Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More "spinning plates"

Someone I follow on Twitter (I forget which person, now) linked to this article the other day: Academics: you do not need to work 80 hours a week

Yes, there is a persistent myth in academia that the hours are long and grueling, and there is a certain amount of one-upmanship ("I spent 40 hours in the lab last week, on top of teaching." "Yeah? Well, I was in lab around the clock from Friday evening to Sunday evening!")

This is kind of ironic to me given that a meme that's out in the general culture that academics are lazy bums who don't even work 20 hours a week. (I think that comes from the "contact hour" idea - it's actually kind of rare, outside of a community college or VERY teaching-heavy school, for someone to actually be in the classroom for 20 hours a week. My current load puts me in the classroom fourteen and a half hours per week, not counting the time I spend working on the hybrid class I do mostly online. My load in the fall, when I have an overload, will be seventeen hours in the classroom. However, those contact hours also carry with them prep time - maybe 30 minutes to an hour per lecture, anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours (at the outside) for setting up and taking down labs. And we have 10 hours of office hours a week, which we can use for other things (like grading) if we don't have students coming in. But there is grading. An average exam takes about four hours to grade; papers can take as many as 6 or even more, if there are lots of comments that need to be made. And then there's time spent on research - here, the expectation is you fit that in in your "free" time; you don't get compensated for it even though there's an expectation you do it. And grant writing. And manuscript writing and management. And committeework. And we do advisement of students. And we deal with student problems, which is often the most tiring part of my job (someone with some intractable family or work issue who insists they can still go to school, but they miss a lot of class and need make up exams and lots of extra help and they STILL struggle because life is distracting) And meetings - on average, we have a half-hour a week of departmental meetings, and committee meetings can take a couple hours sometimes. But anyway. We're NOT just working 20 hours a week, or if some professor is, he or she is doing it wrong because they're not refreshing their knowledge and (probably) not doing an adequate job of giving feedback to the students on things like exams and papers. And he or she is seriously slacking on carrying the load in other areas, and is probably expecting his or her colleagues to do the "heavy lifting" of committeework for the department)

Even with all that, I'm probably averaging 45-55 hours a week, depending on the week, and depending on what else is going on.  Some weeks (like this week) are worse because of outside stuff (meetings in the evening, the candidates we are having come in)

But the myth among academics (I would guess it's worse for STEM people, who do spend a lot of time in the lab) that we work 80 hour weeks needs to stop, as much as the myth that we are only working 20 hours a week needs to stop.

Pull quote: "if you think everyone else is working 80 hours a week, it can seem risky to admit that you aren’t, since that could make you seem like a slacker."

That. So much that.  I actually tell myself that a lot - that I'm not working long enough hours, that I'm not doing enough, and it's going to come back to bite me somehow - either I'm going to have a couple "bad" years productivity-wise and get written up, or somehow the legislature will find a way to abolish tenure without grandfathering all the long-term folks in, and so every year we'll have to go up before the equivalent of Bob and Bob and essentially apply for our jobs all over again. And I'll lose out, because I don't have enough publications or grants or whatever....and I find myself some weeks wondering when the heck I'm going to get my laundry done, and there have been times I've eaten cold cereal for dinner (All the while feeling guilty for not eating vegetable servings instead) because I'm just TIRED and I have no time.

Another pull quote:

Do the math on working 80 hours/week -112 waking hours – 14 hours/week eating/grooming/maintaining car house – 5 hours commuting = 83 hours and that is pretty sparse grooming and maintaining – e.g. no exercise – and nobody lives on 3 hours/week leisure time)

This is why we need to call BS on the "80 hour week" myth. While I probably don't spend fourteen hours a week on grooming (my hairstyle is pretty basic, I can put makeup on in less than five minutes)....there's also that house-maintenance stuff. And for people like me who lack spouses* it means it's ALL on us. (I once wrote here, I think, about sitting on the kitchen floor and crying because I was almost out of milk but didn't know when I'd have time to go out and get more)

I'm thinking about the time when I applied for a job here, and I asked the standard question of how we were expected to break down our time - what percentage teaching, research, service. One of the search committee members (he was joking, but I didn't appreciate it at the time) remarked that we had the option to split how we wanted, as long as it was 100% teaching, 100% research, 100% committeework. And that could scare a person less hell-bent than I was on working in academia away from it. 

(*I've long thought that all academics need a spouse who doesn't work in academia - someone with a 9 to 5 job, or better, who works from home, who is willing to do stuff like the laundry and the marketing and waiting on the furnace guy to come when he's needed....because all that stuff on top of a full time job gets exhausting when it's just you)

Also, the no exercise thing is worrisome. I know I HAVE to exercise more or less regularly, both for my general health and my mental health. As much as I'd ADORE having that extra hour and a half or so to sleep in in the mornings, I know I have to do it. (But yeah. Getting up at 4:30 am on a regular basis stiiiiiiiiiiinks.)

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