Field of Science

Us professors got the least stressful job for sure

Susan Adams at Forbes in an article about the least stressful jobs provides a most naive perspective of the modern professorship. 
"University professors have a lot less stress than most of us.  Unless they teach summer school, they are off between May and September and they enjoy long breaks during the school year, including a month over Christmas and New Year’s and another chunk of time in the spring. Even when school is in session they don’t spend too many hours in the classroom. For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two."This doesn’t surprise TPP because people who haven’t been a professor and have only seen professors from the student perspective don’t have any idea at all what we do, how we spend our time, or how much time we spend, but here’s a clue Susan, if you can’t juggle a dozen balls at once, you couldn’t cut it.  Her perspective about all of our breaks just kills me because here TPP sits, in his office, classes are not in session, but since New Year’s Day he’s been preparing materials for classes, working on his research, and illustrating a book manuscript.  Please don’t ever ask any biologist who does field work, “How was your summer vacation?”  This is sure to generate a withering glaze.  And talk about stress.  Our job is one mad rush from deadline to deadline.  Ever see someone trying to finish a grant proposal, one that their job and livelihood depends on, by a strict deadline, and then have something screw it up?  Some of my colleagues put up signs to warn people about the danger of interrupting.  Also if there are any flaws in your proposal, if you aren't totally up to date, if your idea isn't really, really good, your proposal will simply get trashed, sometimes rather nastily.  Another colleague did a time study of professors in our college (Arts and Sciences) and found out the average work week was around 59 hours, and when the study was shown to a state legislator, their reaction was to suggest it was a fraudulent because it was so much out of line with their idea that professors only worked when they were in class.   Now Susan is not completely wrong in her assessment of our jobs.  The working conditions are good (but cozy?) and reasonably civilized (Hawaiian shirts are allowed instead of ties and jackets).  The travel demands are not too great, and you can always turn down invitations to speak (to the detriment of your career), but to think conferences, otherwise called professional meetings, can be skipped suggests Susan has no idea about how science is done, where ideas and collaborations come from, because even top notch scientists’ reputations suffer if they don’t do the people part of science.  Wonder where Susan got the idea that only pre-tenure professors had publishing deadlines?   It’s so much fun when research and teaching have you maxed out to have galley proofs of an article arrive with the editor’s instructions to return the manuscript in 48 hours.  Now it is true that some people make this job look pretty easy, and you do sort of get used to the juggling and somehow find the time to get everything done, so it doesn’t seem all that stressful, mostly.   Professors do have freedom to pursue things of their particular interest, and that’s pretty amazing, although many in science have to chase the interests of funding agencies, and that’s not fun, just necessary.  No surprise that not everyone who tries this business of higher education can do the job the way it’s supposed to be done.   My introduction to research class got quite a surprise to when they figured out in detail what does into doing science, publishing science, and teaching science.  One of them commented, “Being a scientist sounds great, really interesting, and being a professor seems like a real good job, but I’m not sure I want to do that much work.”  They didn’t add, for that much pay, which is adequate, but nothing to brag about.  What are you going to do?  Hide the truth from them so they can become a journalist and write ill-informed articles about some they thought they knew? 

 An extensive addendum of comments has been added to the Forbes article, showing that her article really touched an academic nerve.  And some of my FoS colleagues have had a say about this too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mrs Phactor can attest to the consequences of TPP's stress free profession