The pressures of academia

The other thing I hadn’t expected was the scale of the workload. The teaching commitment was high – about 10 contact hours per week (double what I had experienced before). During term time, I was spending the whole working week either teaching or preparing to teach, with no time for research.

Drove the poor dear to heroin it did. Admittedly, exposure to students for 10 hours a week might do that to me too but still, hardly a horrible workload is it?

And that is only in term time, what, 26 weeks a year even at the Polys?

25 thoughts on “The pressures of academia”

  1. “I went for the second-best thing: I bought a gram of heroin.”

    Of course. This is the Guardian.

    If she had bought a 2 litre bottle of coke she would have got a hammering in the comments.

  2. IIRC the general rule is ~5 hours of non-contact time per contact hour, so around 60 hours per week. High, but not impossible. Of course depending on the subject, student demands and how long you’ve been teaching it could be a lot higher.

  3. When I was an academic, during term I expected to take Saturday afternoon and evening off, and hope to work a bit less intensely than usual on Sunday. If I’d got through a helluva lot during the week I might take Saturday morning off too (but not if teaching then, obviously).

    Otherwise, that’s just life during term: get marmalade on your lecture notes at breakfast, face the day, leave the lab at the back of seven, have dinner, and then either return to the lab or open the briefcase/rucksack. It was noticeable how many people went down with flu or the like just after term finished: they’d presumably run down their immune systems a bit.

  4. 18 hours teaching per week was the standard when I started at an ex-poly in 2000.

    It’s tough the first year, but if you keep teaching the same subjects it’s a lot easier the second time round.

    Then you get something published, show you can do it, and they cut your teaching time.

  5. A teacher at my now-demolished secondary school took a year’s sabattical at his 50th birthday after teaching continuesly since his 20s, and travelled around the world. A year later he came back, within days he had a nervous breakdown and retired sick. Within a couple of months he was dead.

    In those 25 years of teaching he’d had nearly no social life and smoked continously. When he had the year off he quit smoking, got fitter, was the happiest I’d ever known him. Going back in front of 30 kids killed him.

  6. “MattyJ
    March 28, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    IIRC the general rule is ~5 hours of non-contact time per contact hour, so around 60 hours per week.”

    I would think that that’s for your *first year* – when preparing your course from scratch – though you’d think any school worth a damn would have at least a draft of the particular topics *they* want you to teach.

    But unless you’re teaching in a fast-changing discipline the second year should be much less than that (after you’ve made contact with the enemy) and the third year on should be pretty cake on the teaching front.

    At least that’s the takeway I get from the teachers I know – but they’re in K-12 where the discipline and pressure of the courses is much less compared to an actual university.

    really though – unless that 10 ‘contact hours’ bit is unusual, it sounds more like someone with bad time management skills complaining. I mean, are the other lecturers on drugs to manage their workloads?

  7. but they’re in K-12 where the discipline and pressure of the courses is much less compared to an actual university.

    Are you trying to tell me that the stress of teaching university students a class they’ve picked is less than that for 30 monster 14-year olds many of them hate? Because I don’t believe you.

    A university academic gets far fewer contact hours (our dear with 10 being basically half what a normal high school teacher gets in NZ). With much shorter terms.

    Yes the academic demands are higher at University, and you have to try and get published too. That’s why only clever people who know their stuff should do it. But balanced against that you have no discipline issues, no playground duties, no contacting parents, no writing reports, no extra-curricula etc.

    I would suggest only a moron would move from teaching University to teaching at High School in order to cope with the stress!

  8. “for 30 monster 14-year olds many of them hate”

    should be

    “for teaching 30 monster 14-year olds a subject many of them hate”

  9. The mantra of every Guardian contributor that’s ever contributed:

    “It’s always somebody else’s fault.”

    It’s not that your a complete fuck-up with the coping skills of a fainting goat and the judgment of lemming… It’s “academia”.

  10. “Are you trying to tell me that the stress of teaching university students a class they’ve picked is less than that for 30 monster 14-year olds many of them hate? Because I don’t believe you.”

    No – I was trying to say that the stress of developing a course for the university level is much higher – and should take a larger number of ‘non-contact’ hours to do – than the equivalent in K-12.

    But that I’d expect the course pressure to drop significantly in the 2nd and 3rd year (as it does in K-12) and so I just see the person that article is about as just another whiner complaining that their job/life/whatever is too hard.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    I have said before that academia is now a job British people won’t do. The pay and conditions are too low. This idiot Australian should have read the fine print.

    Although I am not buying her complaints at all.

    But also it means the people who do work in academia are idiots. The smarter people have gone. Where to, I don’t know. The City perhaps. They are certainly not in charge of programming at Channel Five:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3512443/Outraged-parents-blast-Channel-5-traumatising-children-airing-Watership-Easter-Sunday.html

    It is a cartoon! About rabbits! Perfect for Easter Sunday! Mind you, the idiocy of the programmers is on par with the man who let his three year old watch it. You think he would know something about Watership Down.

    The idiots have taken over and they are making us dumber.

  12. So Much For Subtlety

    Speaking of the idiocies of academia, Alice Dreger’s book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science has just been kicked out of the running for a Lammie – an award given to the best book on a Gay subject by the usual Gay Suspects.

    Which is interesting because a large part of it is about the fuss over J. Michael Bailey’s work on transsexuals. For which he was also nominated for a Lammie. From which he was also kicked out due to political pressure from Trans activists like the Economist Formerly Known as Donald McCluskey.

    Surprise! Who could have seen that coming. Dreger is not very bright but her book is worth reading.

  13. So Much For Subtlety said:
    “I have said before that academia is now a job British people won’t do. The pay and conditions are too low.”

    Not quite. British people would still do the actual job; although the pay is low the work isn’t too bad and the holidays are still quite good. The problem is that the universities are increasingly insisting on new academic staff having a PhD, even for low-ranking institutions, and most Brits can’t be arsed getting one of those.

    Foreigners (of certain types) seem to like getting doctorates, so they’re taking a high proportion of the academic jobs.

    So it’s not that Britons won’t do the job, it’s that Britons largely don’t think the job is worth getting the demanded qualification.

  14. So Much For Subtlety

    Richard – “Not quite. British people would still do the actual job; although the pay is low the work isn’t too bad and the holidays are still quite good.”

    Although actual teachers, both at High School and university, tell me what they resent is the lack of back up. They will not be supported by their managements in anything they do. They are invariably treated as idiots or guilty or incompetent.

    “The problem is that the universities are increasingly insisting on new academic staff having a PhD, even for low-ranking institutions, and most Brits can’t be arsed getting one of those.”

    Increasingly? Has it been possible to get an academic job without a Ph.D. since the 50s? There is no reason to get a Ph.D. unless you are thinking of an academic career. And yet students continue to do so. Even British students. The sort of people who would be good academics don’t bother with Ph.D.s these days because they do not intend to be academics. Only the mediocre apply. That is especially true for Liberal Arts subjects which have long been a joke but they are a deeply unfunny politically correct joke now.

    If a relative of mine asked me about an academic career I would recommend becoming a chef. Unless female of course.

  15. SMFS said:
    “Has it been possible to get an academic job without a Ph.D. since the 50s?”

    Well, I did it in 2000 (a proper full-time one then, although I no longer am). At that point lots of my colleagues had done so in the ’90s or ’80s, and others joined the same way in the early ’00s. All with relevant experience in the real world, not straight from university. Humanities of course, not proper sciences.

    That was a mid-ranking ex-poly, but I was meeting plenty of others in the same situation in older institutions.

    So yes, it was possible (and,in some subjects, common) a lot more recently than the ’50s.

    However even then it was becoming less common, and impossible in some institutions (generally the more prestigious ones stopped it earlier, although I know someone who got a lecturing post at Oxford without a PhD well into the ’00s).

    But by somewhere around 2007 it was pretty much impossible everywhere and they were having to take on inexperienced Dr Euro-kids because of the PhD requirement.

  16. SMFS also said:
    “There is no reason to get a Ph.D. unless you are thinking of an academic career. …. The sort of people who would be good academics don’t bother with Ph.D.s these days because they do not intend to be academics.”

    Agreed
    (there are still a few who do it out of a passion for their subject, but as a career move you’re generally right)

    But I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when good people did doctorates (again, the proper sciences may well be different).

    Going back to the ’50s or ’60s, when my tutor got his fellowship at Oxford, the sort of people who would be good academics became good academics without a doctorate; a higher degree was what you did if they weren’t sure whether you were good enough. Even in the ’90s some older fellows looked down on their peers who had DPhils, saying that they hadn’t been good enough in their early 20s to get the job without one.

  17. I used to be a teaching fellow.
    The year I left I was giving 45 lectures, teaching 20+ hours a week on top of that and carrying a huge exam prep load and running one module.
    It was the easiest job I have ever had with fuck all to do for weeks in the summer. The ‘academics’ I worked with were in some cases pathetic, much like the Guardian bint.

  18. Would it happen to be only people without doctorates insisting that those that take them are clearly inferior? And non-academics insisting that academics are clearly inferior? No confirmation bias there then.

    A PhD has been near-enough a requirement of the job in hard sciences for decades – in fact that and several years of postdoccery have been effective entry requirements for some decades.

    If this is skewing recruitment in not-hard science areas in mid-ranking polys towards foreigners, that’s as likely to be a consequence of PhD funding (widely available in hard science, practically nonexistent outside) as anything else. Paying your own PhD fees and living expenses is for the idle rich, which finally gives us a good reason to look down on the PhD.

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