Monday, March 27, 2017

No Wonder Non-Academics Think We're Lazy

NPR has a story up today by a UC Berkeley psych prof about balancing parenting and being a professor, "A Day in the Life of an Academic Mom."  The intro says, "Blogger Tania Lombrozo is an academic — and a mom. Here, she gives a window into what that's like day-to-day."  From that intro, I have a sense I'm going to read about a whole heck of a hard day's work.  Don't you?

But she gets to work at 9am: "9:00 a.m. I'm finally in my office, a glorious hour of uninterrupted work time ahead."  From there she gives an hour by hour run down of her day, until the 4pm entry, which says, "4:00 p.m. I ignore my escalating email and return to the paper I'm writing. Forty-five splendid minutes speed by; it's time to pick up the kids."

So, she's worked 9am to 4:45.  Nice.

Except every single factory worker in the US got to work at 7 or 8am (or started a night shift or whatever), and did their job for 8 full hours.  Yep, they probably got some time for lunch.

Lombrozo does say she emailed a little later in the evening: "9:00 p.m. The kids are finally asleep. I email my student the experiment idea. I book my conference travel. I open the document with the paper I'm working on. Can I sleep yet? I close it again."

It's not that I don't think she does her job.  Heck, she's probably way smarter and harder working than I am.  But this hour by hour thing isn't convincing.

Let's imagine that factory worker's a mother as well.  She, too, gets up at 6am, maybe earlier.  She gets the kids ready, makes a lunch for everyone, gets herself to work by 8am.  She works a full 8 hours. (with, say, a half hour for lunch.  That's how my non-academic jobs generally worked.)  She gets off at 4:30, and picks up the kids from afterschool or day care.  She goes home, makes dinner.  (In the real world, most mothers do most of the cooking in their households.)  She cleans up, bathes, reads to kids, and all that.  Gets them into bed.  Then maybe she pays some bills, reds up the kitchen, does some laundry.  Then bed.


How about me?

It's the first day off after break.  I don't teach classes today.

6am.  Get up.  Get ready. 

7:30 - At the office.  I start in on my to-do list.
--the list starts with bureaucratic paperwork.  I do that.  I do more of that. 
--I arrange travel for a conference.  I register for the conference.  Then I do bureaucratic paperwork (except, of course, it's all on computer, so "paperless.")

10:00 - I start working on the agenda for a committee I chair.  I get frustrated by the word processing program adding indents to my list, and make a quick call to the help desk.  The quick call takes 20 minutes (but I finish the agenda while I'm on hold!).  Then the help desk person asks me if the next person up the line could call back with an answer.  I say sure.

--I do a task related to the committee, email the chair, adjust the agenda.  I send out the agenda!

11:30 - The help desk person calls back, can't figure it out, and asks to come over.  I say sure.
--I grade some student work, and prep some for class presentations in the coming weeks.

11:45 - The help desk person comes with two helpers, and they work at my computer.  I get tea and wait.  I go talk to a colleague.  I keep checking back, but they're not having an easy time.

--They think they've got it!  But no, it doesn't work.  I clarify what I need to happen (no automatic tabbing) and they finally figure it out and show me.  It should have taken the first person two minutes to explain it over the phone.

--I reshelve some books, clean up my desk, and check for the next tasks on my list.

--I get an email to tell me that some of the bureaucratic paperwork I did actually worked, and I'm getting reimbursed!

--I do some conference prep.

12:30 - I think I'm almost ready to go home, but a colleague stops by to ask for help with a course she's teaching next semester (our first year writing course).  It's a complicated course, but I print out my course materials from last year and walk her through what I do.  Then we talk a bit about what she wants to do.

1:20 - I reorganize a couple of files for my senior seminar reading materials.  I put together my stuff to take home for this evening.

1:30 - I leave campus. 

1:50 - I get home, have lunch, relax, read this article, get pissed off, write a blog post.

3:00 - Time to get back to work: I need to reread a play, prep to intro two plays in my senior seminar and talk about seminar papers.  I need to prep to teach a novel (which I reread this weekend). 


What do your days look like?


  1. richard3:29 PM

    Here's my day today

    5:00 am: Get up, clean up whatever is left in the kitchen from the night before, make breakfast and lunches for the two kids (1-year-old and 3-year-old), try to catch up on grading / prepare for the day's classes.

    7:30 am: Get the kids up (and my spouse, who stays up longer than I do at night), feed them breakfast, get them dressed and ready for school. This can take anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on how cooperative they are.

    9:00 or thereabouts: Drive 40 minutes to campus. Drop each kid off in their proper classroom. Start (or continue) course prep for the day

    11:30-12:45 class 1 of the day

    1:00-2:00 lunch; try to get some other work done (mine or the university's)

    2:15-3:30 office hours and/or committee meetings and/or bureaucratic paperwork

    4:00-7:00 Class 2 of the day

    8:00 or thereabouts home to eat dinner

    9:30 start the process of putting the kids to bed (with my spouse)--could take until 11:00

    11:00 collapse

    I have two days like that. On the two days I don't teach an evening class, my spouse does, so I fetch the kids at 5:00, take them home, and put dinner together.

    Fridays I don't teach, so sometimes I get to work on research and writing. But often I spend that time doing work for the committees I'm on instead of doing my own work--and of course if I have to do something off campus (doctor visit, car visit, whatever), it has to happen on a Friday. Once so far this semester I was able to work at home on a Friday.

  2. My day:

    6:00 Up, get the kid up and fed, pack lunches, feed animals, make sure all my books and such are in my satchel. Get everyone in the car by 7:00.

    7:00 off to school. Days Dr. Skull is teaching in-city, he drops me and the kid at our respective schools, and goes on to his school. Days he's commuting to his adjunct job, he goes home to prep.

    7:00 - 11:00 Office hours. If students don't come by, I use this time to prep for class and grade papers. I also drink a ton of coffee and sometime around 10.30 eat my first meal.

    11:00: First class.

    12.30 Second class.

    2:00-4:00 Office hours. More prep, more grading, more coffee. Another meal. (I pack things, but mostly I eat pistachios and dried fruits these days.)

    4:00 Third class. This is my last class on Tuesdays. Dr. Skull teaches out of town on Tuesdays, so when I'm done, I return to the office and grade or do prep until he gets back in town, around six. Then we go home together.

    Thursdays: 5.25 Last class, the workshop, which runs until 8:00.

    Once I'm home on Tuesdays, I do some reading, usually, almost always reading for school, while having supper. Thursdays I'm too tired for this, and watch Stephen Colbert instead.

    10:00-11:00 reading fiction.

    11:00-12:00 Bed, more or less.

    Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I don't teach. These days I'm up at six, and then once Dr. Skull and the kid are off to school, I drink coffee and write until around 1:00.

    From 1:00-5:00 (more or less) I prep for classes or grade.

    5:00-7:00, I make dinner, or take the kid and the dog to the dog park, or do some editing work.

    Evenings on these days, I read. And try to get to bed a little earlier.

    Of course, this is IDEAL. Often, like Richard, my writing days are consumed with committee meetings or advising work, as are my office-hour prep sessions.

    And often my MWF writing days are taken up with life maintenance chores. :(

  3. Key words: "U.C. Berkeley." Flagship; public ivy. Lots of people (including, apparently, the Wall Street Journal) think that ivies and public ivies are the only colleges that exist. They have never heard of the directional universities and 4-year schools where the preponderance of "academics" teach.

    My Monday (the day you posted this):
    up 5:45. Stretch and do ankle exercises, wash, dress, feed cats, fix my eat-in-the-car breakfast, gather up the lunch and dinner that I packed last night, plus book bag.
    7:15 leave. Listen to foreign-language radio in the car (which I count as Professional Development).
    8:30, arrive on campus, first meeting.
    9:15, meeting finishes early, I have time to check and respond to e-mails as well as doing some quick class prep before
    10:00 class 1, and
    11:00 class 2.
    12:00-12:20 lunch.
    12:20-12:50, prep for late-afternoon meeting, check e-mail.
    1:00-2:50, Important Committee Meeting.
    3:00-3:45, Research (yay).
    3:45, attempt to meet with colleague who has cancelled office hours to attend a thesis defense.
    4:00-5:00, meeting.
    5:00-6:00, office hours. No one comes to see me, so I can grade a set of assignments and plan the week ahead. Somehow all this extends to 6:45, when I finally leave my office. Since I also need to get gas, I arrive home at
    8:15 p.m., thirteen hours after I left.
    Usually I listen to a different foreign language on the way home, but last night I couldn't face any more input and drove home in silence.

    Monday is my heaviest day, with most meetings, but W and F are similar in terms of hours; they just see more grading and prep, and sometimes writing. Fridays I meet with students for another two hours in the afternoon, so by 3:00 I am generally a bit fried and only good for more meeting prep or paperwork (which reminds me, must do the title IX training this week, argh).

    1. I also consumed my packed dinner in the 5-6 slot.

      T-Th I work from home, 5-6 hours interspersed with Life Maintenance (laundry, cooking, bills) or errands/appointments (gym, doctor, vet, or, this time of year, accountant). Yes, it's nice to be able to organize my time as I see fit and not to have to take time off work to fit in appointments. Also, I have a hefty commute thanks in part to a 2-body problem, and if I lived a few minutes from campus I could make my life look a bit more like a UCB prof's. But as a service workhorse (that is, in terms of committees, not of having a service position), I resent the people on committees who don't prepare and are clearly thinking of other things (lecture slides, kids' birthday parties, to refer to the post you linked to) while some of us are trying to get significant work done that will serve the university.

  4. My life looks a lot like that prof's, except I don't run in the morning (I get into work at 8am, long before people without school-aged kids get in, but they generally stay later). Instead I walk at lunch. Also we've offloaded more of the kid stuff on the kids themselves and do more prep at night and less in the morning. And I feel tired when I get home, so I feel as if I've been working, especially on my teaching days.

    I don't think I want to play "my life is harder" because that's never a winning battle. I will point out that a lot of research suggests that people aren't really all that productive after hour 8 and are more prone to mistakes (the exact hour amount varies, but the 8 is from factory work). Wandering Scientist has several posts on the topic. So, I'm not sure that the goal should be for everyone to work more than 50 hours a week, or what have you.

  5. I really don't mean to suggest we should all work 50 hours a week. BUT, the article seems to be trying to show that this woman works a LOT and has a LOT to balance. And it doesn't succeed in showing that.

    As someone in a state where politicians constantly complain that state university faculty are lazy, I think this provides them with ammunition. If they'd shown someone who works a full 8 hour day, that would help. As it is, this piece reads like someone complaining about a minor glitch in their privilege.

  6. Anonymous3:53 PM

    How is she not working an 8 hour day? She works 9-4:45, and then at least another hour in the evening.