I sometimes get asked what it is that professors in universities actually do. The question is usually raised when someone realizes that at a major research university, most professors teach two classes a semester. Classes tend to involve three hours of class time per week. But that means a professor is in the classroom only six hours a week. Is this a full time job? Are you serious?? And on top of that you have tenure so that you can, for all practical purposes, never get fired? Hey how can *I* get a job like that???
It’s a really good question. First let me say something about what it is professors do, maybe in a couple of posts, and then say something about tenure.
As it turns out, being a full-time professor is a boatload of work. I won’t say that it’s more than a lot of other busy and highly demanding occupations – a lot of you, I’m sure, work just as hard and long as I do. But it *is* a busy and highly demanding occupation. If teaching undergraduates six hours a week were the only thing it involved, it would indeed be a doddle after the first few years and one’s classes were set up and running smoothly. But, well, it ain’t like that.
The thing to stress is that a research university position presupposes doing research. And that’s where a lot (not nearly all) of the time goes. Research involves staying on top of one’s field by reading all the books and articles that come out on whatever one is supposed to be staying on top of; it involves doing special research on whatever one is trying to produce by way of scholarship for publication; it involves on the more mundane level – for ancient historians like me – staying on top of ancient and modern languages that need to be used in research; and it involves lots of other things (such as supervising the research of graduate students – which means knowing what they themselves are working on; and reading the work of colleagues; and writing letters of recommendation for students and colleagues; and lots of still other things)
Moreover, if one is working in a PhD program, the hours in the classroom bear very little relation to the time one spends with students, since graduate students take up a great deal of time for all sorts of reasons involving the directing of their research, and mentoring, and teaching pedagogy, and lots of other things.
Anyway, just to give you a sense of a “day in the life,” let me tell you what today was like for me. This is a completely typical Monday.
Up at 6:30. After I….
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