Darn Those Lazy Professors

There’s a link bouncing around Facebook about what exactly it is the people who hold the title of “Professor” actually do. The gist of it is that someone who should have known better but that was in an influential position suggested that professors only work about 200 hours a year. The rest of the post goes on to outline what professors actually do.

But there’s even more to this, which is why I’m writing this. I’m not a “Professor,” but like a professor, I teach at a university, and I spend way more than 200 hours a year working.

I have the title of ‘Research Associate,’ which necessarily means that my list is a little different from those holding the title of ‘Professor.’ However, the differences are subtle (yet the difference between paychecks is significant. Grumble.).

I can’t have my own graduate students, so I don’t have to worry about that… much. That said, I do have to train and supervise any students that work in the lab that I manage. I do still work with undergraduates, offering counsel when they ask (even though I’m not officially an advisor) and writing tons and tons of recommendation letters. Which reminds me… I need to write a letter today.

While I’m not *required* to submit proposals and manuscripts to keep my position, it is still rather expected. I don’t have the same sort of pressure as regular faculty, but people still push me to write more. I do write reviews of technical papers and have served on panels for NSF. I’m also on at least one committee for a professional organization and attend professional meetings for several organizations yearly.

I’m fortunate that because I’m not true faculty, I don’t have to go to faculty meetings and do a lot of the service-to-the-university things. I do have duties within the department, though, that eat up a few hours a week.

And this list doesn’t even include the summer field work necessary for those working in the geosciences.

I do outreach and outside seminars. I supervise high school students in the summers who want to do internships. I actually do have my own research that I’m working on, very, very slowly.

All these things I don’t have to do because I’m not a ‘professor’ doesn’t mean I do less work. Instead, I spend at least 10-20 hours a week keeping a laboratory alive: maintaining a mass spectrometer, managing data, wrangling employees. Many faculty don’t have to do that work. They hire someone (me) to take care of that for them, because that is a full-time job.

That’s the difference between my title of “Research Associate” and the title of “Professor.”
My credentials are essentially the same. My duties are really, really similar. Teaching is only one small part of my daily activitesAnd I definitely spend more than 200 hours a year working.

So, like many, it cheeses me off a bit when people make claims that professors don’t work all that hard.

One of my personal solutions was to start using social media, like blogging and Twitter. My students, friends, and colleagues have access to this and can see what I do on a daily basis. The results have been interesting, and positive. For one, I don’t have students pressing me to get exams graded and such. They say things like, ‘I know you’ve been busy. I’m surprized you got these exams grades so quickly,’ or, ‘Thanks for taking the time to write this letter. I know it came out of your sleep.’

My students don’t assume that I just sit in my office waiting for them to come by or for the next class I’m teaching to start. My students have a realistic idea of where my time goes (including my family and hobbies) and realize that I am a human being working like crazy and not an automaton.

I should say that at least most of my students understand this. There are some, particularly the ones who never come to class and can’t be bothered with the syllabus, that think that I exist merely to serve them. But that’s a different rant.

That someone in an influential position would hang on to the concept of professor as automaton is troublesome. A professorship – actually any academic job at a college or university – is a very real and time-consuming job. It’s not just teaching. Teaching may only be a small portion of it.

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