My mom is a huge fan of to-do lists. She scribbles words in the tiniest font on multiple pieces of scratch paper, held together (with her coupons) by a paper clip. These lists say things like 'pull the weeds,' 'pay bills,' and 'ladies day flowers.' There's a separate paper for the weekly grocery list and we often spend too much time trying to figure out if a scribble says 'milk' or 'mayo.' She also has separate columns that say 'Jessica,' 'Jason' [my brother], and 'Manuel' [my dad] with our corresponding to-do lists. You'd think that after moving away and starting graduate school I had forgotten about her lists, but that is far from the truth! Five years later and her phone calls never fail to start with her saying "Now I have a list for you..."
I have found myself making my own to-do lists in various forms. One of my most unique to-do lists is the section on my CV that is commented out. I started this as a junior in undergrad and since I wanted to go to graduate school, those commented items would say things like "%REU program," "%publish a paper," "%present at conferences." Some of these are still on my current CV (e.g., "%publish more papers"), and I have definitely added new ones "%mentor undergraduates," "%write a grant proposal," "%get my Ph.D." etc. Sometimes I didn't know what I should add, so I would look up the CVs of other people and see if there was anything they did that I also wanted to do some day. But everything on that list was on there for a reason, and the reason was that it would help me achieve whatever goal I had set for myself. Just like in the grocery store when you have your shopping list, you use it so you don't forget to buy more dish soap but also to deter you from buying that super awesome coffee cup that you really don't need. By having this list I was able to keep focused on what I needed to do and I was motivated by knowing everything I was doing had a purpose.
The goals I had set for myself at the start of graduate school was to get my Ph.D. and nail a tenure-track position. Goals definitely change (especially over the course of five years), but these goals of mine have stayed put. I am approaching the end of my graduate career and as I look towards the future I realized I need to start creating my to-do list as a tenure-track professor of mathematics (*knock on wood* that I can call myself this next fall). My to-do list hasn't necessarily gotten longer, but it has gotten denser because this list will help me achieve goals that go far beyond myself. This time around I have set goals that will hopefully make an impact on the rest of the world as well.
I am on the job market this year and part of the process of developing an application is to write a cover letter. Now most application materials are generic, in the sense that you write one teaching statement, one research statement, and one CV. But the cover letter is really where you *should* tailor it to the specific position and department you are applying to. This letter to the search committee, probably best referred to as a 'Letter of Interest,' is an opportunity for you to tell them not only why you are qualified for the position, but also why you are interested in working in their department. I have written a good number of cover letters so far (although still few compared to how many are left to do) and I learned a lot about what my professional goals are through this process.
If I haven't already learned about the department through people I know who work(ed) there, then my primary source of information is their website and, in particular, individual faculty webpages. Faculty pages give me an idea of what it would be like to work at that university, and I believe their CVs also reflect what the department values. I have come across a few pages that have made me think "I want to do things like that." and those instances have helped me shape the type of professor I want to become.
As a mathematician, I want to work on (and solve) fun problems, publish papers, and have a long list of collaborators at various places, both geographically and within their mathematical career. I plan on writing (and hopefully being awarded) internal and external grants to support my research, organize conferences, and develop programs to support underrepresented students. At conferences, I want to be the faculty member who purposely sits with students to learn all about them, offer advice, and to be a contact for any future questions/opportunities. I wish to provide service to my community in many ways, but certainly by working with future generations of mathematicians in primary and secondary schools. Above all, I want my students to know me for being an outstanding teacher and mentor. I know these are lofty goals, and I don't expect that I will achieve them within the first ten years of my career. Nevertheless I am excited to be starting this journey on my way to becoming a person who will make an impact.
I have also decided to write this at this time to show that my goals do not need to be a function of the position I will start in the fall. Too often is it the case that I tell someone I am seriously interested in a school where 4-4 is the teaching load and they tell me that teaching will then be the only thing I do. Now of course, that doesn't sound terrible for I am in this profession because I love to teach, but I believe that I will be able to attain these goals no matter where I go. This belief partly stems from the fact that I have met people who model what I want to become and it didn't matter if they were teaching a 4-4 or a 3-2, at a small school or a large school, at a private or public institution. Surely it will take me longer to achieve these goals at some places over others, but as long as I am supported in these endeavors I have no doubt that I will accomplish them.