Being a professor is too many jobs, perhaps?


Some while ago, a colleague mentioned how his job as a professor was a “triple position.” Teaching well is a full time job. Doing research well is a full time job. And the service that we do, if done well, can or should be a full time job. We professors have three jobs rolled into one salary (and a 9-month one at that)!

This has been a lot of food for thought. I’ve come to realize that for nearly everything I do for the university on part-time basis, there are people who do that work on a full-time basis with a higher degree of specialization.

I suspect these worries might sound odd for folks in campuses that have embraced the “Teacher-Scholar Model” that came into vogue in teaching-focused institutions in the 1990s. This approach emphasizes that excellence in scholarship is not in conflict with excellence in teaching. And yes, I entirely agree that you can do teaching and do research at the same time, and do both of them well, and this creates a robust and student-centered learning community.


We get evaluated on scholarship, teaching, and service, but that’s not all our job is. I think most professors are doing much more than classroom teaching and academic scholarship — I don’t even think teaching and scholarship together add up to half of what we do. Especially in the sciences, where running a contemporary research program involves a lot more than the research itself. Let me add up the different roles that I and other science faculty fill.

Classroom Teacher. We all are teaching in the classroom, but there are other people on our campuses who are hired to teach full time and do very little else (and for reasons that are not rationally defensible, they get paid less).

Academic Researcher. Many universities often have postdocs, technicians, and research staff whose job full time is to make research happen. Whereas I have to protect stretches of time in my schedule for research, among everything else on this list.

Administrator. The administrative service/leadership work on and off campus adds up, especially if we don’t do a slapdash job at it. Setting policy in the curriculum committee, reviewing and editing for academic journals, planning conferences, representing the campus at community events,  ad-hoc task forces for an issue on campus, and so on. A lot of these tasks are done full-time by associate deans or other administrators on campus. I think it’s wholly appropriate for faculty to be involved in institutional governance, but also recognize that a lot of our “service” is the exact kind of work that is done by others on a full-time basis. If you’ve ever wondered why it takes forever for things to go through curriculum committee, maybe it’s because those committees are chock full of people who are doing several jobs at the same time, and curriculum is not their highest priority?

Grantwriter. For a lot of senior PIs, “research” is synonymous with landing grants to support the lab. The skillset to do and publish research is often independent of the skillset to write a compelling proposal. Regardless, if we’re spending time writing proposals, that gives us less time to actually do the science. Of course, if/when we get funded, the funds generate a capacity to increase personnel to do the research. But, still, I’m not sure if the teacher-scholar model envisions the scholar spending all their time writing proposals to federal agencies instead of being in the lab or the field.

Academic advisor. A bunch of us at teaching-focused institutions do regular academic advising appointments for students. (Until recently, faculty in my department have been doing this for four hours per week!) I think it’s normal at expensive small liberal arts colleges for faculty members to be paired up with individual advisees. Meanwhile, at many university, being a trained and experienced academic advisor is a full-time position.

Lab manager. Some folks hire people to manage their labs full time. At institutions like mine, this is a rarity. Which means that we manage our labs ourselves, or hire a student to do this kind of work on a part-time basis (which is a constant exercise in training because of turnover.) So there’s a lot of work when it comes to ordering, logistics, and all that. Which if you squint real tight, you could consider to be “research” just like you could do with grant writing.

Secretary. When I talk to people who work in non-academic environments, I quickly realize that they spend a lot less time on routine logistic stuff than I do. They have people to do paperwork for travel arrangements and reimbursements, and following through on purchase orders, and filing out various forms (in paper and online). For example, once you’ve drafted up an article for submission, submitting it through the journal portal is taking longer and longer. This kind of thing used to be handed with support staff. Now, we are our own secretaries. Academic support staff are in short supply and critical for student success.

Mentor. Getting research done with students is one thing, and properly training junior scientists to become successful scholars is another thing. This might get lumped under “teaching” or in “research” criteria, depending on where you work, but it’s clearly a job expectation that comes on top of standard expectations for teaching well and being research productive. And time invested mentoring students, which is always well spent, can come at the cost of research productivity.

Outreach specialist. We operate social media related to our academic work, and are expected to give public talks, and spending time with the local community seen as a big positive. There are people who do scientific outreach and informal science education as full-time jobs! And this is yet another thing that we’re doing on the side.

This summer, I’m feeling my time ever more divided among these different roles. I don’t feel like a triple position, it’s more like an octojob. I have a great latitude to choose which of these are higher priorities than others, and they’re mostly things that I think are important. But I can’t do them all well in adequate volume. Ugh. I hope you’re having a nice summer. (I actually am having a nice summer, having a wealth of good choices isn’t really a bad thing.)

Better recruitment of postdocs and grad students


Remember when I was saying that junior scientists of color are more likely to get ignored when they send their CVs to PIs they want to work with? A couple weeks ago, a paper came out with some substantial data validating concerns about this problem. Not that a new paper was necessary — this has been documented for quite a while.

A while back, I wrote thread on twitter that made the rounds about how we should use proper hiring methods for junior scientists:

But I wasn’t satisfied with letting it lie there, and I thought the argument needed a bit more meat inside its exoskeleton, so I wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education about the problem. Here it is! PIs who care about this problem might be doing it the right way, but for those who aren’t, I hope y’all change your practices along with your mind. And the PIs who don’t care will need to be held accountable by their institutions, at the departmental, college, or university level. Ultimately, equitable hiring is an institution-wide issue, so I hope this piece makes it into the hands of the people on campus who are empowered to make sure that PIs and departments aren’t skirting best practices when it comes to recruitment of students and postdocs. Who are employed by the university, after all. If you agree that this is a solid argument for having better recruitment practices in your institution, please feel free to send this up the line?


Recommended reads #152


A wave of graduate programs drops the GRE application requirement, with biology programs leading the way.

Can you really do humanities research with undergraduates?

Taiwan considers going double blind for grant review

“If you’ve ever been at a wedding or conference or on board a United connection from O’Hare, and been cornered by a man with Theories About It All, and you came away thinking, ‘That was a great experience,’ have I got the book for you.” So begins what I think is a generally Important Review of the most recent Jared Diamond book. It’s important, for the broader academic community, because it puts stark light on the absence of fact checking of popular academic nonfiction. It’s also an entertaining review to read, unless you’re uncomfortable with scrutiny of the more specious ideas forwarded by Jared Diamond. Continue reading

We need distributed power structures in grad school


For most grad students in the sciences, their doctoral advisor has an extraordinary level of power over their professional and personal life. This is long overdue for an overhaul. No single person should have that much power over another, particularly in academia where institutions chronically overlook and enable misconduct. Continue reading

Recommended reads #151


If you haven’t read this editorial about “What ‘good’ dads get away with,” please do. It’s about the the “Myth of Equal Partnership.”

The best (and worst) ways to respond to student anxiety

Someone measured the disregard that natural scientists hold for research in the social sciences. You can imagine how this article is being received by the people they studied. Continue reading

Are some people just innately smarter?


I don’t know about you, but I’m used to hearing academics talking about how some people are just inherently brilliant. That there are people with oodles of raw talent, that just needs to be molded, and it’s our job as academia to find them and raise them up. Continue reading

Recommended reads #150


One hundred fifty. I’ve done this 150 times! How ’bout that, eh?

8 ways to teach climate change in almost any classroom

This review of a new book about Joy Division by Henry Rollins is not Everything, but it’s Quite A Lot. (And here’s a blog post about the science of the cover of Unknown Pleasures, which you’ve definitely seen in t-shirt form.)

A survey of female undergraduates in physics found that three quarters of them experience some form of sexual harassment, leaving them alienated from the field. Continue reading

The conversation I often have with PhD students


When I visit other universities and chat with grad students, I love fielding questions about career stuff. I realize that’s part of why I was invited. Since I often get the same questions, I suppose I should also answer those questions here, too. Because if I get asked a question every time I visit an R1 department, it must be a really common question. Continue reading

On sickness and teaching and respect


This is my ninth day of being sick. I think it was a flu. (Yes, I had this year’s flu shot.) It caught everybody in my home.

I’ve been back at work for a couple days, though I’m still coughing regularly, and my brain remains foggy. I’ve dropped so many balls. Fortunately, none of them are glass, though there are enough of them bouncing that I can’t quite keep up. There are a few things I am waaaaaay too late on. Continue reading

NSF Graduate Fellowships and the distant mirage of an equitable pipeline


It’s that time of year again. Congrats to the 2000 students who are recipients of the GRFP! From talking to so many panelists about their experiences, it’s clear that they could fund so more people, and every single one of them would be quite worthy of the support.

If there was such a thing as a Blog Citation Classic™ list for this site, then discussions about equitable distributions of NSF graduate fellowships would definitely be on there.

I can concisely encapsulate these concerns: Your odds of personally knowing someone who got a GRFP from your undergrad years might be best predicted by the size of the endowment of that institution. NSF is working hard to be inclusive with respect to gender, ethnicity, and various axes of diversity, but the bottom line is that students attending wealthier and more prestigious undergraduate institutions are more likely to end up with fellowships. Continue reading

The price of the Gender Tax at home


Since the news broke about the college admissions bribery sting by the FBI, I’ve had a lot of thoughts. And so has everybody else, it seems. (If you have not looked at media in the last 1.5 days, here’s the LA Times page that collects the many articles they’ve already assembled about it.)

This story is a singularity of problems in higher education in the United States, a convergence of drama into a single high-gravity point. Continue reading