Never become a department chair unless you are already a tenured full professor. Yes, it will reduce your teaching load. Yes, it will give you visibility. No, it will not confer power on you. Most department chairs do less research and publish less while in that position than they would as a faculty member. Thus you are producing less portable wealth per year, and you are reducing your chances for tenure or for promotion.
Write most of your articles for refereed journals. Papers presented at meetings get you funds to be a world traveler. However, even if refereed, conference papers don't really count for tenure, promotion, or salary raises.
Do, however, serve as a reviewer for journals, particularly top journals. Treat this job seriously. You will see much junk being submitted and appreciate why some journals reject 80 percent or more of their submissions. You will develop an aesthetic for what is good and what is not. You will correspond with some powerful people. When you do get a good paper to review, you will receive much earlier knowledge of an important new development. And the information gained is worth more than the time you take reviewing.
I've been teaching at the college level for 26 years and would agree with their advice. Unfortunately, some of this I had to learn the hard way my first few years.