Three years is what it takes for me to feel home, to feel comfortable. I've seen it over and over in my life, as I've moved from place to place. I don't know what it is about three years, I don't know if it has more to do with forgetting where I've been or fully embracing the present.
Even though I had known for some time that I wanted to be a professor, I was still uncomfortable with various (many?) aspects of it when I got started. How much could I expect of students? How much could I ask? What would be the best way to interact with my colleagues? And how on earth should I lecture? Should I use the black/white board, the doc cam, powerpoint slides???
I don't think I did anything too crazy in the first couple of years (with the exception of a department holiday party, but that is neither here nor there). It was an information gathering phase. I was constantly asking my colleagues what they would do in certain situations, and then I would try some combination of what felt right and what was comfortable. (I think real confidence is required to always be comfortable doing what feels right).
I've spent a fair amount of time comparing myself to how my Ph.D. advisor did things, and wondering if it was okay if I did things differently. Although the answer may seem self-evident, when you're beginning this brand new, super complicated job that does not come with an instruction manual, you may find yourself attempting to imitate the one person you most intimately observed running their own group. But as every student is unique, so is every PI. And although I hope to be kind as my Ph.D. advisor is kind, and to have an impact as he has had an impact, I have come to terms with the fact that I will run my group differently.
In any event, my three year anniversary will be this December, and I am finally feeling like even though the semester is crazy, even though I am overwhelmed and sometimes can't understand how all of the items on my check list will get checked - I am at peace with the dynamic nature of this job and my ability to handle it. It is a product of experience. And although I am in no way delusional enough to believe I've seen it all, I've seen enough to know that I am almost always and forever going to be surprised by something happening at this very moment. And it's the recognition that I can't control it that in some way brings me comfort - like riding a mechanical bull, I'm just trying to stay on, and perhaps I can even do it with style.