Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Summer Time

It is with some reluctance that I am diving yet again into the fraught topic of

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.


Anonymous said...

This is probably because I'm still taking courses but my most meaningful research occurs when I have less interuptions (in the summer and during my breaks). Of course multitasking is a part of academic life and I'm working on getting better at it, but that's why I feel more comfortable scheduling my advisory and preliminary exams and committee meetings in the summer or just after summer is over. This is reasonable, right?

qaz said...

FSP - Remember, the "9 month" salary is a fiction. It always was. (Proof is "After all, we can have our 9-month salary paid out over 12 months".) It makes much more sense to think of this as a base salary (X) with the availability of increasing X by 25% if you can get it paid for by someone else (like NSF).

The reason universities call it 9-month salary is that NSF (unlike NIH) doesn't like to pay for time that the university was supposed to give you.

In the medical schools, you often have exactly the same thing, just phrased differently: You get a base salary X, but you can augment X if you pay part of it from NIH. Often this augmentation can be based on very complicated formulas, but it's still the same concept.

When seen in this way, it becomes clear that there are LOTS of professions that "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". For example, every sales person that gets a supplement for commissions, to take a simple example.

We are not paid hourly. In fact, you (and most of your commentors, including me) rail regularly against the "effort" certification that we sometimes have to do. So, it doesn't make sense to me to turn that around and play the same game with the "9-month salary".

Anonymous said...

Another reason for the 9-month moniker (vs 75% of 12 month) is that 9 month faculty do not earn annual leave--but part-time 12-month faculty do!

Anonymous said...

The difference between a "9 month" and "base" salary isn't just semantics. Augmenting my salary with grants also subjects me to restrictions on how I spend my time during the summer. The gummint has recently been cracking down to make sure people paid 100% out of a grant during a period of time are actually spending 100% of their working time, during that period, working on those projects (instead of, say, preparing your class for next fall). This never happens during winter break.

Anonymous said...

I actually am not allowed to spread my '9month' salary over 12 months. meaning every May, my paycheck gets a big fat deduction for all of my benefits over the summer. And then for three months I don't get paid anything w/o having a grant to provide it.

Also, as someone else pointed out, we do not get vacation (or maternity - we do get some 'sick' days which I could use should I pop out a kid). The university therefore deems that we must have some time off every year (unpaid of course) and caps the # of months of summer salary we can take at 2.67.

It all seems a little bizarre to me still - I personally would prefer the system someone else explained where I get 75% salary from the university which I can supplement to 100% w/ grants, allowing me to take grant money in the appropriate times to fulfill the effort principles more directly. After all, if I ONLY worked on grant X for the few weeks/year it pays me, I really wouldn't be making any progress, would I??

Anonymous said...

My university only allows official grad student business to be scheduled when classes are in session (summer school doesn't count). As a result, the last two weeks of the semester in May are absolutely packed with committee meetings, prelims, proposal defenses and dissertation defenses. God forbid any graduate student not leave these very important meetings to the absolute last minute. That would be much too sensible.

Anonymous said...

"spent a lot of time being involved in hobbies and social activities"

I am a little dissapointed with this remark. If the expectation from grad students (and perhaps from postdocs) is to postpone/put aside every other aspect of their life to do their work, how is it "unacceptable" to expect their mentors/profs to facilitate that regardless of their pay schedule?

I understand the reasoning for the remark, "they have just not tried hard enough". But i think this type of reasoning can go both ways and it is unproductive.

What the person does in their own time should not be anyone elses business. If they are not meeting previously established deadlines, than the "productivity at work" needs to be discussed not their hobbies or social calendar.

Anonymous said...

FSP I find your approach very level headed and well meaning. Please keep these posts coming...on professional behaviour... on publishing...on summer pay...etc... I love them....thank you so much.

Just a little question. How come you cant seem to be your usual reasonable self whenever you talk about gender?

Alex said...

I understand why they call our salaries "9 months" for administrative purposes, but before we take the designation too seriously, consider the following experiments:

Assistant Professors:
1) Don't do any research in the summer.
2) A few years later, ask the tenure committee if you will be able to continue receiving your "9 month" salary.
3) Based on the results of the previous steps in this experiment, do you conclude that your compensation is in exchange for work done during 9 months or 12 months?

Associate Professors:
1) Don't do any research in the summer.
2) A few years later, ask the promotion committee if you can be promoted to Full Professor and receive the 9 month salary of a Full Professor instead of an Associate Professor.
3) Based on the results of the previous steps in this experiment, do you conclude that your compensation is in exchange for work done during 9 months or 12 months?

Full Professors at schools with merit pay increases:
1) Don't do any research in the summer.
2) Tell the evaluation committee that your work during the 9 months of the school year is awesome, and you would like your 9 month salary to go up because you have been doing such an awesome job for 9 months every year.
3) Based on the results of the previous steps in this experiment, do you conclude that your compensation is in exchange for work done during 9 months or 12 months?

Face it: The idea that our regular compensation is only for 9 months of work is a fiction. Summer salary isn't something we get for doing "extra" work, it's a reward for being able to bring in external support for a key part of our job. I suppose it's also compensation for time that could have otherwise been spent on, say, consulting or other sorts of paid professional activities off-campus, but to pretend that summer salary is for time that we otherwise wouldn't have spent working is just ridiculous.

Female Science Professor said...

Perhaps I am also my reasonable self when talking about gender.

The hobbies/social life remark did not refer to what students do outside of typical "working hours". I was thinking of certain students who spent an inordinate amount of their time in the department hanging around with friends etc. -- this comment specifically referred to how these students spent their working hours, during the day.

Monisha said...

I am in a department where it is quite routine that faculty make themselves unavailable during summers for defenses and colloquium meetings (it's our norm). This is communicated to students very early and up front; in my experience, as a result perhaps of this up front notice, the students who are negatively impacted by this are typically struggling for one or another reason. Also, faculty make themselves completely available in the usual advising sense, they just don't hold big meetings. Pragmatically, it is harder to schedule those during the summer anyway because someone is ALWAYS away on any given likely date....

Anonymous said...

when I was a graduate student I never even considered the possibility that professors working in summer (most) were not paid!
I have jsut learned about the 9- 12-month contract, I used to think that if they were there, either the university or grants paid them.

I would have thought that scheduling something in summer (no classes, less hassle) might have been appreciated (the irony)

amy said...

I agree with Alex. Universities definitely expect (at least implicitly) that we will work in the summer without pay. The same argument can be used to show that they expect us to work more than 40 hours a week for at least some of the year. All of this is implicit until the grant-awarding agencies step in and start wanting effort/hours to be reported explicitly. Then the contradictions come out.

Anon at 12:29: why did you draw the conclusion that FSP suddenly changes when discussing gender? Isn't it equally likely that *you* suddenly change when gender is being discussed -- a change where you're more likely to interpret someone as being unreasonable? I've always found FSP equally reasonable on all issues (except cats, but that's a good thing).

Alex said...

Universities definitely expect (at least implicitly) that we will work in the summer without pay.

No. What I'm arguing is that whether or not you continue to get paid (if you are untenured) or get paid more (if you are seeking promotion) depends on what you do in summer. They are paying based on what you do in summer, but they are calling it a 9 month contract on paper.

Imagine that the university crossed out the number "9" on paperwork and replaced it with "12" and changed the phrase "summer salary" to "supplemental salary for externally-funded work" or whatever. (Pretend, for this thought experiment, that the funding agencies are OK with whatever new term gets put on the paperwork.) However, they continue to evaluate you in the same manner. Are you doing any more work than before? No. Are you being paid any different than before? No. The only different is that now it says on paper that you are being paid for summer, but before it didn't say that.

You are being paid based on what you do (or don't do) in the summer.

Anonymous said...

I suspect many grad students simply don't know about the 9 month salary situation. I certainly didn't when I was a grad student!

Anonymous said...

Anon said:

"God forbid any graduate student not leave these very important meetings to the absolute last minute. That would be much too sensible."

Did you ever think that when you have the dept. head. asst. dept. head, the I'm all mighty big prof and the one trying to get tenure might make life a bit difficult in trying to schedule the meeting?

Trust me, I had that. It's not pretty. I used to schedule my meetings five months in advance to be cancelled by one person. Sometimes, summer, when there are no classes, no external meetings, etc. etc., that summer is the only time to schedule a meeting...

Kevin said...

At least here, if I teach during the summer I get extra pay, so there is an assumption that they are not paying me to teach during the summer.

Most of the committees do not meet during the summer, so there is an assumption that they are not paying me for service over the summer.

Only research is expected to go on 24/7 whether we are paid or not.

Anonymous said...

Well... when FSP supported the idea that the absence of a student lounge could be the reason there are fewer physics majors, or that women only networking is a good (and non sexist) thing, or that the majority of members of some science department (a postdoc from which sent her the email about the rape assault) support and encourage rape, what else was I supposed to think?

Maybe you folks should wonder: If scientists are the people who come up with the new, revolutionary ideas, how come the scientists are the most prejudiced and backward thinking sexists? Also, as a subject becomes more and more theoretical and logically sound: like going from bio to chem to phy and finally to math, how come we get more and more of irrational bigoted sexists?

What percentage of scientists would you say are racists? If the scientists managed to let go of racism, how come they never dropped the sexism?

Charon said...

Have you told students this? Honestly, we have no idea what or how most of our professors are paid. I don't even know all the details about my advisor's pay, and I've written (and won) multiple grant proposals with him.

Grad students are expected to work throughout the summer, so most of us just assume professors will be there too, apart from vacations. I honestly don't know if the professors get paid for 9 or 12 months.

And... if you get paid all year, as qaz points out - how is that not a 12-month salary, whatever you call it? You earn a yearly salary of X dollars. What you're technically appointed for only matters for research grants, etc.

Female Science Professor said...

My students are RAs (paid from grants) in the summer. This is pay in addition to their 9 month academic year salary. I don't think they would like it if their academic year (9 month) salaries were extended over 12 months, with each pay check reduced accordingly. The fact that professors are paid more than students is not relevant to this argument. The university pays faculty like me for 9 months of work. For the other 3 months it is complicated in terms of how effort is counted, whether/how faculty get paid for part of the summer, what we are allowed/not allowed to do, what we are each willing to do etc. One goal of this blog is to explain these kinds of things to student readers who are otherwise uninformed about them, in an effort to increase professor-student understanding.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:01, I'm very familiar with the bigwig who can only schedule a meeting 5 months in advance and then cancels at the last minute. But if you are dealing with one of those, the worst thing you can do is to schedule that meeting for the last possible week before the end of the semester, before a deadline imposed by the grad school, etc. Then if he bails, you're really screwed.

(Actually, my recommendation is to DTMFA. If he can't make a committee meeting, he'll never get around to writing your letters, so what is the point? Go with an overworked junior faculty instead. We also tend to be smarter than the bigwigs).

It must have been a slow day for trolls, FSP. Someone is complaining that you are being too reasonable and not your usual hysterical sexist self! (But for the record, I think there is no shortage of racist scientists. So there, trollio).

Charon said...

FSP, having read your other post on the money mechanics of this, I have to say that it does sound pretty ridiculous.

But your argument about the grad student summer pay thing is just silly. If you took my yearly pay and gave it to me over 9 months instead, then that would be okay. If you paid me my current monthly rate for only 9 months, that would not be okay. It has everything to do with how much money it is, your odd protestations aside.

The time/place accounting for the 100% grant funding sounds horrible. The 9-month pay thing, not so much.

Anonymous said...

"The fact that professors are paid more than students is not relevant to this argument. "

Ummm ... yes it is, because many grad students can not stretch their 12 month salary to 9 months, simply because then they could not afford to pay their rent!

When I started out at at top engineering school in Cambridge, after food, minor everyday expenses and on-campus rent, I had no money left. So to stay on campus and work in the summer, I had to be paid. Later on, students can get internships, but not necessarily when they are starting out.

Actually, I did know some students who didn't get paid over the summer, b/c there "wasn't enough money" while their advisors got the maximum summer salary ...

Charon said...

And by telling students, I meant directly. I scheduled my general exam for the summer, because that's when I was ready to take it. Professors told me that summer scheduling can be hard because of travel, but no one said anything about funding issues.

Out of three months, my committee narrowed it down to one morning that they could all be there. That was okay with me, but you can see the grad student perspective - I bent over backwards to be flexible about the date. Just as I'm doing with my defense, which was suddenly moved to the beginning of this June from this July, because of professor availability. So I'll have to have my thesis ready a month earlier than I thought. That's pretty accommodating.

Anonymous said...

I work 12 months but get paid for probably 6. I was in academia and then went to law school. Now I work but get stiffed by clients who decide not to pay me. So by the time I take all this into account, I am just the opposite. I work 12 but get paid for much less. Why did I make this swithc

Mrs. DeFauw said...

Amazing what people expect from teachers,isn't it? It's the same in the public schools, where I teach elementary school. People have no courtesy towards teachers in general and expect you to drop everything for them. Then we take pay cuts, lose health benefits and retirement benefits and we are expected to continue to do the same or more work. It's almost like people expect us to volunteer to do this job, and call us ungrateful when we complain about any unequality. Great blog today!