Happy New Year! Last term was really stressful for me, so I’ve enjoyed having some time off to relax and recuperate, even though it looks like things will be pretty hectic again from next week. Luckily, something I read today implies that things should get less stressful for me if I continue down the academic route. According to a study by CareerCast.com, reported by forbes.com yesterday, University Professor has been named the least stressful job for 2013! Hooray!
Wait a minute… that doesn’t sound quite right… Maybe it’s a joke? It did make me laugh out loud when they suggested that most profs have off between May and September every year.
In fact, it doesn’t sound like those reporting this actually bothered to talk to many people who work in academia. They use the term professor loosely, referring to assistant and associate profs (equivalent to lecturers and senior lecturers in the UK) as well as full professors and even adjunct staff. They seem to believe that all of these people have holidays any time that undergraduate students are not present, that they have light workloads because they may only teach for a few hours per week, and that they have few deadlines and little pressure from university bosses. Research is presented as something secondary to teaching which takes little time and causes little stress, rather than a high-pressure requirement of the job that demands high-quality output funded through increasingly hard-to-obtain external grants. The supervision of postgraduate students is entirely neglected, and there is virtually no mention the administrative responsibilities most profs are expected to undertake. Some of this may be true at some smaller institutions, but it is far from the norm.
Perhaps most patronising for those of us just trying to start in this route is the overly-positive treatment of job prospects. The authors brush over the fact that it can take nearly a decade of higher education to become qualified for these jobs. They cite the US Bureau of Labor Statistics saying that universities are expected to create over 300,000 new adjunct and tenure-track professorial positions by 2020. Though a quick caveat is included about the high competition for tenure-track positions, there seems to be little understanding of the high level of competition for jobs, grants and promotions in general. The negatives associated with many adjunct positions are also overlooked. With no job security, no benefits, no retirement packages, and often no time to develop the research needed to compete for tenure-track positions; these adjunct jobs can hardly be considered low-stress! Although, perhaps it’s these are people they were thinking of when they mentioned having months off at a time? Of course that’s time without pay for adjuncts.
I’m not about to argue that university professor (at any level) is one of the most stressful jobs in the world, but implying that it is a cushy and undemanding role is insulting to those who are working 60+ hour weeks in the hope of getting a coveted permanent position or promotion, and creates false expectations for those who may be considering it as a career. As far as I can tell, the rewards of the job are worth the effort and exertion for most who choose this path, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Ps- On a related note, check out this post on the Logisitics of Scientific Growth for more about why science jobs in academia may be more difficult to obtain now and in the future. http://caseybergman.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/the-logistics-of-scientific-growth-in-the-21st-century/
Pps- The Adjunct Project is collecting data on the pay and working conditions of adjunct staff in the US. If you’re in this position or know someone who is, please contribute.