THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

January 17, 2013

When recruitment website CareerCast assessed 200 jobs in the US and concluded that the role of university professor was the least stressful of them all, there was bound to be a reaction.

Audra Diers, assistant professor in organisational communication and public relations at Marist College in New York, was one of the first to bite.

"I will grant that we're not crab fishing on the Bering Sea nor making command and control decisions on the front lines of a military conflict," she says in her Facts & Other Fairy Tales blog. "[But] let's cut through the BS - being a professor in the US for the first 7 years is like being an indentured servant."

She writes: "Loads of us finish our PhDs (which is what you have to have to be a 'regular' professor) between $75,000 [£47,000] and $160,000 in debt - and the debt mountain is enormous for those coming from lower income families."

She asks: "Why did we do it? I think this is a question most of us ask ourselves...sometimes often. The two realities are #1 that most of us who are professors are there by choice - this isn't the 'fall back' career - and #2 we're typically really smart people."

Job scarcity is another source of stress, Professor Diers continues.

"One of the realities since the economic crash of 2008 is that 'real' academic jobs are getting harder and harder to come by both because there are too many new PhDs and because many universities' endowments, state funding, and/or giving campaigns have been damaged."

She then offers to take readers on "a bit of a walk" through the life of an assistant professor.

Year one is all about "breaking you in", she says. "As a brand new professor in a department, you're probably having to put together your classes for the first time...This will typically take 30-60 hours per class before the semester even begins - for the brand new prof, that's 90-240 work hours (3-6 weeks) of UNPAID work before you even start your job." Year two is entitled "piling it on", when a dean will press on you "the importance of contributing to your college and the whole university through 'service' if you want to get tenured and promoted", saying "it would be ideal if you involved yourself with at least one student organisation".

"You've just added about 3-10 hours' worth of work each and every week to your regular work load," Professor Diers says.

Later years feature the "mid-tenure review": "This is the first point that a group of folks in your department really pay attention to you and ask the question, 'would we want to keep this person?'

"This means putting together a portfolio and building a set of arguments for your contributions to your department, the college, and your profession. You're now regularly working 80 hours per week, so your effective pay rate comes down to somewhere under $15/hour."

In conclusion, Professor Diers is not impressed by the claim that university professors have the least stressful career.

"To that, I say kiss my ass!" she writes.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com.

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