Professors feel stitched up over stressful career list

University professors have the least stressful career in the US - narrowly beating tailors and seamstresses into second place, a job listing website has found

According to CareerCast, the high growth opportunities, low health risks and substantial pay on offer to university professors create a low-stress environment that is “the envy of many career professionals”.

In addition, the increasing number of students attending university has resulted in rising numbers of job opportunities in the higher education sector, which the website claims is making teaching jobs “less stressful than ever before”. An average salary of $62,050 (£38,178) ensures the profession’s place on top of the list.

Although it acknowledges that university professors typically have advanced degrees, and “usually” a PhD, CareerCast asserts that some master’s-level applicants will be considered for the professor role.

It also says that to maintain the quality of education while meeting the increased demand, US universities are “expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professorial positions by 2020”, citing US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. This will soften one of the most significant stresses encountered by professors - competition for “coveted tenure-track positions”.

“University professor was the only career to score below seamstress/tailor on the stress scale,” the website says.

“Unfortunately, the monetary incentive for seamstresses and tailors is low…yet low safety risks, less physical demands than most other careers and peaceful work environment make working with fabric and thread one of the least stressful for 2013.” Still less stressful, however, than a professorship, the website concludes.

The website has been inundated with comments from angry readers, many identifying themselves as university professors.

“The job is tremendously demanding with a broad set of required skills,” wrote one, claiming to be a mid-career professor at the City University of New York. “We must be teachers, scholars, advisors, administrators, and part-time therapists, among other things, all at once. It’s true that the work is seasonal, but I don’t think I’ve ever worked fewer than 30 hours in a week, even over the summer, and during the semester a 50 or 60 hour workweek is not unusual.”

Another, described as an assistant professor at a research institution, added: “I have never met a professor at a research university, particularly from an Ivy League school, who has said they have not had second thoughts about their career choice because it is so [stressful]. And I know many PhDs who have left academia completely without looking back because the stress level is so high.”

However, perhaps best placed to comment, given the top two least stressful jobs, is Catherine Harper, dean of arts and digital industries at the University of East London. The professor of textiles, and textile editor at the Journal of Cloth and Culture, tweeted: “As a [part time] seamstress, I object strongly to this suggestion. Straightness, stitch uniformity, bias seaming, deco edges - a ‘mare!! … the clue is sea[m]STRESS!!”

The stress level lists are based on the annual best and worst jobs listings, which rank 200 careers based on around 100 criteria and have been published since 1995, originally by the Wall Street Journal. CareerCast took over the lists in 2009.

To focus on stress levels, CareerCast assessed 11 particular aspects of a job that it says can “reasonably be expected to evoke stress”. These are: travel; growth potential (or lack thereof); deadlines; working in the public eye; competitiveness; physical demands; environmental conditions; hazards encountered; risk to own life; risk to others’ lives; and meeting the public.

Most and least stressful careers

Least stressful careers

  1. University professor
  2. Seamstress / tailor
  3. Medical records technician
  4. Jeweller
  5. Medical laboratory technician
  6. Audiologist
  7. Dietician
  8. Hair stylist
  9. Librarian
  10. Drill press operator

Most stressful careers

  1. Enlisted soldier
  2. Firefighter
  3. Airline pilot
  4. Military general
  5. Police officer
  6. Event coordinator
  7. Public relations executive
  8. Corporate executive (senior)
  9. Photojournalist
  10. Taxi driver


Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

Universities to scale back liberal arts and social science courses

  • David Humphries illustration (24 September 2015)

A Russell Group tagline rap is further proof that we need to reform the academy’s approach, argues Philip Moriarty

  • World University Rankings

US continues to lose its grip as institutions in Europe up their game

  • World University Rankings 2015-2016 methodology

Change for the better: fuelled by more comprehensive data, the 2015-2016 rankings probe deeper than ever

  • protest, street, march

Even in the academy, your class background will always be a factor in how you are seen, says LSE’s Lisa Mckenzie