Our books






Become a Fan

« A writing sample dilemma | Main | The Nigerian Philosopher in a Fund-Starved Academic System »

09/26/2019

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mike

Thanks for this post. It all seems like reasonable advice, though my own problem is getting myself to follow such plans, rather than realizing it would be good to do so.

That said, here's a question: how does this apply to early career academics? Supposing one sets high priority on getting tenure at a place without too high a teaching load and not in the middle of nowhere, might it turn out that working significantly more than 40 hours a week makes sense, even if you're only getting paid for 40 hours worth?

I generally work less than 40 hours, absent important deadlines, since I'm kind of lazy and I've convinced myself I think better when I don't work a lot. But I suspect many people (perhaps myself included) could produce more and put themselves in better positions to get the kinds of jobs they want by working more, at least on their research. Supposing they really really want such a job, this could be the optimal thing to do.

Then again, maybe once one is doing things efficiently, one can put oneself in about as good a position as one can be in wrt the market without so many hours of work. And from there one either gets lucky or doesn't.

RJM

This really resonates, and nice to hear I'm not alone in working less than 40 hours a week and--for the most part--feeling absolutely no guilt for it.

Enzo Rossi

So basically to be productive and have good work-life balance you need to have great mental health. The neurotics among us simply cannot be sure that they will sit down and do whatever they've planned to do at any given time.

For example, typically, I wasn't supposed to be reading blogs right now, nor to get in a Twitter fight with colleagues this morning, but then I just got an annoying R&R and read some dispiriting political news, so there's no way my demons will let me work on research, even though I theoretically have the time.

VAP

With all due respect to Jason, I think this betrays a misunderstanding of the various pressures that apply to a majority of early-career academics--i.e., the core readership of this blog. I suspect it is helpful advice for people who are on the tenure clock, which I'm sure is some portion of those who read this blog. But for those of us in more tenuous positions, it's vastly different. We are competing for precious few jobs with hundreds of other philosophers who work nights, weekends, and have no life (and no qualms about that fact). Their teaching is fascinating and dynamic. Their publications are good and in good journals. I wish it weren't so, but we find ourselves in a benevolent arms race, and every best practice noted above is a step toward unilateral disarmament.

Marcus Arvan

VAP: I actually agree with Jason on this. I was on the job-market for 7 years, and the *best* decision I made during that time--both for my mental well-being and productivity--was making it a personal policy to not work during the evenings or on the weekends (and thus, deciding to work only ~40 hours per week).

Jason's message is that one doesn't need to "work oneself to death" in order to be productive. My own experience is that this is true even if one is in a tenuous position. I began publishing more, and teaching better, only after I made the above decision. I wasn't more productive when I worked longer and harder. I was less productive.

Maybe Jason and I are outliers, but I suspect not. There's an entire empirical literature on overwork and burnout that I think supports the story Jason is telling. Imposing a 40 hour work week on oneself--and giving oneself time to rest and enjoy life--not only requires one to become more efficient with one's time: it enables one to *rest* and hence function more efficiently when one does work.

Jason Brennan

VAP, my advice is precisely the advice I followed when I was untenured and had to spend lots of time on childcare. If anything, now that I'm a full professor, my advice is harder to follow, because while I don't have to publish anymore, the number of attractive offers to do this (publish in an anthology, deliver a talk for $6000, etc.) and that I receive are much higher, plus I am supposed to do more administrative work.

So, I agree my advice is not equal for all ranks, but it applies more to junior people than senior.

Greg Stoutenburg

VAP: I think it is important to keep in mind that it is very unlikely that the results of being busy will make a difference once one has had a small amount of success, like a couple of publications and some teaching experience. Probably no one has been hired because they had one more publication than the second-place candidate.

Prof. L

I also agree with this. I have a job that pays badly in a MCOL area. I also have young children and can't afford adequate childcare. I'm pre-tenure, and I just have to make it work.

Work smarter, not longer, I tell myself, over and over again. I only allot an hour for prepping to teach a class. If I have service work I try and do it in the least time-consuming way possible (in-person meetings are a terrible time-drain). Research I try and spend more time on, but even that can done in a way that is inefficient, like "hmmm, well, maybe I should spend a week reading this book before getting started on that article" ... Ideally I could do that, but time is precious and I have 30-35 hours/week to work, best care scenario (assuming no kid is sick, etc.). So I spend a couple hours with the book and move onto the next thing. I actually find that I'm likely more productive than I would be if I wasn't trying to cram everything into an extra-short work-week.

Also, I found I was struggling a bit with focus and productivity, so I quit social media. It helps with both anxiety and with productivity, I've found.

Craig

I think all of this is good -- very good! -- advice. But the post seems a bit misleading, perhaps innocently so. After this paragraph:

I have a dirty secret: I generally work under 40 hours a week. Despite that, I made full professor at age 38, publish a bunch, and receive great merit evaluations every year. I also am actively involved with my kids, play in two gigging rock bands, cook dinner, do the laundry, take multiple vacations every year, and have, if anything, far more of a social life than I’d like to. How?

I expected an answer that started by referencing 1) the virtually zero teaching load that Jason has, 2) the spectacular control Jason has over what and when he teaches, 3) the spectacular wealth of Jason's institutions, and so the concomitant support Jason receives, 4) the incredibly exceptional students Jason has, students who need far less than virtually every other student in the country, and 5) how much easier it is to teach when you're a charismatic white guy than when you're anyone else. (And I have no idea whether, on top of this, Jason's family life is relatively stable--perhaps he is financially supporting a destitute parent or providing medical care for a permanently injured sibling, I don't know, but if not, and if instead he has a stable and supportive immediate and extended family, that should be on this list as well.)

There is a whole world of difference between Jason's spectacularly privileged and easy position and that, for example, of a disabled woman of color teaching a 4/4 with at least half of those outside her expertise, classes spread across both days and times, with overwhelmingly gen-ed students who are dealing with a range of intractable personal and educational issues.

Insofar as this post suggests that the central explanation of Jason's good work-life balance has been adhering to those bits of (again, good) advice, pfft. Insofar as this post suggests that those without Jason's nearly obscene advantages could nonetheless readily get themselves a nice, easy work-life balance just by following his advice, I would just be insulted. This is not to say that his advice isn't good advice for us all to think about; but those of us who have things easy should not assume it is because we've figured some secret formula, especially if we started the game with a flush in hand.

Jason Brennan

Thanks for your comment, even though it's written in a snide and accusatory way. It's useful because it will allow me to continue this thread in a way graduate students and others early in their career can find useful. A side effect will be that I'll have to defend myself against your accusations.

As it stands, I've just published a book on the political economy of higher education, with another related book on academic work coming out in 2020. As a result, I've read through treasure troves of data about how much different kinds of faculty work and what they produce.

You are absolutely right--no one would disagree--that a person with a 2-1 load such I has far more time to work on publishing than someone with a 4-4 load. However, someone with a 4-4 load is normally not expected to publish much, or sometimes at all. The reality is that there is a giant work trade-off between research and teaching. Once you step outside the R1s, the overwhelming majority of tenure-track faculty do very little research, and spend nearly all their time teaching. At R2s, for instance, the average tenure-track professor spends only about 3 hours a week on research. Further, the amount of research produced is, unsurprisingly, far lower. That's why, in the end, about 10% of faculty produce about 90% of the research. 60% of tenure-track professors in four-year colleague publish nothing--including op eds, books, peer-review and non-peer-reviewed article--nothing in any given two year period. Most tenure-track faculty publish fewer than 10 total academic pieces in their entire career.

I'm not criticizing them for doing that. My point is instead that at some places, you face tremendous pressure to publish at a high level, or you get fired or at least get very small raises once tenured. At others, you face very little pressure to publish at a high level, but have a very high amount of teaching work. Survey data from the Dept of Ed, from HERI, from the AAUP show the same results: There are very few places where faculty have to publish a great deal and also teach a great deal. The reality is it's either/or for almost everyone.

So let's say you are the typical college professor in the US at a four-year school. You teach a 3-3 load and won't publish anything in the next two years. You also don't need to do so. A 6 course load = 270 hours in the classroom. How about class prep? Well, if you had good time management, you should leave graduate school with a large number of classes already prepped--every class you TA'd for you should have ready to do when you leave. Prepping for general survey classes is easy. Prepping for special classes is harder, sure, but you can use techniques to reduce the work. If you 270 hours in a classroom, you still have 1730 hours left in the working year to do everything else. If you can't get your preparation, your grading, your admin work, and the small amount of research you're expected to do done in that time, then you probably have bad time management techniques, including writing too many comments on papers (see the psych lit about how students don't respond well to too many comments), etc.

Further, after a few years in, you'll likely teach the same courses over and over. While updating the classes is good, you don't have to start from scratch.

As for whether I am privileged, there's a way in which my job now is cushy and a way in which its super damn hard. Georgetown MSB expects me to hit a top tier publication (with a very restricted list, much more restricted than in traditional philosophy departments) every year. If I had to just teach six course a year and not worry about publishing, the pressure would be off. I'd have more scheduled time but less pressure.

Did I start the game with a flush in hand? I think the oppression/victim Olympic things people like to do is sad, but since you brought it up, here goes. I'm a first generation college student. I paid every cent of tuition for college out of my own pocket, with the exception of about $2500 I got from my nana. The rest, I paid for--by working on the side. I even had to take a semester off college to work full time. Despite that, I did NCAA Div I fencing, various clubs, had a social life, etc. My senior year of college, after I transferred to a different, cheaper school, I worked part-time for the Princeton Review, part-time as a teaching assistant, kept up the club, worked to maintain my relationship with my girlfriend (we've been married now for 15 years and have two kids), plus--because I switched majors--I did the entire philosophy major in two semesters, which required me to take 44 credit hours in 2 semesters. Plus I applied to grad school.

So, sure, there are people that had it worse. You probably aren't one, but who knows? You're just an anonymous dude taking swipes.

The good thing about that ungodly high workload my senior year was that it was do or die. That's when I learned good time management. I find my senior year the easiest of all, despite having to do all that, because I learned how to work efficiently to get ahead. For instance, I realized that if I did work early before it was due, then I would never have to sweat over deadlines. I handed in 3 papers, got an A, and was done with my ancient philosophy class by September of that semester.

As for whether I have spectacular control over what I teach, no. That was part of the bargain of turning down all those political science and philosophy departments in favor of political economy program in a business school. I've taught four different classes in 9 years. At Brown, I taught a new class almost every semester. I don't have much control and nearly all my teaching is core "service" classes. But it was worth it to secure the higher salary business schools provide, because one my major goals was to ensure my kids never experience the material deprivation I faced as a child growing up with a working class single mom.

Marcus Arvan

I’d like to emphasize the blog’s mission at this point. This is supposed to be a supportive environment. Commenters should feel free to raise and debate concerns in an honest and spirited manner. But let’s keep the discussion kind and civil. This is not a place for snark, “accusations”, and so on and forth. Thanks.

Amanda

I think the advice Jason gives is good, I'd also add it is key to figure out your own working style and not be afraid to do things that work for you individually. Re the earlier reference about mental health. Typically, of course, people will work better when they are mentally healthy. But if you have mental health or distraction issues, anxiety issues, whatever, you need to experiment until you find what is most efficient for you. (and get treatment, too). Some people need to get up and exercise every hour. And if so, that might extend an hour into your working day. So not everyone has the same natural abilities to be equally productive, but probably all of us can learn to be much more productive than we are. I was just talking to one of my grad students the other day who said they got no work down last month because they were "adjusting" to a new strategy of working in the morning because everyone had told them that this is most efficient. This is silly. If you suck at working in the morning, then don't work in the morning! As academics we typically have a lot of freedom for when we work. If you have kids, then cook your kids breakfast in the morning to spend more time with them. Or stay up really late and work after they go to bed. Be flexible. If you look at the work habits of successful people, there will be a lot of variance.

Also: on the stats about most professors not publishing. Jason is right that typically if you teach a lot in a TT job then you don't need to publish nearly as much, and the work balances are way more equal then they seem. And those with PhD students have a lot of supervisory work to do. However, a problem for a lot of people is they are on the market. So they can't just do a 4/4 and not publish. They have to publish to be competitive. And they have to spend a significant amount of time applying for jobs as well. That is a genuine rough place to be in. You have already won once you have the TT job. Not to mention, the academic world , at least philosophy, is way, way, way, more competitive than it was 10-30 years ago. Professors in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, who haven't published recently are from a different academic generation with different norms. Almost 100% of people who get TT jobs have published within the last 2 years, or this is the impression I get from looking at the hires very closely. I might not have said this 5 years ago, it has changed very fast.

Amanda

One more thing: Yes, you are not morally required to work more than your contract. But I will repeat what I've said before: it is okay if you do. If you want to spend extra hours on some type of service committee because you like it and you find it valuable, then good! That is a fine way to spend your time just like Jason's music is a fine way to spend his time. It doesn't make you a slave to your employee if you want to do it. But then just don't complain about how much you "have" to work. Recognize it is your choice, and you don't have to, but you can and you want to.

Dave

To add to what some people have already said, it is hard for non-tenured, early career academics to take seriously encouragement to "work less, work smarter" when the primary message of the current job market is "it is no longer enough." It is no longer enough to wait until a TT job to start publishing. It is no longer enough to teach the classes your mentors taught. It is no longer enough to rely heavily on the Socratic method (as you were taught). It is no longer enough to ignore the lack of diversity in philosophy. It is no longer enough to ignore our declining majors. It is no longer enough to ignore the need for outreach and public philosophy, and so on ad infinitum.

I think it is good that many departments are taking seriously these disciplinary goals, but developing new syllabi with creative, interdisciplinary readings, creating popular content, working with majors on professional development, advising, working with disadvantaged minorities to help them overcome structural impediments, learning and publishing in fashionable sub-fields, attending teaching workshops, developing and testing new teaching methods and reading up on the pedagogical literature all takes a lot of extra time, especially if you are teaching a 4/4 load and on the job market (and, heaven forbid, disabled, taking care of children or struggling with mental illness).

I just don't know if we will achieve these disciplinary goals if the dominant thinking among tenured and tenure-track faculty is "remember, it is just a job." If we all collectively agree that these goals are not worth achieving, then perhaps we can remove all this stuff from the job postings and all together work less, work smarter. But so long as the job market postings scream "it is no longer enough," I think the non-tenured are right to be critical of discussions of self-care and work-life balance.

I will note two things: first, this criticism does not apply to Jason Brennan, who has done more than most to make philosophy relevant and accessible. Second, I am fortunate enough to be in a caring department that does not put this kind of pressure on me. But others are not so lucky.

Marcus Arvan

Dave: I’m obviously just one person here, but speaking again as someone who spent a lot of time on the job market while in a high teaching and high service load job, for my part I think Jason’s advice may be especially important for people like those you describe. Yes, the job market screams “do more, do more!”, and yes, it can be tempting to think that if you don’t work harder and longer, someone else who does will beat you out on the market. But, as tempting as these thoughts are, I think Jason’s real message is that it can be *counterproductive* and you’ll never know whether better work-life balance won’t be better for you as a job candidate unless you try. Yesterday, someone else on social media reported the same experience that I reported in this thread: that their productivity and performance *improved* by working fewer hours. As terrible as the job market is, my experience is that working longer and harder can lead to worse performance. And again, to the best of my knowledge there’s an empirical literature on overwork and burnout that supports this. I only found out I was more productive working less by accident. I felt I owed it to my wife to be a better husband who wasn’t working every night and on the weekend. Because she’s far more important to me than any job will ever be, I scaled back my work hours to 9-5 on weekdays and implemented a hard policy of not working on weekends—and did it when I was still on the market in a very demanding non-TT job. And what do you know? After scaling back my hours my publication rate basically quadrupled and I got better teaching reviews. It also vastly improved my mental well-being, which had been the worst part of the job market of all. Anyway, long story short: it may be tempting to knock Jason’s advice. But you’ll never really know if it’s wrong unless you give it a try.

Happy 4/4

As someone who just started a TT job with a 4/4 teaching load, I wanted to add a few thoughts from the perspective of someone in my situation.

First of all, Jason's post on Daily Nous about writing was very helpful for me as a grad student. It encouraged me to think more seriously about a writing schedule and to put the pieces together to be more productive, more regularly. I have no doubt that this attitude was instrumental my getting a job--and I have a teaching job!

Second, while Jason's remark about prepping classes in grad school made me laugh, I agree with a lot of the other things he said about the time you have available in a teaching job. I can already see it in myself, and in my colleagues: when you don't have to publish, it's just incredibly tempting to not worry about it. I can't describe how much happier I am this year compared to last, because, for the first time in many years, I'm not carrying around the burden of anxiety and worry over publishing. I want to publish, and probably will. But I don't NEED to publish, and the difference is night and day.

That said, the tradeoff that Jason describes in his comment above, between teaching and research, is important for grad students to understand, I think. I have been tracking my time very carefully since I started this job, noting how many minutes I spend in different types of work like teaching, teaching prep, service, meetings with students, and so on. So far I have seen that I have between 8-10 hours each week where I can do whatever I want, which you'd usually call "research time" I guess. I'm guessing most people in research jobs have at least double this (I work 45 hours per week--get in at 8, leave at 5 every day--so I'm just talking about regular business hours, not nights and weekends). The tradeoff between research and teaching jobs is that someone in a research job has much more "free time" than I do, but they also have a lot of expectations about how they are actually going to use that time, and what outputs they are going to produce. I have less time, but there is basically zero expectation that I will do any research, no pressure to do anything in particular, and I can work on, read, or write whatever I feel like.

In addition, I learned in graduate school that, realistically, I was not able to write for more than 4 hours per day, no matter how much time I had. I just could not sustain the focus necessary for longer than that. So at least for me, there is an upper limit of how much I would be able to write and research every day, even if I had more time.

For what it's worth, given my personality and my goals, I made the right choice and love my teaching job. But I get why other people would want something else.

Amanda

Marcus I think your advice is right about research, and maybe even teaching. And I believed all of that for a long time. But sometimes a schedule will just not allow for evenings and weekends off. When I was developing new courses, finishing a co-authored publication, working at a public outreach program and applying for fellowships, I worked almost all day, for months straight, having only time to exercise. It was simply not possible for me to do less and not renege on my obligations. Of course, I was not efficient as humanly possible. But my point is that becoming more efficient, given the time and place I was in, was simply not feasible.

I do think that the vast majority of the time people can take this advice, and that period in my life did not last forever. And I also could have done things to prevent getting in that situation in the first place (a lesson I learned.) However, I just think it is a mistake not to acknowledge that there are some situations which really do require dawn to dusk work. This just seems obvious to me. To deny that is to suggest that these situations are impossible, which seems odd. I do think they are not common, which is why most people can improve "work life balance."

Lastly, I hate the term "work/ life balance." As though my work is not my life. It is not my whole life, of course, (I actually am very committed to a hobby which takes several hours of my day every day) but my career is one of the most central aspects of it. I have no qualms about that. I'm happy with it. Actually, for philosophers who think their job is "just a job" my honest reaction is you picked an incredibly difficult, high-risk, and low return on investment job if that is all it is for you. Glad it worked out for Jason, but I think many people would not be in the same boat. Regardless, most philosophers I know went into philosophy because it was their passion (then many got justifiably jaded. ) But why shouldn't it be a passion? And if it should or it can be, then it seems a bit misleading to call it "just a job," as if it really is the same deal as working for Geico (a perfectly fine and honorable job, but one that would not, in me, ignite the same passion. And I suspect this is true of many philosophers.)Anyhow, I would just call it "balance," "time-management," or "work efficiency."

ABD Mom

Thanks to all the participants in this conversation. I wish more faculty would discuss these issues with their graduate students. I started my PhD as a single person with mediocre time management skills and the counterproductive mindset that I should always be working, not to mention attempting to do every single thing to the best of my ability. Now (soon to graduate) I am married, pregnant for the third time, and doing a long-term side job that provides essential financial benefits but cuts into my nights and weekends. My work habits have dramatically transformed and improved in response to these changes in my life but I’m not sure that would have happened otherwise. I have experienced the benefits of working less that Marcus and Jason mention but also the phenomenon Amanda describes of going through periods where that is simply not possible due to an over-abundance of commitments.

I think it’s important to note that while we do have choices in how many commitments we take on, and how firmly we place boundaries around them, there are certain life circumstances (e.g. caring for dependent family members, needing to take on extra work to make ends meet, facing mental and physical health problems of our own) in which that is much harder to do, and the decisions about what to take on (which themselves cost time and energy) can also be very hard to make. Plus the boundaries between work and life are fuzzy, for all the reasons Amanda mentions but also for inverse reasons. Caring for tired small children at the end of the day is (for me) much more demanding in many ways than writing philosophy.

I’d really like to hear more about people’s experiences with the role of sleep in this balancing act. I find that I am now dramatically less able to function well on too little sleep than I could do as an undergraduate. I assume this is partly to do with aging and partly to do with the changing nature of my responsibilities. But sleep needs also vary quite a lot between individuals. Jason and others, do you consider yourselves average in terms of sleep needs? How do you resist the temptation to cut into sleep when you do have too much on your plate?

HK Andersen

I agree that thinking of this as a job, with reasonable requirements on hours, is a healthy way to approach being a faculty member. A lot of the Scandinavian countries are also good about this - they schedule workshops during the work week, since it is work, rather that "On Saturday, so everyone is free", where people have to miss out or give up on personal time. I also find that informing students that I respond to email during work hours, so about 9-5, rather than in the evenings or weekend, is helpful for them to think about faculty members as having a job and not indefinitely on call.

I do want to raise a further concern here, though, which isn't really addressed in the main post. There are two interconnected worries about taking this kind of "sorry, I am out of hours!" approach. One is that, in a department, sometimes there is just a certain amount of work to go around, and not enough total faculty-hours to get it done. Emphasizing one's own limits in this way means that someone else has to do that work. Some of that institutional work doesn't just not get done; it gets done, by someone else. Usually, that will be people who are for a variety of reasons likely to do disproportionate service work. In this way, since no one 'balances the books' for a whole dept. to make sure there is only enough work to get done as there are faculty hours to do it, thinking only of one's own hours really is a way of making someone else do your share of that overage burden.

The second, very connected, concern, is that usually that work involves students, especially in the context of graduate programs. When I tot up where I can make more time in my schedule, given my aims of working about 8 hours a day, five days a week (a lovely goal but not one I've quite managed yet), there is no give or flexibility in it, unless I just cut out students. Feedback on their papers, on their research, on their grant applications, on their personal statements, etc: this is what gets cut out when people hew strictly to time limits as faculty members. And, there can be a terrible kind of game of chicken: it might be that some faculty are ok simply not putting in much time for the graduate students; but others see that the people about to get screwed over are graduate students, and step in to pull the weight that the time-conscientious faculty member isn't.

So, this is a way to look out for oneself; but it usually, in the wild, results in making other people in a department pull your weight instead. Or, it results in graduate students getting left out in the cold.

Amanda

ABD Mom: I had the same experience as you with sleep. I used to be able to get by with less sleep. Or even if not less sleep overall, I could go several days without a lot of sleep and then catch-up. But now when I try to do that, I literally fall asleep at my computer. That happened just last week. I was planning to finish my lecture slides at night, and I woke up in the morning with my computer in my lap and I was only on slide two. So I literally have no choice sometimes but to get the extra sleep which will cut into other things. I am not sure if this is all due to aging (good forbid if this is aging in early 30s I don't want to see where things go from here.) But I am not sure whether it has to do with stress and pressure I have now I didn't have before, I"m not sure.

The point about students I think is a very good one. I spend a lot of time answering student emails and working with grad students. Much more than many people in similar positions, from what I can gather. Some might say that I should just not do this. In some sense, they are right. But in another sense:

1.It is really weird how working with grad students is this one area of your job where there is no oversight at all. Even with undergrad teaching at an R1, the student evals are looked at, we get write-ups on our teaching performance. We have to justify that we do enough service and research. But nobody even mentions grad students, at all. I think the only mention I have is some throw away line in my contract about "working with grad students." This, of course, is not taken even remotely seriously. And anyone who has been around a grad program knows that often a small number of faculty take on all the graduate work. Given what rough places grad students are in, I have serious ethical qualms about ignoring them, even though I am not professionally rewarded for my efforts.

2. The time I spend answering emails from undergrads goes way above and beyond what could reasonably be expected of me, given my contractual obligations. However, while it might be a good work-life balance idea to ignore these emails, this will hurt my teaching evals. Yeah, I probably could get by with much lower evals. But I find that so mentally taxing that in the end this would not be a good trade-off. I get incredibly depressed and unable to work if I have an unusually low evaluation class. I wish I wasn't like this, but I am. And then there is the ethical issue again. It just seems rude to ignore them. I know all the rationalizations why I shouldn't see it this way, but I can't help myself. I can never be that person who ignores students and then sleep soundly at night. I do not say this to imply it is good. I am just being descriptive.

This is jut to say we should take into account all the tradeoffs of these decisions. Not to mention, if we are going to start insisting on not working more than 40 hours a week, we might want to consider what it would be like if others made sure we worked AT LEAST 40 hours a week. I love my freedom as an academic, and I would quit the second it became a literal 9 to 5 job and I had to fill out the kind of crap forms I do to get travel reimbursements.

Nicolas

I agree with much of what Jason said. But these things start early in your career. Very early. I've always been convinced that working too much was counterproductive. Maybe I'd be teaching at Berkeley had I worked more, or perhaps I just reached my limit. Who knows. Regardless, I don't wish I had worked more than I did.

Now, in order to get there, we have to stop telling or implying to our students that they have to work as hard as Jason did (beware of survivor bias here). I hear schools including my own telling students that a BA is at least 40 hours a week of work, and that's just for classes. And they know they have one or two if not more jobs on the side. When are they expected to have a life? What I tell my students instead: eat, sleep, exercise, and organize your work schedule accordingly, not the other way round. If you don't need a job to get by financially, then don't get one, focus on studying.

Marcus Arvan

Apologies to 'Happy 4/4', whose long comment I just approved (see above). Happy: your comment got lost in Typepad's spam filter!

KZ

I suppose that the main takeaway of the post is something like "it's possible to work less and be successful and it's good for your mental/physical health if you work less". That seems to be true and uncontroversial. However, it is really hard not to read this as also saying "if you work less (rather than more), you are more likely to be successful" or "working less is a key part of being successful". We don't know if that's true -- sure, many people work a lot and don't succeed. But we don't know if they would if they worked less. We don't hear from people who decided to work less and then had to leave academia.

Also, just to second HKAndersen's point above, as a grad student who puts in more hours to look after other grad students because faculty members don't, I'm deeply saddened to hear persistent dissuasion of service.
(Sure, I don't have to do it either and I might be more professionally successful than I am now. I suppose I could let my friends drink through their anxiety and let shy students fall through the cracks. I wasn't the one who decided to take on more students than there are "faculty hours" for.)

Prof L

People who make philosophy their life make it worse for everyone. This job shouldn't require all of you, especially since the stakes are low here—none of us is a Plato or a Kant, our dedication to our work merely raises expectations for everyone else, both from undergraduates, and from administrations, and from search committees.

If my department requires 10 hours of service from me each week, then they can't also expect me to publish. So if you are doing more than your fair share of service, SAY NO. Let some slacker take it on and do it poorly. It won't be the end of the world. Or let it not get done. I've rarely been on committees about which I've thought "we are engaged in essential work here" -- usually, quite the opposite.

If you regularly find yourself writing 1000 word emails to students, stop. I tell my students up front that if they have a question that requires more than a single sentence response, they need to come to office hours. If they send me such a question, I'll tell them I'm happy to discuss it with them in office hours. If it's that important to them, they'll set up a meeting -- usually, they don't. Students weren't born thinking that professors are on call day and night to answer any question that enters their head. I wonder where they learned this ...

I love philosophy too, it's my "passion". But doing service work, answering student emails, writing inordinately long and detailed comments justifying lower-than-A grades, coming up with more and more elaborate schemes to keep students' attention during class, even churning out articles for research rewards (including tenure, course releases, etc.) -- this isn't "philosophy". These things in moderation form part of what I do for money, and some of it I enjoy. If one thinks it's good to work 50-60 hours a week because philosophy is a "passion", one doesn't understand the difference between academic work and philosophy. The people who suffer the most from this institutional culture are the people on the job market, people with dependent family members, and people with limited resources.

Philosophy, done right, can be valuable and important. I'm skeptical that much of what any one of us does at our jobs is that valuable or important, such that it would justify a culture that demands one take time away from other valuable pursuits (family or other important relationships, primarily) in order to succeed at it.

A Non-Mouse

Prof L: I know someone who thought it good to work 60+ hours a week because philosophy is a passion. He understood well the difference between philosophy and academic work. But he also understood that he could do philosophy only if he spent so much time on academic work. He is someone on the market who has dependent family members and has limited resources. Maybe he has made things harder on everyone else. Has he done anything wrong as a result? I think not, even if he has as a result supported a culture that demands one take away from other valuable pursuits. This is partly because had he not worked so hard, he would have little chance of success on the market or in his department. Things are hard enough on people who, like him, have to work twice as hard as others, and be twice as good as others, in order to be perceived as equally good. In the end, if he succeeds, I'll have nothing to criticize him about. Furthermore, for all any of us knows, he may be the next Kant or Plato. And in that case, we should all be happy that he worked so hard.

Prof L

A non-mouse: that comment was directed more at Amanda and people who are in TT positions. Of course there is an analogous and worse problem on the market, because it’s so flooded—on the market this kind of overboard dedication is more understandable, although I do think Jason’s advice is good, since it involves being very strategic about how one spends one’s time.

But I primarily had in mind TT faculty who write long emails to students at all hours of the day and night, spend a lot of time on grading (making sure to get it all exactly right and providing high-quality, detailed feedback), do ridiculous amounts of service to the department and the profession. Most of this stuff is not essential, nor is it valuable enough to justify the time spent.

Bee

I like what you say Prof L. But I do think there are people who want (for whatever reason) to work insane numbers of hours. They do make the discipline worse for others--at least, others who don't want to work that much--but it's also hard for me to say they're doing anything wrong. Sometimes I think that maybe academia will end up exclusively in the hands of 60-70 hour-a-week-ers. (Actually I think at some schools it's already largely there.)

Prof L

I mean, it's a collective action problem (or a collective inaction problem?). I've been frustrated by the sheer amount of busywork that we all do, people organizing seminars that no one attends, getting frustrated when no one attends. Committees composed of 5-8 people, for whom it is a problem simply finding a time to meet, when 2 people could easily and much more efficiently accomplish the same ends.

I wouldn't say its immoral to organize a seminar that no one attends. But it contributes to this problem. I also think that requiring on-campus time unnecessarily (see the above about over-large committees) shows a certain amount of disregard for people with dependent family members. Also, late afternoon meetings are the default, and this is bad for people with school-age children. MAYBE some people have good, long after-school care, or a spouse that can pick up those kids. I have neither, I'm financially strapped already, and so meetings cost me $$. Like I literally spend $100 to attend a meeting where we do things that could be done over email, where the decisions we reach are mostly inconsequential. I'm grateful for the flexibility that this line of work offers, but that flexibility is often eaten up by overzealous busybodies who think commitment = man-hours. It would be nice if we thought of commitment as thoughtfulness about how to most efficiently allot work; respect for other people's time; short, to-the-point emails. It's good to know what's important and focus work there. Yes, spend time with graduate students, advise them well. Yes, be thoughtful about constructing your courses so that your students learn a thing or two. No, we don't need to meet to retool the sample syllabi for our general education courses. No, we can't just let THAT faculty member drone on and on at the meeting, delaying important business. If no one comes to the events you organize, ask if there's a better time, or hold them less frequently.

I agree -- the people who are rewarded are not the ones doing this. The darlings of the administration are the 60-70 hour/weekers. So that's the way we're headed. Because "I cut down the events I organized this year" is not a line on a CV, nor is "I served on less committees because on half of the ones I served on last year I am entirely superfluous". So we create work, to look like we are doing something important, and this makes it so that we can't do the things that are actually important, that we actually like doing.

Less is more.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Writing Service


Categories