Monday, August 13, 2007

Juggling

This post is an offshoot of the one that I wrote about the need to protect one's time, and in large part it is inspired by this commentary at The Grad Life. It's also inspired by some of the comments that people have left on my blog and elsewhere about these issues, and also by this comment that Manorama made in a post that was more generally about workload:
"BUT...what puzzles me, then, is the abundance of stuff we read in the blogosphere about how time-consuming it is to be on the tenure track, how it sucks up your life, etc. I'm not saying that less time demanding equals less challenging, but all this time I've carried around the impression that my life is going to be hell when I get the job I want. I've even told some of my friends when we marvel at how busy we are and how buried in work we are that "It's only going to get worse--this is like boot camp for when we find jobs." Maybe all this time I have been inflicting this upon people without knowing what I was talking about...only I read what I was talking about from profs on the tenure track!"
What is striking to me is how much of a divide there seems to be between grad students' expectations about the profession and what professors do or should do (and I include my own expectations that I'd had as a grad student in that description) and what professors perceive as "common knowledge" about the day-to-day grind. And I think that the gap between these two perspectives leads to a lot of miscommunication and misinterpretation on both sides. So, the point of this post is to attempt to articulate my experiences with the different roles of this job that I've got, as somebody who is on the tenure-track and not-yet-tenured, at a state university that emphasizes teaching, who is in the humanities. Let me say for the record that I am decidedly not speaking for All Professors here - just for myself. It would be great if this gets a dialogue going where people from other disciplines, other kinds of institutions, other perspectives in the promotion and tenure hierarchy (including adjuncts, full-time instructors, VAPs, etc.) threw in their two cents as well. The point here for me is not to paint One True Picture of life on the tenure-track, but I suppose it is to clarify some things that I think I tend to assume are implicit in what I write on the blog but that don't come across to the entire audience of the blog.

When I was in graduate school, one of my mentors told me a version of what Manorama's quote above describes: that if I thought grad school was hard/time-consuming, that life as an assistant professor would be 10x that. This, for me, has been true in many ways, though I think that requires explanation. Graduate school for me was intense and grueling. I am not going to deny that. But it was intense and grueling in ways that were decidedly different from the ways in which the job now is intense and grueling. It's that difference that makes being on the tenure-track more difficult, in my estimation.

So what are the differences?

1. Social networks.
  • One thing about grad school is that one has a ready-made cohort of people with whom to discuss one's work and with whom one can socialize. One enters at the same time with a group of other people, and one has a common experience with that group of people. Even if you don't like every person in your cohort, you do speak a common language, at least to some extent, if only because you're taking the same courses with the same instructors. In addition, there is a strong likelihood that there will be one or more people generally working in the area in which you focus your research. Finally, everybody in graduate school basically has the same primary goal: to finish the program successfully. Even if there are differences between you (plans for after the degree, family situations, hobbies, whatever), every person's primary focus is that degree, otherwise they wouldn't be in graduate school. Now, the group-think and paranoia that can result from that can be a burden, and I remember in grad school longing for "regular conversations with normal people that have nothing to do with work."
  • When one enters a job on the tenure-track, one likely has moved to a part of the country where one has little-to-no social network in place, and one typically does not enter with a cohort of people with whom one will have any sort of common experience. Unless one is in a huge department, it is likely that you will be the only person who works on whatever it is you work on. Moreover, people do not necessarily have goals that in any way resemble each other: some people are focused on raising children, some people are focused on hobbies outside of the job, some people are focused primarily on teaching, some people are focused on research interests, etc. And perhaps most importantly, when you enter a job on the tenure track, while your department may be quite friendly in a professional sort of way, people have their own lives and priorities and becoming your new best friend probably is not high on the list. So you get plopped down in a place where you likely do not have family or friends, and you have to invest time in developing a social life that you just did not need to spend when you were in graduate school. One of the difficulties in managing how to do this, at least for me, has been that up until I got this job I'd pretty much let my social life take care of itself and used most of my energy on my academic life. If you do that at the expense of your personal life once you get on the tenure-track, it can lead to profound unhappiness. The problem is, graduate school trained me to efface my personal needs in favor of my academic pursuits, and so it's required a kind of rewiring of my internal hardware in order to allow myself to make my personal life a priority.
2. Teaching
  • I taught independently throughout graduate school, and I also TA'd in large lecture courses. My work in the classroom was twofold: to teach students (obviously) but also to learn how to be an effective teacher. While obviously there were some administrative tasks that were under my purview, particularly in the courses that I taught independently, the buck did not stop with me. If there was a problem with a student, I had the support of "real" faculty who would step in should the need arise (for example, with plagiarism cases, conflicts with student behavior, grade disputes, etc.). Moreover, the number of students for whom I was individually and solely responsible never exceeded 30 or so. Finally, teaching was always regarded as secondary to research, as what gets one a PhD is not, in fact, teaching, but rather writing one's seminar papers, passing one's comps, and writing one's dissertation.
  • In my current job, I am independently responsible for approximately 90 students per semester, not counting advisees (if I don't have a course release). I do not have TA's. The buck stops with me for all administrative tasks. By Spring 2008, I will have developed approximately 10 new courses. Teaching as a whole does not take less time than when I was a graduate student, but certain tasks associated with teaching now take less time because if they didn't, I would be either insane or dead. Teaching technically counts more than anything else toward tenure at my institution, but while this is the official party line, good teaching alone will not get a person tenure here. There are no awards for excellent teaching available for junior faculty. So the expectations for junior faculty in this regard can be muddy, for if one spends too much time on teaching, one is often advised that one should assign less, etc., but if one does not perform well on evaluations, one will be criticized for not devoting enough time to teaching (and often this criticism will be couched in terms like, "maybe you're spending too much time on research"). It should be noted that none of this has anything to do with actual time spent, but more with hitting a kind of middle-range with one's teaching, which can be difficult to do in one's first year or two when one is still getting used to institutional norms and expectations.
3. Service/Meetings/Etc.
  • Service was barely on the radar for me as part of this profession when I was in graduate school, and I say that as a person who actually made an effort to do a few service activities just to have them on my CV. While I was vaguely aware that I would have to serve on committees and advise students, I really had only half a clue about this component of the job. And the few "service" things that I did do as a graduate student took maybe one or two hours a month.
  • Oh holy hell. Service now. Where do I even begin. First of all, all service is not created equal, and depending on one's institution, some service "opportunities" count more than others. For example, at my university "service to the community" is a big thing. That doesn't mean that one can skip out of other "service," which includes things like serving on department committees, university committees, professional organizations within the discipline, reviewing articles for journals, advising students (although many places now try to place this under the teaching heading), writing letters of recommendation for students, advising student organizations, judging student writing contests, requesting new acquisitions for books and other materials at the library, and god only knows what else. Oh, and while this doesn't count as service, one also needs to attend things like department meetings, campus events, etc. It's all about "visibility." (Note that in grad school people often expect you to be kind of invisible because it means you're writing.) I'm going to estimate that during the academic year I spend at least as many hours on this sort of stuff as I do in the classroom.
4. Research
  • In graduate school, research was the thing. Research is ultimately the point of a PhD. While there are anxieties associated with this, it also means that one can maintain certain periods of long and intense focus on research, and that such activities are rewarded. One is expected to be reading, expected to be thinking, expected to be writing. And everybody else is doing that same thing alongside you, so it does not necessarily have to be a tremendously isolating experience (though of course, it sometimes still is). I had space in which to think about research in complicated and intense ways in graduate school.
  • Research now... well, it means a lot of other things for me now that it just didn't mean when I was in graduate school. First, research is an essential part of keeping my job. Yes, there are tenured faculty at my institution who received tenure without any publications, without conferences. But that was in days gone by. The requirements are changing, and have changed even since I first arrived here, and there is no grandfathering where tenure requirements are concerned. What this means is that, because one can't predict in year one what the requirements will be in year six when one goes up, that one must maintain at least a minimal level of research productivity throughout one's years on the t-t, whatever advice one might receive from senior colleagues who claim that research is not important. It is also helpful to try to remain under-the-radar as much as possible with one's research accomplishments, in order not to alienate those same senior colleagues who will evaluate one for tenure even though they may have fewer research accomplishments than one has. But ok, so what might a minimal level of research productivity look like? Let's say it's two conference presentations a year and one or two articles in peer-reviewed publications. Not much, right? But. Let's say one chooses just to do that bare minimum. Will one have any potential to get another job should something go wrong come tenure time (which it still could, of course) or if one wants to move to another job? At least in English, your chances would be dramatically reduced, especially if you hoped to move to a better institution than your current one. But, you say, what if you have no interest in getting a new job? That minimal research agenda can still hurt you because the reality is that one of the few ways to increase one's base salary is to get an offer from another institution and to negotiate with your current one to keep you. Moreover, research matters in terms of maintaining one's own reputation in the profession, and one of the reasons why I wanted to be an academic - and not "just" a teacher - is because I care about being part of a scholarly community, and let's not forget that it's membership in that scholarly community that makes letters of recommendation that I write for students or mentorship that I am able to offer them more meaningful.
But so the thing is this: In order to do all of that, I've had to learn to be somewhat mercenary in the way that I prioritize different tasks and in the time that I allot for different tasks that together make up the entirety of this job. During the academic year, I'd estimate that I "work" somewhere around 50 hours a week. This may be less work *time-wise* than the amount of hours that I "worked" during the academic year in graduate school, but part of the reason why I think that this is possible is that what counted as "work" in graduate school (for example, reading the equivalent of 3 novels plus secondary material a week when I was in coursework) a) I no longer do or b) I no longer "count" as work because it feels like a welcome break from all of the other stuff that I'm juggling. I also think that certain tasks for which I allowed much more time in graduate school (for example, I'd spend 30-45 minutes on each paper that I graded) no longer get that kind of time. For me now, it's all about whittling down each task to the least amount of time possible that I can spend on it and still do a half-way decent job. It's all about keeping all of the balls in the air simultaneously, about juggling, about attempting to balance my personal needs with the needs not only of my students but also of my colleagues, my department, my institution, my discipline, my research obligations (and notice, those do not count as personal needs). And this, I think, is why professors might bitch about things like receiving multiple needy emails from students (or colleagues, because I suspect we all get our fare share of those as well), last-minute meetings, unexpected committee assignments, students who expect to receive extensions without clearing it with the professor first, students who want their hands to be held at every step along the way, or new policies that come down from on high that require more paperwork or more assessment or more documentation of some bureaucratic minutiae: it's because any time one of those things happens, it's like somebody threw yet another ball into that collection of balls that we all are juggling, and every time that happens, the whole operation threatens to come crashing to the ground. And if that happens, one can feel like one's whole career is on the line. And so yes, that is frustrating, and anxiety-producing, and people may feel the need to vent about that stuff.

Professors are not merely bitching because their precious vacation time (or evenings, or weekends, or whatever) is interrupted. And they're not bitching because they don't care about students or they don't care about their jobs. And they're not merely lounging atop their PhDs getting a free ride when the rest of the world is off working.

Now students (undergrads or graduate students) may say, "but we're juggling, too!" I'm not saying that you're not. I'm not saying that I didn't. But the reality is that when I was a student, I felt like I was juggling maybe 5 balls at any given time. Now I feel like I'm juggling about 15. And part of any frustration I feel related to that comes from the perception on the part of many (both inside and outside academia) that I only, in fact, am juggling one ball - the ball that relates to students.

What seems apparent to me as I edge ever closer to tenure is that students, while they may be the "reason" for institutions such as mine to exist (particularly in a customer-service model of higher education), are not the only raison d'etre for the professor. Indeed, my job includes a hell of a lot more than "serving students" in the conventional sense (office hours, time spent in classroom, correspondence with or related to students, meeting with advisees). At least at my institution, the only employees who have that single mission are adjuncts or non-tenure-track faculty, and that is only if they do not aspire to tenure-track positions in higher education.

Now again, let me reiterate: It is important to note my specific context here. I am not saying that this is the one true picture of what it is to be a college professor. Moreover, let me just state for the record that I would not trade this job for another. I didn't write this post to complain about how hard my life is, or to say that this career is the most demanding or any other such nonsense. The fact of the matter is, I have a great deal of control over my working life, which is the benefit that occurs alongside the frustrations that may come from needing to juggle so many competing demands. I'm challenged by my job, and I continue to feel passion for what I do. My job allows me - in fact requires me - to have an intellectual life. Those are not small things, and I know that they're not. But if we're going to have a discussion about how professors should treat students or about how professors spend their time, I feel like we've got to get specific about what this job actually involves. And I feel like most of the time, those specifics are absent from the conversation.

18 comments:

Flavia said...

This is interesting, and an entirely believable/reasonable account of the differences between grad school and life on the tenure-track. However, I'd say that I'm infinitely happier on the t-t than I was in grad school, and although I wouldn't say that I'm less busy--I *know* I'm much busier!--I perceive my worklife to be more interesting, more productive, and less burdensome.

Not only did I spend way too much time, in grad school, on teaching-related responsibilities (easy to do, if you're only teaching one class a semester), but I felt the weight of all my separate responsibilities much more. Teaching. . . writing the diss. . . my part-time job. . . the job market. . . there were fewer things to do, but they acquired that much more importance and became that much more daunting. I'd never say that I love paperwork or admin tasks, but I do like the way that my current position forces me to be more efficient, and I like the sense that I'm getting much more done.

Maybe that's parly temperament, but it's also true, as you say, that every institution is an entirely different beast. (I think that you and I have broadly similar student populations, but I have a lower teaching load [3/3] and astonishingly minimal service expectations; it sounds like the attitude toward research among administrators and senior faculty at our respective institutions might also be rather different.)

Anyway, thanks for this post. Life on the t-t really is so different from what grad school prepares us for!

Manorama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

I work in the pharmaceutical industry, I suppose a general opposite from your life, but the juggling is paramount in my job too. It's amazing how it can energize me to handle many tasks at once, but there's a threshold (usually met when I fill in for my coworkers on vacation) where I start to feel desperate and unable to keep up, which of course means I just take a lot of work home and I provide bad customer service, as it were, all day while cataloging all the things requested of me and never actually getting to do them. Anyway, that juggling thing is definitely present outside academia, and maybe it makes live worth living (or jobs worth jobbing?).

Also, love the Clean Plate Club reference. I think I spend my life aspiring to this but never make it. Sometimes I wonder if I'd live life more if I weren't always waiting for X to be done first.

And I live for CL pink lemonade too!

Dr. Crazy said...

Flavia:
You know, I'd say that I'm differently happy on the t-t than I was as a grad student. I am happier that I have more control over my professional life now, and I agree that there is a sense of accomplishment with becoming more efficient and in accomplishing a greater number of discrete tasks (as opposed to having just a handful of monumental tasks that seem too big to tackle). That said, I think in grad school I was in a place where I was more comfortable with putting things on the back burner in the service of work, and now if I feel unhappy it has more to do with my lack of willingness to continue to put the rest of my life on hold in the ways that I was more comfortable doing in grad school. So while I'm "happy" with the job, its many demands can seem like more of a burden because I'm more aware of the other parts of my life that they have the potential to compromise. And yes, institution is key. Junior faculty are in no way protected from service beyond the first year where I work, and there's a generational (and administration vs. faculty, and sciences vs. humanities) divide about the importance assigned to research. Things are changing here(which is exciting), and I suspect that this will mean that the teaching load changes in some way in the next few years as other things continue to increase in priority, but change is slow and not always smooth.

Mano: It sounds from your story like part of what you experienced with that particular professor was a personality conflict and that the professor's behavior was explained by as resulting from stress about the professor's position on the t-t. Maybe that explanation was valid; maybe it wasn't. What I'd say is that from your description (which is all I've got to go on), that professor doesn't seem to have been in the right. That said, there are assholes in every profession and bad behavior in all social circumstances, and yes, that's not cool. But I think that's a separate issue, ultimately, from what I tried to talk about in this post. My intention is not to provide an excuse for overt bad behavior, singling out of particular students and lashing out at them, or anything like that. I'm just talking about the fact that there's more going on in this job than the teaching component, and that those other things aren't "extra" but rather mandatory parts of the job.

And Amy:
Thanks for chiming in to let all of us ivory tower types that it's the same all over! I think that kind of context is really important, especially because it further underlines that being a professor is, in many ways if not all, a job like any other and not some sort of higher calling. (Am drinking the CL pink lemonade right now and it is delicious!)

gwinne said...

Fabulous post! My experience is a lot like yours. I think in terms of actual hours, I probably work less now on the t-t than I did in grad school (largely because I spent way too much time on class prep in grad school). Yet I unquestionably feel like these past two years at an R1 (my first job was at a SLAC) have challenged me much more than I ever dreamed; in short, grad school did not adequately prepare me for this job. The pressure to publish is enormous, even as the department makes us do all kinds of servie (including the largely invisible kinds of service you describe) that take away significant time from the thing that is valued most. Some weeks I spent as much time preparing for committee meetings as I did for my classes. So, yes, it's quite a balancing act. I love it, and can't imagine working in another profession, but just as you can't get through grad school with a simple love of literature, the life of a professor includes much more than good teaching alone. And answering student emails instantaneously is pretty low on the priority list when it comes to being a good teacher, anyway :)

Manorama said...

Dr. C., I was replying to the section of your post that begins with "And this, I think, is why professors might bitch about things like receiving multiple needy emails from students..." You mentioned that juggling too much is what causes some professors to respond as they do, and I was trying to point out that that response entails judgments about students that are at times inaccurate, especially when, as you say, "And if that happens, one can feel like one's whole career is on the line." In any case, I've taken away the comment that wasn't relevant. I do want to leave up what I said about teaching, though: some of us in grad school rely on teaching for money and are pressured to spend more time on teaching than an asst. professor might consider reasonable, not because we are new at it or only teaching one class, but because we are pushed to do so. This creates a kind of pressure around teaching that doesn't happen in the same way as when one is faculty, especially in the more exploited TA positions.

wwwmama said...

this is a very helpful post. Thanks for writing it.

Dr. Crazy said...

Mano: Just to be clear, in the comment that you quote from my post, I wasn't saying that it's right to be a bitch TO students or to bitch AT students because of the other stresses of the job. I was only saying that sometimes people might feel the need to bitch generally, which is what I think most people on blogs are doing. It's a valve through which they let off steam so as NOT to behave in ways that are uncool to students, or at least I hope that is the case. And part of the reason that people do so in that forum comes from the fact that they don't have a cohort with which they can do that not-online, which I did have in grad school. So it's not meant (I don't think) as a personal affront to students, but rather it's the only forum in which many untenured people feel comfortable in expressing such things.

As for what you say about teaching, I do get that, and lest you get the wrong impression, I taught for money when I was in grad school, and any funding that I had beyond the first year of my PhD program was dependent upon it. I think the reason I may be more apt to cut back on teaching now is not because it's any less important but because all of the other stuff has increased in importance, to the extent that if I were to devote that much time/energy to teaching that I would face repercussions about not, ultimately, "doing my job." That is not to diminish the exploitation of grad students: I'll be the first to say that grad students are exploited as teachers, as are adjuncts as are many in full-time contract positions who have no potential for tenure. I know that my position is GREAT compared to those, in many ways.

Lesboprof said...

Crazy:

That post is wonderful. It does help explain the surprise and intensity of a new TT job. Looking back as a newly tenured faculty memeber at an R1, I have come to see that some of the things I hated about grad school (dealing with asshole professors, the loneliness of writing the diss, wrestling seemingly endless literature to write a lit review, etc.) are things I now take for granted. I know how to handle these problems and can do it more quickly and easily than I would have thought many years ago.

Very well articulated and useful post!

StyleyGeek said...

This is a really interesting post.

I suspect that the reality of grad student workloads, expectations and juggling varies a lot depending on the size of the department. For example, in our department, there is no "cohort". We have one or two new grad students a year, and even when there's two (as there was my year), they start at random different times. And since we have no coursework, but only writing, it's hard to get that "instant social network" thing happening. I think our experience socially resembles more what you describe for new faculty. So hopefully that won't be too much of a shock if I ever get a faculty position!

Also, and probably relatedly, our teaching is often/sometimes more akin to what you describe for faculty. I am sole convenor of a course with 89 students, which meets for two lectures and a tutorial a week (four sections of a tutorial). I have no TAs, although admittedly I can go to more experienced people for advice on problems. Not everyone teaches this much during their PhD at my university, but nor is it unusual.

Service, too. Since almost every committee in the department and university requires grad student representatives, and grad student committees require reps from all areas of the university, students in a department like mine (with five grad students at the moment) all serve on several committees each. We also are expected to mentor an honours student or two each, and organise departmental social events (I am responsible for the weekly afternoon tea, grad student fortnightly drinks, the annual department trivia night, and the historical reading group. I also organised a workshop at last year's conference and am expected to put together a proceedings volume from that).

Anyway, I don't mean to turn this into a "my life is harder than X's life" comment, and I did see your caveats about yours only being one person's perspective. I just thought I'd chime in and add another.

Dr. Crazy said...

Styley - Thanks for adding this comment. I thought I remembered you not being in the US and when I went to look at your profile I was reminded that you're in Australia. I can't go on enough about how different grad school is in the US from in the UK, Australia, etc. You guys really are thrown into the deep end without a raft in a lot of ways. That said, at least from what I know from friends who've been through grad school not-in-the-US, because you don't have hoops like coursework and comps, and because teaching often is more lecture-oriented, it's really a different beast than what people in grad programs in the US might experience (and often seems to take less time, I've noticed, but that may just be the people I know who've gotten degrees not-here). At any rate, thanks for adding this perspective.

Bardiac said...

Great post. I think the cohort thing is especially true for those of us who are at smaller schools or in more rural areas.

And I think you hit on something really important when you talk about how in grad school it's easier to put things on hold for later. Once you're in the TT job, later is either now, or in 20 years, you're going to look back and wonder why you never did X.

hypatia said...

I would echo the cohort thing - I think one of the things I miss the most about being a grad student was having a group of people who were all pretty much in the same place as me. Even among faculty who I like and count as friends, some are 'ahead' of me - which means they eventually will get to decide if I keep my job. A fellow grad student is never in that type of position. I find that sort of thing hard to forget.

I'm at an R1 institution - in one of the top-ranked programs in my discipline - and I would say I feel a similar set of pressures as Dr.C, although I would reverse the emphasis on research and teaching (I'm more likely to hear "Don't you think you're spending a lot of time on teaching?"). That said at the college and university (regents level) the university doesn't have the same research focus as my dept does and the values are heavily weighted toward ugrad teaching competency so I can't totally let that slack. (For instance, a grant I want to apply for would buy out 75% of my time for research alone. I've been encouraged by the Dean to wait until year 5 to apply, and assume a resubmission which means it won't be awarded until year 6, in order to have strong enough teaching at the college level). And teaching is likely my weakest area, but also the one where people in my dept are least invested in helping me. If I want feedback on research ideas people are interested in engaged. But last year the person due to observe my teaching for the fall term as part of my annual evaluation waited until the week before finals to observe and then left early because it was a review session and involved group work instead of a true lecture with new content(!) But I can lose my job due to poor teaching evals or poor student relationships just as much as I can lose my job over low research productivity!

I also feel some of the things related to reading/work and what I count as work. I have a couple of work-related books that I'm reading; but they are really in my pleasure reading pile and come out of that time because they don't directly further any agenda related to a current project.

Service - do student committees count as service? or teaching? If they are service then I spend more time on service than anything else. If teaching, then I would comment that I can easily spend more time on out of class teaching than in class teaching. PhD committees (done well) take an amazing amount of time. Thank goodness my discipline rarely does masters theses so I'm off the hook there.

Finally I would say a piece of this is that it is totally up to me to prioritize. In grad school someone else prioritized for me to a certain extent. Now it's up to me AND I am prioritizing for my students (so I better hope I'm getting it right most of the time).

Shaun Huston said...

In addition to the realities of teaching and service related to tenure and promotion outline by Dr. Crazy, there's also the welcome reality that once one does get on the tenure track, assuming that's where you want to be, eventually your course preparation settles down. You develop a regular rotation of classes, you do find a way of teaching individual classes that you are more or less satisfied with, at least for a few terms in a row, and you can actually make progress on other aspects of your professional life, which are no less required for tenure and promotion than is teaching. At my school, by convention, first year hires are supposed to be "free" of service requirements until their second year. We have also been able to offer course releases to faculty working towards tenure so that they can realistically publish and present. I guess the underlying point here is the original one: while teaching is vitally important, particularly to those of us at smaller regional universities and similar schools, there are precious few places today where one can just devote themselves to their classes and duties like advising and expect to get tenure and promotion. While we all have horror stories about the excellent teacher being denied one or both of those advancements, the research/writing/creative work that we do as professionals is materially related to our being effective teachers for our students. It's far too easy to simply pit teaching vs. research, from either side, or to discount service unrelated to, say, advising, but there's a reason that all three are part of the tenure and promotion picture: for better or worse, and I think better, in higher ed, faculty are professionals who teach and not professional teachers.

Belle said...

This is all a wonderful discussion; I'd like to use it in my advising and historiography class. May I?

My time in grad school was exhilerating and horrible, depending on where you'd find me. At MA instn, it was awful, destructive, intimidating and horrible. At PhD instn(s) it was supportive, invigorating, challenging, scary and mean. Again, depending on with whom I was dealing.

Here, finally and remarkably tenured and full, I'm under-paid, rarely appreciated and frequently over-extended. You know what? I was treated much worse in the business world with no hope for promotion, no security ever, and harassed routinely. There are bad things in every work environment; I'm no Pollyanna. This life is the one I really chose and continue to choose.

St. Eph said...

Dr. Crazy, thanks for your thoughts on this, and for everyone's responses. I'm still on the grad-school side of the divide, but as I'm looking toward the market this fall, I'm thinking hard about what the other side looks like.

The shift in mindset is really striking, as from over here, I'm finding myself more and more dragged down by the transience of my life as a grad student. From the tiny practicalities (I have no real office, so I have to carry my winter coat with me to classes that I'm teaching) to the larger life issues (I have no idea where I'll be--geographically, financially, or professionally--this time next year), the uncertainty is what's killing me incrementally.

Which is not to assume it's better on the other side, but if anything gets easier over there, I do hope it's this. Even when it comes to classes, I'm so much more relaxed about the course I'm teaching for the fifth time at another university (I've been fortunate/ambitious enough to snag an ongoing adjunct gig. Not great for the diss, though.) than I am about my first time through a set syllabus for my department.

And since I'm in a complaining mood, I think part of my particular gripe is with my department, for whom "professionalism" is apparently something one just finds under one's pillow one morning. I would barter body parts for a focused, hands-on research class, or a workshop on publishing, or cocktails and conversation with any of these esteemed commenters. Pointless obscurity is the main policy in my dept., and discovering the secret handshake is an ongoing adventure.

Ahem. Again, thanks for the discussion. I hope it continues. (And many thanks again for a long-ago post about your grading checklist. I've been using my own version for a couple of terms and have found it fantastically useful.)

Doctor Pion said...

Great article, Dr. Crazy. Will see if the linkback works, but I'll just mention here that I like the way it fits into a series of articles I have been writing about academic jobs, with a specific emphasis on physics.

I've got a link to it in a sort of side article to the series, which had too much emphasis on the R1 part of the world where most of the jobs aren't, even in physics. Your article seems to cover the middle ground of "comprehensive" colleges rather thoroughly. It is remarkable to me how similar the situation is between such different fields.

One remark here. Our college goes to great lengths to integrate new faculty into their own social group (just them and mentors) as well as into the college as a whole. It helps a lot when dealing with the social issues you and others mention. It also gets them started on the portfolio they will need when they go up for tenure, so none of the requirements will be a surprise. A really good system.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

What seems apparent to me as I edge ever closer to tenure is that students, while they may be the "reason" for institutions such as mine to exist (particularly in a customer-service model of higher education), are not the only raison d'etre for the professor.

I wanted to chime in to agree with this post, but especially with this part of it. I've become rather cynical so everyone should feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but even at some of the teaching-oriented schools I've known, the students seem only to be the pretext by which the institution gets money - donations, tuition, etc. Which isn't to justify treating students like crap - and I don't treat students like crap - but it is necessary to take this into account when thinking about why/how professors do what they do.

I agree that generally, I'm happier on the t-t than in grad school. Which isn't to say that I was miserable in grad school - I had a good program and I enjoyed it. But I completely agree with st. eph that the transience of grad school made me crazy. I kept waiting for "real" life to start and it made me nuts. (Of course, now I'm still waiting, but maybe I've learned to cope better...)