On How Forbes Online Was Taken Over By The Onion

I have interrupted my typical two hour, two martini lunch to bring you this post.

You see, in academia the living is easy and everyone in my department has time for such things. Folks stroll in at 9am. Work a smidge. Maybe teach a class. Have a long lunch, and then return to our desks to write leisurely until 5pm. Then we grab our attache cases, offer up a hearty “So long, bitches,” and head out the door. And what’s best is that academics don’t have a care in the world again until 9 am rolls back around.

At least, that’s what Susan Adams over at Forbes would have you believe. She’s labeled “University Professor” as one of the “Least Stressful Jobs of 2013.” Head on over. It’s worth the read if you’re not already feeling indignant about something today.

But, seriously. This piece is good for a chuckle if you like satire. Here’s an except:

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. As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.

No pressure! Off in the summer! Even during the week they don’t really work! Why isn’t everyone doing this job??!?!

35qv1jFigure 1: There’s clearly a meme here if one of you lazy fuckers wants to take up the challenge.

Now, yes. We have all been effectively trolled by Susan Adams this morning and it is certainly easy, as I did already in the comments, to remark that writing for Forbes must certainly trump professor in terms of least stressful given the lack of fact-checking required to do one’s job.  That’s all trivial in comparison to the fact that the misconceptions are Adams outlines are contributors to another issue…

This article hit a particularly soft spot for me because in the last year I have watched two friends and colleagues close their labs and lay off their staff as funding became more difficult to obtain.  The folks are brilliant individuals doing what I believe to be important work.  They certainly work more than 40 hours a week and I can tell you from observing their experiences, having to lay off staff with families and responsibilities is not stress-less.    To the contrary.  These folks, and the other folks that work at my university, work tirelessly to keep their research funded, their findings published, and their staff employed. It keeps them up at night to have to worry about how they will keep the doors open and the research going. For many on soft money, it keeps them up worrying how they will continue to support themselves. That’s on top of the teaching and mentoring and service that so many of them do.  Most hilariously, many of them are on nine month contracts yet, in order to meet the expectations of their departments, they work all year long.

But, back to the problem.  Articles like the one published on the Forbes site should show us that the general public has no real concept of what the typical university professor does.  And, if the general public thinks that the university professor works a couple of hours a day, a fraction of the year, and is only pressured to write the occasional book, it is difficult to justify increased funding to organizations, like the NIH, that fund these professors’ work.  After all, is it really a value to keep giving research dollars to folks who just don’t work that hard?  Is the public getting back as much as they put in, given that this money is going to folks who, according to Adams, only actually work 7 months of the year? This funding supports not only the tangibles, but the careers of many.  This funding translates to discovery and innovation.

I hope that the folks at Forbes will review their choice to publish Adams’s most recent article and, going forward, will commit to understanding the work academics do.  The important work many of them are doing in the face of an exceptionally challenging funding climate.  I hope they will commit to understanding them as more than teachers, but also as innovators, managers, mentors, and scholars.  And I hope that they will commit to understanding the consequences of this lazy professor trope that they have reinforced with this latest journalistic effort.

38 responses to “On How Forbes Online Was Taken Over By The Onion

  1. Very funny …
    Just stopped short of jumping off my tall and leisure filled academic tower… I’m not being arrogant, but… how do we get away with it, all over the world in general and the UK in particular….? And also be paid such extravagant salaries…!!!
    But hey, I rather be a professor than have to live within the ignorant, cozy darkness of my own… backside!!!

  2. PS. I am a real Professor… Check me out on Google and Google Scholar!!!

  3. If it were still Christmas time, I would think this was written by Santa going HO HO HO HO!

    Unfortunately, it echoes what many people think. They also think that students have it easy, only need to attend the occasional lecture, have time to party and even work full time and still pass. Many of my students somehow thought that just attending lectures and pracs would embed the knowledge in their skulls, that they didn’t have to do any study to make it stick. Then when they failed, they would blame the teaching staff for not ‘teaching’ them.

    I guess now I know why. The professors are all just lazy and don’t do any work.

    Now I think all that HO HO HO’ing has made me cry.


  4. Does Forbes imagine that all “professors” are some kind of imaginary English prof? Hell, even if the humanities profs I knew didn’t have labs to run they still had plenty of work to do. Maybe at big universities you don’t have to do your own grading, but you still have to prepare your lectures, give your lectures, hold office hour, attend department meetings, write the homework, write the exams, and probably grade the essays. Oh, and keep publishing. How is that the same as “stroll into a lecture hall” a few hours a week?

    In some ways it’s similar to how all fashion magazines imagine that all women work in the publishing industry. (Never once do they suggest “Great clothes for the classroom” or “What to wear when you work at Google” let alone “Hot shoes for the lab”.)

  5. I think it is worth saving some ire for Careercast (no link), the website that originated the (ignorant, trollish) rankings.

  6. ha ha ha! Don’t disturb me; I only do the brainy bits! Pass the G n T while I check out Brideshead Revisited.

  7. The stress of sewing leather patches on the elbows of my tweed coats is giving me ulcers. No other job requires those.

  8. Professor Harry Matlay

    Ahmmmmm…. Steady on, David…! Aren’t you forgetting the ‘Plasterboard Hats and Tailcoats, old chap?!? Who is ironing those for you…??? And, who is shining the customary square black shoes, me asks…? After all, we must look the part while attending class, occasionally…

  9. Don’t-ya know, chaps, there is a ‘bedder’ or ‘scout’ to do these things for Boffins.


  10. Yeah, I have my issues with academia, but that right there is some serious bullshit. Anyone who knows anything about it knows that most professors are overworked and way underpaid.

    Seriously, y’all should call out Forbes publicly for that nonsense.

  11. David, my dear chap…
    So kind of you to enlighten me…
    Now, what shall we do about Forbes and What’s-her-Name, who wrote that silly feature…?
    How about an empirically rigorous article on the … ‘Silliest Job in the World’…?!?
    Isis, are you in, on this…???

  12. Michael Maratsos

    an article like this, especially aimed at probable readers of Forbes, is not a good sign – it’s a likely prelude to getting (more) cuts for academic support, functioning a lot like “welfare queens” did for conservatives

  13. Potnia Theron

    This particular version of idiocy rears its absurdest head over and over. In the 60’s , the 70’s etc etc etc. In my experience profs have the same variation that most professions do, with respect to integrity, diligence, hard work, etc etc etc. Deadwood has been a problem since I was in college, back in the mid-Miocene. It hurts (now) to see many of my cohort turn into what they despised twenty years ago. The wrong answer is to say “no we all work so incredibly hard”.

    It is important to answer this kind of claptrap in an honest & logical way. Those of us who do work our nubbins off (and its impossible to tell what nubbins are, since they have been worked off) need to say that any person with a calling, with a vocation, with a commitment, will work as hard as they can at what they love. Not everyone can work at this, and there is value to what we do. Scientific research has made a better world, and we are part of that, and committed to it.

  14. I liked the illustration too.
    An older male talking/explaining something to younger female in a lab setting is a very common motif in many sciency pictures.

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the rejoinder. We need more academics like you.

  16. This post has too many paragraphs, and they are each too long.

  17. My wife is a librarian, also one of the least stressful jobs. Apparently, Susan hasn’t stepped foot in a library lately–guess that is too much like doing actual research. Why do research when you can just make stuff up and fall back on your own narrow stereotypes.

  18. ElectroFizzz

    I too was overcome with the absurdity of this article! I had it all queued up to read aloud at lab meeting on Friday…but, alas, lab meeting was cancelled because the prof was busy with his “occasional” 13 manuscripts and 2 grants on his desk, the grad students were “lazily” prepping for their new courses, learning new lab techniques and writing some “quick and easy” theses, whilst the post-docs were engaged in some “silly” 13 hour surgeries and experiments (while simultaneously editing drafts of their own fellowships)…practically yawning, I tell ya! I did read it aloud to some of my fellow post-docs and they tried to justify it by saying that, perhaps I was a little jaded and that maybe the majority of profs (maybe at community colleges or teaching/undergrad universities?) didn’t have it as bad as the “research 1 university science prof”. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do–but to say this is a leisurely walk in the park? I dunno….I just know it was more of a cross between a guffaw and a sob when I saw this!

  19. Isis the Scientist

    Electrofizzz, I know for a fact that your prof is a bullshitter with those grants and papers ;)

  20. ElectroFizzz

    Haha!!! Touché!! ;-)

  21. ElectroFizzz

    p.s. I just saw that there is an addendum to the Forbes article…apparently those lazy profs got off of their duffs in outrage!

  22. Isis the Scientist

    Yeah, but its really a faux-pology at best. “Wow, I can’t believe how hard these folks ACTUALLY work!!!! (insert clueless tee-hee)”. Had she done any research at all, her addendum would not have been required.

  23. @isis – if she had done any research at all, HER WHOLE ARTICLE would not have been required. (not shouting, just emphasising).


  24. ElectroFizzz

    Now yahoo.com is running the story sans faux-pology…ugh….

  25. Look, she doesn’t know that a good piece of writing requires more than just paraphrasing a single website that she read. So, obviously the professors who taught her were just lazy slobs who didn’t know how to do their jobs, right?

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  28. Here are the metrics that were used in the study cited by Forbes:

    Travel, amount of 0-10
    Growth Potential (income divided by 100)
    Deadlines 0-9
    Working in the public eye 0-5
    Competitiveness 0-15
    Physical demands (stoop, climb, etc.) 0-14
    Environmental conditions 0-13
    Hazards encountered 0-5
    Own life at risk 0-8
    Life of another at risk 0-10
    Meeting the public 0-8

    According to the study, “university professor” scored at 6.45. For me, I get a value of at least 40. And probably a fair bit higher.

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  32. Talking about a faux-pology… She says *inset batting eyelashes here* “But I didn’t know, these data from Careercast,com only account for things such as having life in danger etc. This is total bullshit, because in her companion piece, http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/01/03/the-most-stressful-jobs-of-2013/
    with really stressful and dangerous jobs such as military, fire fighters, police, or cab drivers, she has public relations executive. Seriously? When are their lives in danger?

    Other jobs on the most stressful list that may seem surprising: public relations executive and senior corporate executive. Though many people may picture PR execs wining and dining and taking lunch with friends and connections around town, in fact they face almost constant rejection from people like me. I am subject to such an onslaught of PR email, I don’t even reply to most of the notes I get. I’m sure that is discouraging and stressful to anyone who approaches me. Lee also points out that PR clients are never satisfied. If the PR executive succeeds in convincing Forbes.com to cover something, the client will most likely say great, but what about The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.

    So their stress coming from rejection? Well boo-hoo. We academics get praise and approval all the time! No wait, that would be the Bizarro Academics. We here are constantly rejected by funding agencies and manuscript editors, in fact you very rarely get affirmations, and you certainly don’t get fat bonuses ever, just inane hypocritical drivel about how lazy and how easy you have it from the likes of Adams.

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  34. As silly as the piece in Forbes was, it does highlight something of which we should be aware. We academics are in a very delicate position if the wider public has such a wrongheaded view of what we do. If a similar view were held of nurses it would be declared a crisis of the trust placed in their profession. We seem to think it comes with the territory. I penned a rambling description of an academic’s duties so that new students could see how things worked, but I’ve decided to put it up on the web for all to read. If it disabuses only one person of their vision of lazy professors, it will have been worth my time. http://leehw.com/its-the-academic-life-for-me/

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