Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What GirlProf did at work on Two Tuesdays, a Monday and a Wednesday

One Tuesday
9 - 10:30 Meeting, PhD student's supervisory committee
11 - 1:00 Oral exam, PhD student's candidacy
1 - 2:15 Meeting, research group and PhD student
2:30 - 4:30 Meeting, a university steering committee
4:30 - 7:20 Teaching graduate course
Instead of "where is the beef?" you might ask, when do you have lunch? Or take a bio break?
If I got paid by the hour, I would have clocked 10.5 this day (12 hours if you include travel).

Another Tuesday
9 - 11:30 School based research
12:00 - 4:00 Faculty admissions meeting
4:30 - 7:20 Teaching graduate course
Another 10.5 - 12 hour leisurely day for the girlprof, not that I am complaining...

Here is a Moderate Monday earlier in the year:
9 - 11 Post webpages for two courses
11 - 12:00 Meeting, PhD student
12 - 1:00 Meeting, research colleague
1 - 2:00 Meeting, research team
2 - 3:00 Meeting, PhD student
3 - 4:30 Research seminar across campus
Evening shift: Drive children to two different sporting activities, again, Not complaining.

Or a wacky Wednesday:
8 - 10:00 Prepare & submit ethics proposal
10 - 11:00 Meeting, masters thesis student
11 - 12:00 Writing an editorial
12 - 1:30 Meeting, faculty associate dean
2 - 4:30 Research proposal and refine instruments
4:30 - 6 Grab dinner and drive to off-campus meeting
6 - 8:30 Meeting, school board
This was a 12 hour day, plus 1.5 hours of driving.
Not complaining; this is just my life.

Why do I share a few glimpses into my "female faculty member's daytimer"? Public perception of the academic faculty member's workload is usually characterized by "student-faculty contact hours" - so, if I teach 9 hours a week, three courses, what the heck am I complaining about, right?

My goal in offering these glimpses of what surrounds teaching three seminars is to provide context for the claim that an academic career is rarely a 9 - 5 job - perhaps few non-union jobs achieve this mythological ideal. Further, what is left out of my daily description is more important that what is left in. For example, two to three nights a week, and every weekend, my husband and I chauffeur our children to various skating, club and hockey activities. I tend to read and respond to dozens of emails a day in my "free hour" before the kids wake up in the morning (usually from 5:30 - 6:30 am) and after they go to bed at night (post - 9 pm).

In the current "hiring freeze" and uncertain economy, issues to do with faculty workload and organizational stress aren't visible on the radar; however, I argue that workload, organizational stress, and aiming for career / family balance should be key issues that get discussed alongside the important issue of bringing expenses and revenue in line.

Administrators in higher education, like our own President Harvey Weingarten, are concerned about the budget. Higher education leaders who are looking for ways to "trim the fat" tend to direct their gaze at the highest "expense line" -- which happens to be faculty & staff salaries and benefits (85% of budget in some faculties). It seems economically promising to increase class sizes, increase teaching loads, offer fewer courses, slim down academic programs, reduce faculty sabbaticals, offer no course releases and many other attempts to "balance the books".

Each of these "budget" decisions has major implications and a range of potentially unforseen impacts on the quality of student's experiences and for faculty workload and stress. Consider, if we burn out the faculty members who do the research, teach the courses and participate in collegial governance, then what kind of higher education legacy are we going to leave for the next generation, let alone this one? What kind of research will be conducted by faculty who are already working 10 - 12 hours a day in "good times" when they have to work 12 - 14 in "uncertain times"? Any guesses about the quality of undergraduate student experiences, and the attentiveness of graduate supervision if the numbers that each faculty have "contact time" with Double?

I believe Faculties of Education are under a particular kind of stress -- in Alberta, we are currently facing a dire teacher shortage and a greying population of teachers. Yet, the Faculty of Education flies under the radar for plum funding and extra resources. I have talked about the problems with creating an Education McFaculty elsewhere, which is a related issue, but I am worried that our current economic crisis and the top-down decisions that are being made to deal with a shortfall in funding, are going to damage and change the Faculty of Education and the University as we know it.

At the same time that higher education is lurching from this economic crisis to the next, we are beginning to understand that even in good times, EVEN IN GOOD TIMES, the academic life is a tough haul. Graduate students learn first hand about faculty workload and stress levels, and choose to opt out of research intensive careers and reject the academic fast track. So,


Anonymous said...

As a PhD near completion (i.e. defense of my dissertation) I am worried about what a new job as a professor will demand of me (and my partner, who is non-academically employed). What should I be most worried about - getting a job, or avoiding academia (which sounds pretty grim given that i have spent 4 or more years preparing for a career in research). what do you suggest?

GirlProf said...

Having been a professor for ten years, I can honestly say this is a very satisfying career. There are dozens of good reasons that I chose an academic career; I enjoy conducting research in schools and on campus; I have an analytical mind and feel drawn to finding patterns and themes in data sets. I feel that I am in the right place at the right time. I believe I make a positive difference in education through my research, through my teaching and through the role I take in collegial governance and leadership in the faculty and across campus. I love to write and read scholarly works; I have had the privilege of editing an academic journal for over 4 years; I have supervised two female doctoral students to completion (a pair a docs), several masters thesis students, and a host of master of education students - Each of these individuals will make a difference in their future careers. I take pride in the hundreds of student teachers I have had the privilege to work with over the years -- there are dozens that I have kept in touch with who are amazing teachers in schools!

So, I have found the academic life extremely satisfying at the same time that I struggle for balance between family time and campus. I hope my reflections help you to form an accurate picture of what an academic life might entail as you make your decision.