Stranger Fruit

A week in the life

There’s a common misconception about academics. It sees us as spending perhaps six to nine hours a week actually working and then sitting on our asses for the rest of the working week absorbing money from the public. Wish it were so. This week, I had nine hours of in-class time, five hours of meetings with students regarding papers that are due next week, three hours of other meetings, and eight hours of class preparation (including three hours this afternoon).

And then there is the service … Service is one of those things that academics have to deal with, and when you are part of a self-administrating unit (as I am), the service can be quite onerous. Yet, if you are to take your job as a teacher seriously, you need to take the service responsibility equally as seriously. Hence my relative silence over the past days.

You see, we’re initiating a search for two new faculty. While in the past I have served on search committees, I now – for various unrepented sins – find myself chairing the search, and what a bundle of fun that is! I estimate that I spent sixteen hours last week on that alone, and we haven’t even advertised the position yet.

The search will probably not be completed until next April. It’s going to be one of *those* years.


  1. #1 Tony P
    September 22, 2007

    That’s 41 hours in a week. Not good but not bad. As a state employee I worked a 35 hour week. How I loved that.

  2. #2 Physicalist
    September 23, 2007

    Ah yes, the cushy life of an academic! Which is why I’m still up at 2am on a Saturday night pushing to get an article done by a Sunday deadline (and goodness only knows when I’m going to find time to prepare for next week’s classes — especially since there’s a colloquium running all day Monday and Tuesday). OK, back to work!

  3. #3 John Lynch
    September 23, 2007

    Well, that’s the 41 hours that I could easily account for. There was – obviously – more.

  4. #4 David Dufty
    September 23, 2007

    The misconception exists because not so long ago, it was true. In fact, it still is true for a small proportion of academics, although the number who enjoy the kinds of conditions you describe is shrinking all the time.
    As a rosy career path, academia has definitely peaked (it peaked some time ago).

  5. #5 Jonathan Vos Post
    September 25, 2007

    At Boeing and Rockwell, for 11 years, my standard week was 60 hours, rising to over 80 on some projects. Not counting all-nighters just before really big proposals went to the government. Not counting the paperwork we took home. Not counting working straight through Christmas vacation when the plants was locked, except for certain classified projects. Not counting those of us who travelled back and forth weekly to, say, the Johnson Space center — because one could only record an 8-hour day on travel days. The guy who went to JSC twice a week died at 55 of a heart attack.

    When I was at the Skunkworks, I completed a 12-month contract in 6 months, with serious overtime, and only seeing my family twice a week, crashing in a local motel in the meantime.

    So don’t come whining to me about 41 accounted-for hours in an academic week.

    I don’t complain to my Hollwood friends, who work 20 hour weeks for a month or more at a time, when the picture had to be shot and cut in time for the release date.

    Doctors, nurses, cops, truckdrivers, fishermen — plenty of folks would laugh at your work week, where paper-cuts and big error-bars are the greeatest risks.

    We can handle the work, too. Maybe it has something to do with… Darwinian fitness?

    What do you think a typical single mother of 5 handles? Or the many people who work two jobs? My mother’s father dropped out of school in 3rd grade to help put food on the family table. he worked 3 jobs for a while.

    Say — how long was Darwin’s work week, on the Beagle, or once he got home? Just asking…

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