Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Leisure Studies

Last weekend, amidst working on a couple of manuscripts and reviews etc. in the office and at home (not to mention doing some overtime thinking), I did some work around the house and garden. While I was rummaging in the garden, a neighbor stopped by to tell me that she works so hard during the week that she doesn't have the energy to work on her house/yard and it must be nice to have an easy job like mine.

I decided not to tackle the issue of whether or not I have an easy job. I just said Yes, it's a great job.

Her job could well be stressful, involve working with awful people, and/or require strict working hours that leave her exhausted on the weekend. My reply to her was therefore sincere. I do have a great job. She has no idea how much or how hard I work, but much of what I do I enjoy, so it could well be that her 40 hours/week in the office of a furniture store is more tiring than my 60+ hours/week in an academic job.

On this particular occasion with this particular neighbor, my goal was to end the conversation as soon as possible, but I was left with the feeling that I had somehow let the side down (← sports analogy!). I may even have reinforced her image of slacker professors leading a life of (smug) leisure.

If one's goal were to generate widespread admiration and respect for the professoriate, is it better to convey the impression that a faculty position:

- is a great job (for whatever reason; flexible hours, interesting work etc.) that leaves one some leisure time, or

- is such an extraordinarily taxing job requiring so many long hours of intense thinking that yard work becomes appealing?

What if both are true?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

if she only knew the pain of grading

James said...

I'm always tempted to say something like, "Yeah, it's a great job... you should consider getting into it." Just to see what they'd say.

Anonymous said...

Just say "Yeah, its nice, but sometimes I wish I made more than half what a lawyer makes."

David said...

Say both then! My job is demanding, but because it is interesting/challenging/important it makes it enjoyable. People understand that about doctors.

Anonymous said...

I would rather hear someone say that they would like to have my job than what I normally hear. And that is, "I would not want your life". I am a female postdoc in the physical sciences and while it can be stressful and lonely, I love my job.

Pippin, the Gentle Pup said...

I think you have posed the million dollar question. I sort of think you have to answer with "both". It's a great job with many benefits but where it's inflexible, it's completely inflexible and it's a job that is in many ways never done, so yard work can be a respite to *make* the academic do something else. I love your blog by the way--I read it every morning.

Alethea said...

I'd have just strangled her and left the gesture to reflect poorly on my entire profession.

Emily said...

Oh, I think smug satisfaction is the best response to that sort of comment. It's right up there with, "Oh, I wish I could eat that cake, but it will go right to my waist. You're so lucky to have a fast metabolism."

Sheesh.

But if you have to choose, go with overworked on even days and life of leisure on odd numbered ones.

Anonymous said...

I just gave up trying to convince others what our job means. Most just can't understand. For example, my neighbours are high school teachers and are very envious that I don't teach as much as them. They seem to think that when I am not teaching, I am on vacation and can't really understand why do I need to go to work during summers and what in the world I am doing in the office when I'm not teaching :))

Anonymous said...

Why is it that even though many many many people go to college they still have no idea what a professor does? Or how sh*t the pay is for the amount of work? Or how difficult it is to get a faculty position at a top-tier university in the physical sciences.

Nothing chaps my hide more than when someone asks me what I do and I say I'm a professor at 'x' university and they say, "Oh, so you're a teacher"

Ummmmmm. . . . no, If I were a teacher I would get off work at 3 and have summers off.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I like the "both" answer, too. What I usually tell people is that my work involves so many projects, all going at once, and with many of them taking months or years to "complete" that it's a nice change to do something manual where you get to see a finished product at the end of the day.

If you want to turn it around on them, you can say that "I kind of envy your job at [furniture store/fire station/Starbucks] -- it would be nice to be able to leave work at the end of the day and actually *leave* the work behind, rather than feeling like I need to be working on it most waking hours. I love my job, but sometimes I really miss that."

Anonymous said...

as a side note to Anonymous from 11:51, that comment ("Ummmmmm. . . . no, If I were a teacher I would get off work at 3 and have summers off.") is just as demeaning and offensive to teachers as any of the rest of these are to professors.

My mom was an elementary school teacher- she never got off at 3, and always brought lesson plans and grading home to do at night. It is not an easy job in the slightest, and like professors, they are also woefully underpaid.

Marianne said...

I'm cheating (horrors!) by commenting here about one of your worst jobs, but I had to let you know that I wish my mom had kept me from riding in a blimp. I was a newspaper editor when my traumatic experience occurred, and I wrote an article about it. The title, I believe, says it all: "Queasy Rider."

Anonymous said...

Ummmmmm. . . . no, If I were a teacher I would get off work at 3 and have summers off.

Why is it that people who went to school for 12 years don't understand what teachers do?

Anonymous said...

The truth is, we do have the greatest job in the world, this is how I see it.

And yes, teachers also take lots of work at home, and they don't always get off at 3pm. They do get summers off. But are not paid. I go to work during summers, but I'm also tipically paying at least 2 months of my salary from my grants.
Anyway, again, our job is the greatest! Cannot say the easiest, but it's nice. Only think about not having a boss looking over your shoulder every moment...for me (although I'm junior and therefore everybody is my boss and I have to STFU most of the time lol)...oh..priceless :))

flit said...

love Alethea's answer :)

Anonymous said...

A smarter person would not say things like that to one's face unless they wanted to provoke the other person. So, it kind of sounds like she was baiting you. That being said, it's good you didn't take the bait. You must have a high EQ.

Anonymous said...

I know many teachers but I don't know any that regularly work 12-14 hour days, or 7 days a week. They do also actually get summers off. And yes, they are paid for 9 months as are professors. However, teachers aren't still expected to work everyday.

But yeah, someone who isn't a teacher couldn't possibly know the difference between what teachers do and what professors do and the expectations of both, especially when two immediate family members are teachers.

Anonymous said...

I am a former academic, I'm probably one of the very few people who understands the professorial lifestyle and demands, and the professional lifestyle and demands. Neither side understands what it's like. I think that if you love it, you should say "yes, I am very lucky". Because you are. Your career gives you almost endless flexibility, and going to seminars, reviewing papers and grants, writing papers and grants, going to conferences in exotic places, that really is not very hard work. Having done it, that is my opinion. Teaching new classes however, very hard work. But professors at RU's have to do little of that. The stress of obtaining grants, dealing with problem students, that is all hard work.

It is more work in the "real world", and it is more tiring, but the rewards are greater, for me personally.

Ms.PhD said...

Really? Because my life is tied to doing experiments a ridiculous number of hours a week, having a garden is OUT OF THE QUESTION, my house is usually a disaster area because I get home so late at night that all I can do is eat and sleep, AND there are no faculty jobs available (or so I'm told).

Maybe the correct response is, "It might look easy now, but it wasn't easy to get to this point. I'm one of a very few, very lucky elite"?!

Anonymous said...

I've struggled with this a few times, too. My best pat answer is that I really enjoy the teaching, and I really enjoy the research, so I guess I have the best two jobs anyone could want. My small state university is in a largely blue collar area, so I do feel lucky compared to many of my neighbors who are losing jobs and struggling these days. One the other hand, when I talk more to the neighbors I know better, they are agog when I tell them the job is not really for a fixed number of hours, but rather as many hours as it takes for you to be one of the top 50-100 experts in the world in your specialty if you want to get grants, publish meaningful papers, and thus get raises, and that teaching well is very satisfying but has little to do with how well you get paid in science and engineering.