Professorial Use of Summer Time.
Yesterday's theme was money. Today's theme is students.
As part of my continuing effort to explain Academia from the point of view of a (mostly) well-meaning professor and adviser, let's consider the summer situation of a professor on a 9-month appointment at a research university.
Although I in no way condone the rude behavior of professors who apparently seem strangely pleased to inconvenience students who want to defend their thesis or take a preliminary exam in the summer (e.g., by refusing to participate in these events during the summer), I will throw out for discussion a few of the relevant issues from the professorial point of view.
At my institution and others like it, professors are not required to teach or do institutional service in the summer. That is the principle behind our being paid for 9 months of work rather than 12. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for students and others to think it entirely reasonable that professors be available in the summer for committee meetings, exams, and so on.
Another frequent comment is that professors who make a decent 9-month salary should be happy with that. After all, we can have our 9-month salary paid out over 12 months, so it is just like being paid for 12 months. The reasoning seems to be that the actual amount of each pay check doesn't matter as long as you continue to get paychecks in the summer.
Is there another profession in which it is widely believed that those in that profession should work without pay for several months of the year just because they make a decent salary? Wouldn't it be a great way to keep health care costs down if medical professionals volunteered their services for 3 months of the year? Their salaries are high enough; why shouldn't they donate their time and expertise? And what about lawyers? Couldn't they work pro bono a few months of the year?
I am satisfied with my 9-month salary and pleased when I can get paid for at least some of my research time in the summer, but I disagree with those who think that we professors are greedy if we want to be paid for the work we do in the summer, that professors who work in the summer don't deserve to be paid in the summer, or that professors should automatically be available in the summer at the times that are most convenient for the students.
That last statement is obnoxious, but I mention it because, although the vast majority of graduate students are very hard-working, I have seen more than a few cases in which a student procrastinated throughout the academic year, spent a lot of time being involved in hobbies and social activities, and then needed to take an exam in the summer. That's the kind of thing that can rankle even moderately nice professors who are otherwise on board with working without pay in the summers and being available to help students.
In fact, most of my colleagues volunteer some or all of their time in the summer, and many of us are happy to do so. We don't stop being advisers just because it is summer. Most of us also know that it is in everyone's interest that students get the help they need, make progress in their research, and pass the various milestones (exams) in a timely way. Sometimes it just works out that summer is the best time for an exam or defense. And certainly if a student needs to defend in the summer in order to move into a particular job, the vast majority of professors I know would show up for a summer defense if at all possible.
Like most of my colleagues, I work in the summer and I enjoy it. Except when blogging, I don't obsess about my summer salary, or lack thereof, and I spend a lot of time with students of various sorts, whether or not I am paid to do so.
Even so, I do not want my summer time to be taken for granted or wasted. And I do not want my university to proscribe my research and advising activities in the summer (the topic of yesterday's post). Furthermore, if it's not asking too much, although I am of course enjoying the fabulous fun to be had in the waning phase of the academic year, I would like summer to come soon, please.