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Friday, January 4, 2013

Is Being a Professor Non-Stressful Job?

Maybe.

First of all, this is an article written by someone who has never worked in academia. The stress varies quite a bit. Are we talking about at PI in a science lab who is also teaching courses and supervising a large staff? An assistant professor at a SLAC with a baby at home? There is no such thing as a typical professor.

The idea of summers and winter breaks off would be a nice one, but that is prime research real estate. We are not elementary school teachers.

The idea of leaving one's work in the office is also somewhat unrealistic. The office is one's brain, and it is very hard to turn that off.

The article shows no conception of academic politics, which makes the job very stressful. Not in my case, fortunately, but for many, many people.

There is one, and only one grain of truth in this article. The autonomy of being a professor makes it a great job. Being able to determine the course of one's own research. In some cases, a very wide latitude in course content as well. For me, but not for everyone.

So, yes, for me, middle-aged white full professor at research institution surrounded by very nice colleagues, the job is non-stressful. I am ambitious so I do more than I have to do to earn my salary. I am working for reputation outside my university more than for the salary itself. This added work is not stress-inducing, because it stems from my autonomy. We know that the three key ingredients for happiness are relatedness, competence, and autonomy. Academia can score high in the second two (not always) and in the 1st if you are extremely lucky.

I view the number of hours worked as somewhat of a distraction. I could work more hours and get less done. I happen to be faster at any given task than most people. If I were also efficient about the small stuff, I could work even less.



8 comments:

Professor Zero said...

They have no idea what they are talking about in that article.

It is a lot less stressful than working blue collar and the flexible hours/autonomy are or can be nice, if they are that in fact and not only in name and you have resources to use them well.

In our case we do not really have flex hours because there are only a certain number of hours and days campus is open (to save on utilities) so we have to use those, and we are very heavily scheduled. This makes it a lot more like working a regular job with very fixed hours (plus a lot of hours working from elsewhere, of course). I worked in a factory once and when I got here I kept flashing on that. Administrators are more like foremen and other white collar professionals in town, working in industry, seem to have more autonomy at work to judge by what they describe.

For me the stressful thing about academia is, one is supposed to be one thing and needs to be to get ahead, but what one is supposed to be and do in daily work life is the opposite in many ways. Managing the cognitive dissonance is what causes the stress.

Professor Zero said...

And here we have a riposte:

http://factsandotherfairytales.com/2013/01/04/the-least-stressful-job-for-2013-a-real-look-at-being-a-professor-in-the-us/

Jonathan said...

That's a pretty bad riposte. For example:

"You have to write your syllabus and all of the course materials (e.g., assignment descriptions, etc.). This will typically take 30-60 hours per class before the semester even begins — for the brand new prof, that’s 90-240 work hours (3-6 weeks) of UNPAID work before you even start your job."

Can you imagine thinking that (1) writing the syllabus is unpaid labor (2) You have to have every assignment in place before the semester begins. I usually do that as I go along, getting a little head start. For a class that meets 30 times, I don't have to spend 30-60 hours on that, because there are no 30 paper assignments each requiring an hour for me to write. She counts the lecture preparation apart from this, so I don't really know what she's talking about, or else she spends way too much time. Would you spend 3 hours preparing a 1 hour lecture?

This is all assuming you don't have material already prepared, that you don't know what you are talking about, basically. I guess it would take me 3 hours to prepare a lecture on something I have no clue about.

profacero said...

She is talking about that first year in disciplines that give large power point lectures and assign a Hispanist but suddenly have them teach Asia, as happens in departments like History.

Jonathan said...

Ok, but still. I've never met a professor who saw having the syllabus done before classes start as unpaid labor. The norm is to teach some courses where one is in one's comfort zone, and some that might require more preparation time, and after the first year to have some material prepared already so every course is not taught from scratch. The blog post you cited just does not reflect well on us as a profession. I don't view getting one's scholarly base in place to do one's job as unpaid labor.

Of course, the initial article was total bullshit. The refutation was just deeply flawed.

profacero said...

Oh, I think she is just trying to spell it out to the uninformed. I have to do this all the time and it is interesting what misconceptions people have. They get it about research once you explain but course development stumps them, it really does.

They are VERY surprised that you do not just walk into a pre made syllabus and you know, a lot of textbook companies do in fact provide syllabi with dates and everything if you adopt their book.

The assumption, including among some more old fashioned members of my own faculty, is that you either use that service or you use a syllabus you got from the professor that that used to teach that course. Truly. Why you would ever not do that if you were not getting paid extra for it, they do not understand.

Jonathan said...

I guess I see what you're saying. Usually Aspring Assistant Professors bring in syllabi to job interviews to show that they know how to do it, so I'm a bit surprised that senior faculty would not know that people make up their own. But I guess nothing should surprise me in academe any more.

Leslie said...

At two universities I have worked for I have seen people apply for and get summer research money for course development. Here, they do not give me more credit for teaching, say, a seminar in Golden Age they might assign me as opposed to something I know.

That is because what many do for any class is get a textbook or an anthology, make .ppts of the chapters, lecture from those, give midterm and final based on memorization of points from your slides, and assign a "research paper" that is actually a literature report (not a review).