All of these involve aspects of being a TT professor that I never considered until they came up. Forewarned is fore-armed!
5. Student with boundary issues
second year teaching, I had a student who stalked his (female) lab TA. I
was unsure what his deal was, but it turned out he had major boundary
issues. We had to discuss appropriate and inappropriate behavior after
he was unable to understand why finding a large and angry male student
standing right outside her research lab door late at night when she was
alone, was not expecting him, and the building was nearly deserted might
be upsetting and fear-inducing. Apparently, he had been standing there
for hours after a late afternoon appointment with the TA ended. The
discussion ended the creepy behavior, but I wonder about that guy.
4. First time failure
My very first
semester teaching, I had a student crying in my office after I returned
my first midterm exam. He had never failed anything before in his life, and
had no idea how to handle it. I had no idea what to do. I gave him a
tissue, gave him some ideas about how to go ahead from here, and
resolved to think about strategies for crying students BEFORE handing
back exams next time. Since then, I've had many more students crying in
my office (I get crying students of all genders--maybe I am a cruel professor?), but have
coping strategies pre-planned.
3. Personal hygiene
This was really the most embarrassing thing I've had to do thus far as a professor. Pretty early into my time at ProdigalU, I was sharing student office space with a much more senior colleague who was traveling extensively over the summer. He had a visiting "student" (I think he may have been a professor in his home country, but had student status at ProdigalU) who had terrible body odor. It was very hot. The office had 6 people in it. My students were very upset and asked me to do something about it. So, I had to have a discussion about personal hygiene and cultural norms with a man much older than myself, who was clearly seriously annoyed at having to talk to me at all, let alone about the topic. No one ever tells you about that one before you start the job!
2. Stalker student
My most frightening conversation was with a student who was clearly having mental health issues, and kept screaming at me and refusing to leave my office. Luckily for me, my colleagues noticed something was amiss, and called someone to take her to student services for help.
1. Leaving without a PhD
The very worst conversation I've had in my office was when I had to tell a student they would not be getting a PhD with me. It was necessary, but painful on both sides. In retrospect, I let a bad situation go on too long, which was not good for me, my group, or the student. In the end, it all worked out. The student now has a job they really like, and was not cut out for PhD research anyway. It is very difficult when it feels like you are killing someone's dream, and worse when they have been working with you for a while and you really like them.
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