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Author Topic: Why you chose to become an academic  (Read 24890 times)
luke_cage
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« on: September 04, 2006, 12:25:54 PM »

According to an opinon piece in the NY Times today, control over one's time is one of the major motivations people choose to become academics. For me, even though I genrally work 9-6 on weekdays having control over my time is very important. I like being able to go to  the gym, for a walk, taking care of family when I want for the most part.

Others?


Op-Ed Contributor
The Summer Next Time

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By TOM LUTZ
Published: September 4, 2006

Palm Desert, Calif.

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.

Left to our own devices, we seldom organize our time with 8-to-5 discipline. The pre-industrial world of agricultural and artisan labor was structured by what the historian E. P. Thompson calls “alternate bouts of intense labor and of idleness wherever men were in control of their working lives.” Agricultural work was seasonal, interrupted by rain, forced into hyperactivity by the threat of rain, and determined by other uncontrollable natural processes. The force of long cultural habit ensured that the change from such discontinuous tasks to the regimented labor of the factory never went particularly smoothly.

In 1877 a New York cigar manufacturer grumbled that his cigar makers could never be counted on to do a straight shift’s work. They would “come down to the shop in the morning, roll a few cigars,” he complained to The New York Herald, “and then go to a beer saloon and play pinochle or some other game.” The workers would return when they pleased, roll a few more cigars, and then revisit the saloon, all told “working probably two or three hours a day.” Cigar makers in Milwaukee went on strike in 1882 simply to preserve their right to leave the shop at any time without their foreman’s permission.

In this the cigar workers were typical. American manufacturing laborers came and left for the day at different times. “Monday,” one manufacturer complained, was always “given up to debauchery,” and on Saturdays, brewery wagons came right to the factory, encouraging workers to celebrate payday. Daily breaks for “dramming” were common, with workers coming and going from the work place as they pleased. Their workdays were often, by 20th-century standards, riddled with breaks for meals, snacks, wine, brandy and reading the newspaper aloud to fellow workers.

An owner of a New Jersey iron mill made these notations in his diary over the course of a single week:

“All hands drunk.”

“Jacob Ventling hunting.”

“Molders all agree to quit work and went to the beach.”

“Peter Cox very drunk.”

“Edward Rutter off a-drinking.”

At the shipyards, too, workers stopped their labor at irregular intervals and drank heavily. One ship’s carpenter in the mid-19th century described an almost hourly round of breaks for cakes, candy and whiskey, while some of his co-workers “sailed out pretty regularly 10 times a day on the average” to the “convenient grog-shops.” Management attempts to stop such midday drinking breaks routinely met with strikes and sometimes resulted in riots. During much of the 19th century, there were more strikes over issues of time-control than there were about pay or working hours.

I was recently offered a non-teaching job that would have almost doubled my salary, but which would have required me to report to an office in standard 8-to-5 fashion. I turned it down, and for a moment I felt like the circus worker in the joke: he follows the elephant with a shovel, and when offered another job responds, “What, and give up show business?”

Really, though, I’m more like Jacob Ventling and Edward Rutter. I don’t go out 10 times a day for a dram of rum, but I could. And in fact, maybe I will. Next summer.

Tom Lutz is the author of “Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America.”
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zharkov
or, the modern Prometheus.
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2006, 1:47:01 PM »


For smart people, non academic work can be pretty tedious.  I worked in industry before academia, and probably spent 10 percent of my time using my brain doing thing like financial analysis or putting together a marketing plan. The rest of the time was spent doing things like making sure the software lab finished a new release on time, and then making sure the shipping people sent it to the customer for evaluation.
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__________
Zharkov's Razor:
Adapting Zharkov a bit to this situation, ignorance and confusion can explain a lot.
expatinuk
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From SC living in UK ...on an adventure in Dubai


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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2006, 2:08:58 PM »

Before academe I worked in television which is the ultimate of hurry up and wait.

I went into academe because I was tired of all the travel. So now I only clock up about 100,000 frequent flyer miles.

Just returned from Salzburg on Friday
Off to Italy on Saturday
Then to Amsterdam

and that's just September
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Expatinuk seems to be a Soviet Satellite in stationary orbit over the UK

It is what it is.
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« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2006, 2:39:01 PM »

Egads!  What draconian ivory tower faculty position demands you fly 100,000 miles a year?

Untenured
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Quote from: kedves link=topic=56697.msg1152543#msg1152543
You are among the Pure and Truthful, however small their Number.
My goodness, that was an exceptionally good analysis of the forum.
expatinuk
Has spent over 1000 pounds but now holds a Brit passport!
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From SC living in UK ...on an adventure in Dubai


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« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2006, 3:46:42 PM »

Egads!  What draconian ivory tower faculty position demands you fly 100,000 miles a year?

Untenured

Professor (in US that would be Full Professor). And for my sins I'm on the Board of several international organizations in my field.
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Expatinuk seems to be a Soviet Satellite in stationary orbit over the UK

It is what it is.
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On far too many committees
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« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2006, 7:11:58 PM »

I had a feeling you were utterly insane or an influential member of your field.  Ah, it's the latter!

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Quote from: kedves link=topic=56697.msg1152543#msg1152543
You are among the Pure and Truthful, however small their Number.
My goodness, that was an exceptionally good analysis of the forum.
case_insensitive
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Life is an endurance race. Pace yourself.


« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2006, 9:22:01 PM »

I had a feeling you were utterly insane or an influential member of your field.  Ah, it's the latter!

Untenured

Or both?! ;-)
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expatinuk
Has spent over 1000 pounds but now holds a Brit passport!
Distinguished Senior Member
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Posts: 7,353

From SC living in UK ...on an adventure in Dubai


WWW
« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2006, 2:36:06 AM »

Oh... surely it's the totally insane bit! It's one of those odd things about working extremely hard to get to the 'top'. Once you get there you still have to maintain the momentum. Besides... how do you turn down opportunities to (for example) be on a United Nation's task force on IT and Creativity?

It's the publishing that's exhausting when you're going for tenure and your first promotion. It's the service that's exhausting when going for that second promotion (to Professor).
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Expatinuk seems to be a Soviet Satellite in stationary orbit over the UK

It is what it is.
threadkiller
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« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2006, 7:05:12 AM »

If only I had a grog shop near my office...might make the grading less onerous!
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busyslinky
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« Reply #9 on: September 05, 2006, 7:23:48 AM »

Threadkillier,

Watch out you might get a Mackeral Smack.


Back to the original question...I became an academic because no one in the real world would hire me.

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Such a wonderful toy!
fishbrains
I've been called a [member], but never a
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« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2006, 12:48:22 PM »

While this isn't the most noble of motivations, after quite a few years with hot and sweaty restaurant work, I took this gig to get into the air conditioning.

I also enjoy the sense of absurdity about college work. Where else do certain employees who only work 37.5 hours a week at easy jobs complain about certain employees who get summers off from their fairly easy jobs? And all the whining . . . !

The job has its stress and its bad days, but you gotta love it!
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Settle down, raise a family, join the PTA,
Buy some sensible shoes and a Chevrolet,
And party 'till you're broke and they drag you away.
It's okay: You can dare to be stupid!
~Weird Al
gennimom
Somewhat Southern (Have I really posted that much?)
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Let's get summer over with! Me want snow!


« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2006, 1:24:26 PM »

If I get lucky and land in academe after the diss, it will be because k-12 education was killing me. I found I liked planning the lessons better than teaching them. I'm hoping to start planning for other teachers in curriculum development. But that could land me in govt (Heaven forbid) or industry as well. Hmmmm.... What to do, what to do?
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...only after reading gm's post, my new mantra is "always listen to gennimom".
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The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a person (or something like that).
ohcanada
Junior member
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« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2006, 7:06:49 PM »

I really enjoyed that article when I saw it.  Gave me a good reminder of why I went into academia -- just as I was dreading the beginning of the academic year!  :-)  My list:

- Not having a supervisor watching every move I make over my shoulder, who has the authority to determine whether I'm "sick enough" to merit taking a sick day, and who can take the credit for my work but pass the blame for failures onto me.

- Not having to dress up for work -- it's now comfortable shoes all the time, all cotton casual clothes, no nylons ever.

- Having control over my schedule.  For someone who is not a morning person, this seems to be one of the few professions where it's possible to be successful without constantly working against your body clock.

- Having control over what I work on and with whom I work on it.

- Being able to look at myself in the mirror without flinching -- I don't have any qualms (thus far) regarding the morality or importance of what I'm doing professionally.

On days when I'm feeling down about the job, I remember what an old advisor used to tell me -- "It's far better than pumping gas." 
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plainjane
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« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2006, 7:11:57 PM »

Because I couldn't imagine anything else that I wanted to do. I read books, talk about books, and write about books. And I get paid for it. I figure eventually someone has to catch on to what a scam this is, but until then I have almost nothing to complain about in substantive terms.
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rattusdomesticus
the old rat herself
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« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2006, 10:46:35 PM »

I worked in advertising (a soul-free profession zone) and one day looked up from the port wine ad I was writing and thought, "WTF?" Before that, I worked in Silicon Valley, selling semiconductors to manufacturers. I came late to academia, glad to be working for a service that I believed in--rather than selling crap I couldn't care less about.

Funny thing... I was out to dinner with girlfriends and one asked if we could be doing any job we wanted, what would we do? As they went around the table, the answers were pretty creative (one said she wanted to raise horses), I answered, "teach college." To a quiet table. The gal who questioned us said, "But that's what you do now." I answered, "I know. Isn't that cool?" Beaming, I was the only one at the table who didn't HATE their job.

Yes, it's difficult to keep my workaholism in check. Yes, sometimes I don't feel like standing in front of a class. Yes, the pay sucks compared to other things I've done (and I didn't sock away any cash then. Higher standard of living.) Yes, I work summers and have since I started 7 years ago, but truth? I love my work. I love teaching. I love seeing the occasional undergrad that is actually changed by the work my colleagues and I put together. And I sleep wonderfully at night, knowing that I'm contributing something rather than tearing down society for the almighty dollar.

But you all know what I mean.
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"Nature resolves everything into its component atoms and never reduces everything to nothing." Lucretious' On the Nature of the Universe.
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