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??!?!
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.