Back from the Beaches

With oh-so-many stories to tell...of rainy days, heretical sermons by Catholic priests, a couple of pugs named Myles and Mushroom...then again, maybe not all my stories should be blogged...they're too silken...

More in the next few days, as I try to finish more dissertation in order to get a real job...

Fabulous essay in yesterday's Times Op-Ed about the academic life, by Tom Lutz. Get it soon, before it goes archived. Here are the opening excerpts:

IN late May, for those of us who teach, the summer stretches out like the great expanse of freedom it was in grammar school. Ah, the days on the beach! The books we will read! The adventures we will have!

But before hunkering down to months of leisurely lolling around a pool slathered in S.P.F. 80, we need to take care of a few things: see what got buried in the e-mail pile over the course of the year, write a few letters of recommendation, and finally get to those book reviews we agreed to do. A few leftover dissertation chapters. The syllabuses and book orders for next year’s classes. Then those scholarly articles we were snookered into writing when the deadlines were far, far in the future — deadlines that now, magically, are receding into the past. My God, did I really tell someone I would write an article called “Teaching Claude McKay”? Before we know it, the summer is eaten up, we’re still behind on our e-mail, and the fall semester looms.

On paper, the academic life looks great. As many as 15 weeks off in the summer, four in the winter, one in the spring, and then, usually, only three days a week on campus the rest of the time. Anybody who tells you this wasn’t part of the lure of a job in higher education is lying. But one finds out right away in graduate school that in fact the typical professor logs an average of 60 hours a week, and the more successful professors work even more — including not just 14-hour days during the school year, but 10-hour days in the summer as well.

Why, then, does there continue to be a glut of fresh Ph.D.’s? It isn’t the pay scale, which, with a few lucky exceptions, offers the lowest years-of-education-to-income ratio possible. It isn’t really the work itself, either. Yes, teaching and research are rewarding, but we face as much drudgery as in any professional job. Once you’ve read 10,000 freshman essays, you’ve read them all.

But we academics do have something few others possess in this postindustrial world: control over our own time. All the surveys point to this as the most common factor in job satisfaction. The jobs in which decisions are made and the pace set by machines provide the least satisfaction, while those, like mine, that foster at least the illusion of control provide the most.

That 60-hour-a-week figure isn't always true, but it is close, I think, especially when you factor in all the other odd jobs that we end up doing to pay for that edition of the complete works of St. Somebody of the Really Big Toe (or the equivalent in other fields). It's also a helpful retort to our friends from home who aren't in grad school, and so assume that grad school is simply an extension of the college experience they had...nothing sends chills down a hardworking grad student's spine like "oh, so you're still in school?" -- as if the continuities were greater than the discontinuities, and we somehow finagled our way into seven more years of frat life...

1 comment:

David said...

The Lutz essay is very good. Yes, indeed, that lure of summer! Thanks for recommending the read.

And good to talk with you at our friends' celebration last night. Happy start to the academic year!