Do professors live the slacker life?

So it appears yet another blowhard has written yet another ill-informed article about the easy-peasy, carefree life of the college professor. (h/t Melissa at Confused at a Higher Level for the link) Go on over and read the article if you’d like, but for those of you who are college professors, you’ve probably heard it all before a zillion times, so maybe you just want to skip it and keep your blood pressure down. (You’re welcome.)

The article contains the obligatory statements—professors only work when they’re in front of the classroom, professors have a month off at Christmas and all summer off, etc. It also contains gems like this:

Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals. Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research.

and (emphasis mine):

An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals.

I could spend another several blog posts unpacking all that is problematic and plain wrong with these statements, but this got me thinking. Most of my friends, family, and neighbors, while they may not understand exactly what I do, at least get that I spend long hours working. And yet I still hear the comments about how nice it will be to have my summer off or, in the case of the parental leave I just had, how nice it was to just spend time with my son. The reality, of course, is that I don’t get summers off, and leaves are not really leaves. So there’s still a lot of mystery behind what professors do all day, and that leads to articles like the one above.

I’m also interested in quantifying just how many hours a week I do spend on my job. I have a general idea, but I’ve never sat down and calculated how many hours a week I work, or where those hours go. How much time do I spend on class prep vs. research vs. student contact hours? How much of a time suck is email? How many night and weekend hours does my family lose to my job? And so on.

So this week, I’ll be accounting the time I spend on my job. Every 15 minutes (when feasible—I won’t do this in the middle of class, obviously), I’ll jot down what I’m doing, and at the end of each day and at the end of the week I’ll tally everything up. And I’ll share what I learn with you. Probably in pretty charts and graphs.

There are a few caveats: This week is the first week of spring term, so you could argue that it’s not a “typical” week, but it will still be busy and somewhat representative. This is also my “light” term, in that I’m only teaching one course, and since I’m coming off of leave my service responsibilities are a bit light (although I did just take on a new service task). I’m also single parenting this week, so my family hours will necessarily be higher and my schedule a bit wonkier. But this exercise should still give the general idea of where my time goes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dust off my tweed jacket*—classes start tomorrow!

* actually, I do own a tweed jacket, but it’s definitely more “ladies who lunch” than “old guard professor”. And it contains pink. And no elbow patches.

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Reading list

A running (and mostly true) joke in my house is that I don’t read anything during the term that’s longer than a magazine article. I’m too busy, too brain-fried, too whatever, to devote the time and mental energy to reading. Which is a shame, because I love to read.

One of the perks of being on leave was that I was able to start reading for fun again. And I realized how important it was for my mental health to find a way to incorporate reading back into my life again, especially during the term. Plus, the backlog of books on my nightstand, desk, and bookshelves is really getting embarrassing. (Add to this the fact that my library now has a better structure in place for ebooks, and I’m really in trouble!)

So as we head into spring term (Monday!), here’s what’s on my reading list currently:

User interface/web design

I am leading an independent study this term in user interface design for the web, so a good part of my reading is preparation for that.

  • The Elements of User Experience, by Jesse James Garrett. I have about 10 pages left to go in this one—it’s an easy read, and short. It’s interesting comparing and contrasting this one with Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, one of my favorite books on the subject. I’m still trying to figure out if my student should read this or Krug first.
  • Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity, by Jakob Nielsen. A classic, but one I’ve (embarrassingly) never read.
  • The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman. This one’s actually a re-read—I’ve read it many times before, but re-reading it always brings fresh insights.

Gender and computing

The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise, by Nathan Ensmenger. This one hit my radar from a tweet (which of course now I can’t find), and looks like an interesting treatment of how the computing culture evolved as it did. (Which may, hopefully, give some insight into how it can be made more welcoming.)

Just for fun

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall. While I’m pretty sure I’d never want to do ultramarathons, I’m fascinated by those who do. The author tracks down the Tarahumara, a reclusive tribe in Mexico for whom running extreme distances is a way of life. I found this while browsing the ebooks at my local library and am reading this using the Kindle app on my iPhone, which in itself is an interesting and informative exercise in interface and interaction design. (Maybe I should refile this as “work” reading, then?)

What’s on your reading list currently?