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Hi Mark, thank you for the great post. I think the main problem is the age cohort we belong to. I am 30, in my 2nd year n a TT job in a country different from the one I was born, the one my wife was born, or the one in which I got my PhD. (Yes, these are four different countries).
We crossed the Atlantic because of my job with a 1-year-old child. We'll soon have another one.
This is the background.

1) I am overwhelmed because family commitments and job expectations are high.
2) I feel I lose sight of what I love whenever I grade exams or do administrative paperwork (i.e. a good 70% of my time lately). I love teaching and doing research. Yet, I don't find any time to do proper research during the academic year, because of the heavy administrative load. (I teach 2-1 and have teaching assistants, yes, but I find myself without time anyway).
3) frankly not, I think it's life. the great upside is to look at my family and it's worth all sacrifice you might be asked.

Thanks again for the great post.
(My child is crying next to me right now and I don't really know whether what I wrote makes any sense)


1. It is absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed. The workload is very high--higher than that in grad school, even--and requires a lot of multitasking. Furthermore, the situation is high-pressure, since you need to make progress towards tenure.

2. Given the tenure deadline, it makes sense to be motivated by the need to publish, get good teaching reviews, etc. Unfortunately, this motivation can sometimes swamp a love of philosophy and of teaching.

3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! An important aspect of this is learning to say "no," even to some things that you'd *like* to do. Find a colleague that trust--both to have your back and to make sound judgments--and consult with them about what requests you can (and ought) safely turn down.


I feel for the person who wrote that original post. I don't know if this will be helpful, but hopefully?

1. I honestly didn't feel that way in my first year, or really any year since (I'm in year 4 TT, if that helps) - but I've seen a number of the folks who started with me feel that way. So whether or not it's normal, you're definitely not alone - but also whether or not it's normal, it isn't unavoidable.
2. I have sometimes felt this way - like traveller, mostly when I'm overwhelmed with grading. Teaching and research both help me remember what I love, but grading rips it right out of me, and keeps me from spending time on the things I love about it.
3. The biggest differences between me and those who started with me, I think, are A) That I guard my research time jealously. I put aside two hours every morning for writing, and never, ever schedule meetings, do grading, do class prep, or talk to colleagues then. This means I can usually write a full draft of a paper from scratch every semester, and so I feel like I'm making solid progress all of the time. For me, at least, that really helps to stave off the. panic. And B) I have significantly changed the way I do assessment, with a focus on both minimizing the amount of time I spend on grading and maximizing what my students get out of it. For instance, I swap out some long papers focused on content for some shorter papers focused on developing particular skills; for long papers, rather than doing several drafts I have students develop detailed, structured outlines that are much easier to grade and force them to get their thoughts in better order than first drafts do; to focus on content (at least in lower-level, bigger classes) I give essay exams rather than papers - and rather than having them write on a bunch of different topics, I give them 5 possible essay questions in advance that span the material we've covered, and then tell them I'll choose two at random on exam day. I think all of these strategies have genuine pedagogical value, cut down massively on the amount of time I need to spend grading, and let me protect research time. (To give you a sense of how well that might work for you given your own responsibilities, I teach a 2/3 load with relatively large classes and no grading or TA support.)

Good luck! It should get easier.


Thanks for replying, everyone! I was the original poster. (I just got home from a social thing I felt guilty about going to, but forced myself to go to, because I know it's important that I don't give up my entire life to teaching.)

Lesson learned about what and how much to assign for next semester. I know I am grading far too much right now. I'm definitely going to steal some of Hopeful's suggestions.

I have heard a lot of people say to make sure you protect research time. That's what I miss the most - I haven't been able to get any research done at all. I also have opted to not go to a number of non-required (but encouraged) events on campus, and I feel really bad about this. In grad school, I barely missed a colloquium talk and I was active in other departmental affairs. I feel somewhat like I'm set up for failure - to be not a great colleague because of all the pressure, stress, and workload in the first year. And, honestly, I don't get paid very much and it's hard to want to put in even more hours when I already don't take any days off.

(I know contract faculty have this much worse - and I promise, I'm an advocate for you too!)

Do others find that students have unrealistic expectations of what their professors should be doing? I get unreasonable emails all the time asking for extra credit, what they can do to pass the course, telling me when they can't make class and asking what they missed, etc. I want to be prompt in replying to student emails and nice about meeting with them because I care about my students and because I know how important teaching evaluations are for tenure, but I feel completely drained. I just can't keep up.


Anon I would take some time in your next class to lay out the ground rules for your most common email questions (Ideally you should put this in the syllabus and talk about it day 1, but no need to wait until next semester for you to breath.)

1. Extra Credit: Students ALWAYS ask. Personally I have a couple of extra credit things so they can do it, and make it due at the end of the semester I get no questions because people know there is EC and put it off to the last minute.
2. Make a policy about missing class and tell them, so you no longer get emails.
3. As for passing the course, I would mention this in your talk. And if students keep asking you (personally I have never had this experience) just refer them to the syllabus.

Every once and a while I get an enthusiastic student who just wants to talk philosophy with me by email. At some point I have to tell them to talk to me in office hours because I have other work to do. Asking students to come to office hours is another good fall back.

What is your teaching load, Anon?

As for research, this might sound crazy, but when really busy I make myself do 10 minutes a day of research when I get home. I know it sounds like nothing, but honestly the difference between doing 10 minutes of writing EVERY day and not doing any is huge.

Recent Grad


It sounds like a lot of the issues you're having can be solved with the right habits and smart planning about your schedule, so there's reason to be hopeful. Here are some more suggestions from an overworked, underpayed 5/5 VAP.

~Do your best to redirect all time-consuming student requests to your office hours. Often students won't come. But if it were really important to them, then they would take the time to come talk to you about it. And when they do, it's much more efficient, and pleasant, to discuss things in person.

~Don't assign extra credit. Just don't. Be clear about the assignments/grading. At that point, the onus is on the students to do the work.

~As much as possible, make students meet you half way. Don't do too much *for them.* This isn't neglect. It's encouraging them to take responsibility for their education.

Good Luck!

anonymous TT prof

I have lots of suggestions, most of which fall under the "work smarter, not harder" category, to keep the teaching work at bay. This repeats some suggestions above ...

1. Frequent short papers, instead of a few long ones. They are easier to read and grade, and students improve from frequent feedback.

2. Do not discuss philosophy over email with students. It takes way too long to construct emails. If they have a question that requires more than a sentence or two in response, I direct them to come to office hours.

3. Never read drafts, or require paper revisions. Generally, the feedback you give is either thoughtlessly incorporated or totally ignored. It's less work for them, and way more work for you, and it leads to complaints: "I did what you told me to do! Why didn't I get an A++?!"

4. Similarly, when grading, never do a point-by-point, in-the-margin comments, like "You mischaracterize Aristotle's view here, when you say " ...". His view is actually ...." The student will look at this for 2 seconds and move on. Instead, give one paragraph of pointed feedback at the end, which gives affirmation on what was done well and suggestions for improvement. "You mischaracterize some of the views you discuss, particularly Aristotle's. If you are struggling to understand a philosopher, please come talk to me. Your writing is generally concise and clear, with the exception of the introduction, which is too long-winded and vague. On p. 3 you make a particularly insightful observation. See my brief comment there. I'd like to see more like this in the rest of the paper" etc. This takes a fraction of the time and, in my experience, is taken more seriously by the student.

5. Require student presentations (article summaries or something of the kind.) They benefit from the work assigned, and you don't have to prep such a long lecture. Plus, I've found that students are more invested in a discussion when it's instigated by a peer presentation.

6. If you are in the mood for research, research! Some of the most valuable time I've spent writing was when I "should have" been doing something else. So I was a little less prepared for the that day's course ... not ideal, but everything is a balancing act. Teaching shouldn't *always* win. Relatedly, give yourself a time limit to prep and stick to it. When I have a time limit I find that time to be much more productive.

7. Never teach anything you don't want to teach. You won't teach it well. Since you construct the syllabus, make the course something you will enjoy teaching. Think less about the ideal form of an "environmental ethics" course or whatever, and more about what works for you in the coming semester.

Summary: If you feel bogged down in pointless work, you probably are bogged down in pointless work. Some of that may not be under your control, but for the things that *are* under your control, make some changes. Rework your assignments/teaching style/grading practices/priorities to construct a job that you enjoy doing.

I'm well into a TT appointment, but not yet tenured. I developed these practices due to work/family conflicts which really limited the time I had to do anything at all to about 30 hours/week, on average. I've found making these changes improved how my classes went, increased how much I enjoyed teaching them, and left more time for research.

Sara L. Uckelman

I haven't updated it recently, but my first year on the tenure-track equivalent in the UK I made this page to share with students: "What Is My Lecturer Doing?" http://community.dur.ac.uk/s.l.uckelman/whatismylecturerdoing.html

I had a young child (she was almost 3 then, just turned six now) when I started my current position, and one thing that helped me a lot to keep from feeling overwhelmed was I kept a pretty strict 9-5 schedule, in part because I didn't want my daughter at daycare any longer than that.

This was my first time in a position that involved teaching (I'd had three research post-docs with optional teaching) and I was not prepared to feel like I was accomplishing nothing during term time. What I learned pretty quickly was not to be bothered by that, but to protect and preserve out of term time for research work. I also did everything I could to integrate teaching to research-related things -- I made my students read papers related to things I was interested in, and had them write short reports and give presentations on them in my 2nd year class, and used my 3rd year class as an excuse to revisit a subfield of philosophy I hadn't done anything with in more than a decade. Part-way through the year I saw an interesting CfP for a themed issue of a journal, circulated it amongst the 3rd year class, and said if anyone was interested in co-writing something to come and talk to me. One woman took me up on it, and she and I wrote a paper that was eventually published in that special issue. In the 2nd year on the job, I had my 3rd year students read a draft of a paper before I submitted it to a prestigious conference, and two of them had extremely helpful suggestions.

The other thing that contributed immensely to my not being overwhelmed is something harder to control, and that was an incredibly supportive spouse who works from home and does most of the housework and the cooking/meal planning.

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