A reader recently sent me this email:
I have a question that perhaps you and your readers can help with. I’m currently at a cross-road in my academic career. A year ago I started a Master’s program in one of the “ologies” with potential to switch over to the Ph.D if things progressed well over the first year. Well, I’ve had a very successful and enjoyable first year, so I was thrilled to learn that I could join the ‘fast-track’ for the Ph.D. Needless to say, this was my goal, since my dream job is to work at a small college/university where I can focus most of my time on teaching. But I’ve recently been thinking about everything that goes along with the degree/career choice – more specifically, the time commitment. This has become an issue considering that my other goal in life (and perhaps the more desirable goal) is to raise a family. Now, I now both of these two things can be done simultaneously (your blog attests to this! good work!), even though it may not be easy. So, that brings me to my question. I guess I’m mainly wondering how many hours I should expect to spend working in a week as a young professor (and, i suppose, how this time figure may or may not change x-number of years down the road). Also, in my perfect world (which may not exist), I would love to be able to work part-time (3-4 days a week) and spend the remainder of the week raising my future family and spending some time working from home — is this even a possibility?
At A Crossroad
Great question. I’m probably spending about 45-50 hours per week working, but it never feels like enough. Right now I’m sacrificing research time to keep my number of hours worked feeling somewhat reasonable. I’m hoping that as the next couple of years progress, I can find ways to (1) get more efficient at teaching preps and (2) squeeze in a few extra hours here and there, particularly on weekends, so that I can devote more time to research. I would guess that my working hours are “too few” compared to what many of my (male or childless) peers are working, and some weeks I know I spend a lot more than 50 hours working.
Our perfect worlds sound similar in that I too would love to find a part-time academic gig. I’m not sure that such a thing does, or even can, exist at institutions that expect their faculty to be active researchers. There are just too many demands on your time. That said, if you like the teaching aspect of academia, there are lecturer positions that probably can be quite reasonable workloads, especially once you’ve gotten efficient at your preps. If research is more your thing, what about a research associate position at a university or in government or industry. The government in particular seems to be more accommodating of part-time work, or at least 40-hours-and-you’re-gone type work weeks. So identifying what aspects of Ph.D. level career paths appeal to you sounds like a good next step to take.
If you do opt to go the whole tenure-track faculty at a research institution route (like I voted to go), make sure that your partner is supportive and understands what your work load will be like. If your partner can help with some of the family raising responsibilities it will greatly reduce the stress on your life and make everything seem a bit more manageable. In fact, a supportive partner is probably a good thing no matter which route you take.
Good luck with the decision, the degree, and the future family.
Readers, what do you have to add?