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« You mean this isn't anatomy class? | Main | Michael Simkins »

March 09, 2004


Invisible Adjunct

Nobody can say he hasn't been busy these past thirty-two years: I count 300 scholarly papers and three wives (plus three children: I wonder if that's one per wife, like Lorne Greene on Bonanza?)

"He's quite right: academia is not as stressful as working in a coal mine."

Yep. But apart from asserting that academia is not as stressful as coal mining (which we already knew), he doesn't take seriously, or even acknowledge, any of the issues raised by Cady Wells. He just holds himself up as some kind of ideal, so that the column reads like an exercise in self-aggrandizement. There is something unseemly in this kind of boasting (look at me, count my publications -- and my wives).


As a graduate student with high hopes to dodge the odds and actually become hired as a a professor one day, I've always thought that most faculty take their jobs for granted. You (generally) set your own hours, and rarely do those seem to comprise a full 8 hour day; the office doors are closed more often than they're open. I've yet to see, on multiple campuses, a hallway at 8:30am with more than one office occupied.

Who needs coal miners to compare to when some non-traditional undergraduates take 16 hours of classes, are parents, and work 20-40 hours a week? If that shouldn't remind you of how easy you have it, I'm not sure even a coal mine in the teacher's lounge would do much good.

I'm not saying that "professing" is easy. I do, however, think that being a professor has the most variance in terms of the amount of work one can put in or get away with not doing. Tack in tenure, a 95% surefire way that you'll have a job the rest of your life (unless,say, you direct an anti-university play), and you can come in, teach classes, grade papers, churn out some articles and you've got a pretty easy life set out for you. Of course, you can also work very hard as a professor. The best professors, though, I've ever been under clearly understood that the decision to work was up to them. They compensated by working very hard all of the time. I could be wrong, since I'm not there yet, but it seems like I've seen a lot of professors get away with quite a bit, or, more aptly, not a lot.


John confuses being able to control one's schedule with not doing any work. Worse, he seems inexplicably not to realize that to be in one's office would actually mean *avoiding* work: It means you're not in the library, in the lab, at a committee meeting, at a department meeting, etc. (This is also a sure sign that John didn't read the article, since Lester's point is that the way to get work done is, essentially, to disappear from view.)

Fair warning: Being a faculty member (at least before tenure) is at least two or three orders of magnitude more work than being a graduate student. (At least, it's like that at my [teaching-intensive] school, and it was like that at my [research-intensive] graduate school)

better left nameless

when i look at the 5-5 teaching load i face next year, the vast majority of which consist of subjects i never took a class in as a graduate student, along with the heaps of committee work one must do to get tenure at my small and truly forgettable institution, i always have the Chronicle to remind me how great and easy-going life is for other professors.

phew! at least i'm not a coal miner's son.

hiding in the office? not taking phone calls? avoiding faculty meetings? these are checklists on how not to pass your first year review at a liberal arts school. if you want to get out of academics, just follow these tips and they will can you.

Lucy S.

I do think that it is worth reminding professors of the positive aspects of their jobs--there's definitely too much sour complaining among academics, in my experience. But this article doesn't make a contribution. If I were to complain about a job in the coal mines, it's not an answer to reply, "Well, at least you're not starving to death during the Ukrainian famine of the thirties."


"John confuses being able to control one's schedule with not doing any work."

Perhaps. What I can't see I can't comment on. Nevertheless, when one has professors who are never in their office, have not published anything and don't appear to be getting ready to publish anything, and have obviously not prepared for class, one has to wonder what the hell he (or she) is spending his time doing.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who didn't read the article. Lester not only eats his lunch in his office, but also naps there as well. That's at least two more office hours a day, three with a exceptionally nice nap, than a large minority of faculty members. And no, he's not altogether transparent from view as you seem to have gathered from the article. I think Lester quite plainly implies that he is very accesible to the students. It's his colleagues that never see him. Good for Lester, because a significant number of professors stumble into their offices at random times, espousing "woe/busy-is-me" lamentations to students whom they missed meetings with (or are late to), while the student had to set up child care, has to be at work making $8/hour in 5 minutes, and is trying to graduate with a full load this semester so they make $10 . What do you think the student is thinking?

"Being a faculty member (at least before tenure) is at least two or three orders of magnitude more work than being a graduate student."

Well damn. I'm out.

Although, I dare you to say that to one of my fellow graduate students who is taking 9 hours, writing a thesis, working as a middle school teacher during the day and works 16 extra hours on the weekends at a relative's business so he can support his two kids. Yeah, that'd be funny to see.

So if I may reiterate Lester, "Complain, Complain." Really, guys, enough with the ashes and the tearing of the clothes and the gnashing of the teeth.

Another Damned Medievalist

John's last comments seem a bit disengenuous. Sure, lots of grad students work the kind of life he refers to -- but most grad students are not employed full-time outside of academe. That's why there are fellowships, and many don't allow full-time work. That said, lots of us do work full time after the fellowships and grants run out. Big whoop. I've done it, and raised a child, and had to up sticks and move continents in between, as well as going through extended periods of family unemployment. We all have our sad stories.

On the other hand, there are many grad students who have external financial support, from parents or working spouses, and they never have to do anything but school. Bully for them.

In Lester's case, though, there is no justification that I can see. The man brags about not fulfilling his service obligations, and pretty much says that people who complain about the working conditions in academe are whiners, or in some way can't hack the life. That's BS. I've done physical labor for much of my life, as well as working in very intense white-collar jobs. Physically, academe isn't that hard (although it can be wearing if you don't force youself to get out of your chair). That doesn't mean it isn't draining and demanding. There is no 8-hour day for most people, especially before tenure. Work gets taken home nights and weekends, new preps take time and energy to create and tweak, committee work eats into your schedule, advising can be overwhelming, and students can make huge demands on your time. Plus, being "on" for much of the day, then coming home and trying to participate in family life can be a strain. Then, as many married academics can tell you, if the spouse is non-academic, there's often tension over what seems to be an absurd work schedule. I don't actually know anyone I respect (and that's most of my colleagues and mentors) who isn't at work, either in his or her office, library, meeting, or classroom (not necessarily in that order), or in a home office for less than 50 hours a week. I love what I do, but it's damned hard to do well, because it's a huge responsibility. And it's way harder than grad school. In fact, I'd say full-time, non-tenured work is to grad school what grad school is to undergrad, in terms of responsibilities and stress.


Why should I be in my office at 8:30 a.m., when most of my students don't wake up until 11? I'm usually on campus until 8 or 9 at night, which makes me far more accessible.

In fact, one of the stressfuol things about academia is the constant accessiblity, and the constant feeling that one always could -- and should -- be doing more. Obviously, academia is vastly more flexible, more prestigious, less physically dangerous, and often more intellectually rewarding than many other professions, including the rather over-the-top example of coal mining. But, for the conscientous academic (and maybe this is the bit everyone's disagreeing about), work more than follows you home -- it wakes you up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.

Teaching is full of ethical dilemmas in a way that waiting tables isn't. Teaching involves responsibility for others in a way that clerking in a store doesn't. Teaching requires substantial performance ability, political skill, and endless patience -- all of which can be stressful to produce on a daily basis.

It's a mistake to think that better job=less stress. The two are simply not identical descriptors. As any psychologist will tell you, situations that would seem on the face of them to be preferrable -- ones that offer unlimited choice, for example -- are often more stressful to experimental subjects than simpler, seemingly less desirable conditions.

By the by, is there any group of people who DOESN'T whine abou their jobs?




Vocally, at least.

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