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Education Science

Forbes 2013 Career List Flamed By University Professors 370

An anonymous reader writes "The Forbes list of 'least stressful jobs' for 2013 is headlined by... university professors. This comes at a time in which the academic community has been featured on controversies about 100-hour week work journeys, doctors live on food stamps, tenured staff is laid off large science institutions, and the National Science Foundation suffers severe budget cuts, besides the well known (and sometimes publicized) politics of publish or perish. The Forbes reporter has received abundant feedback and published a shy, foot-note 'addendum'; however, the cited source, CareerCast (which does not map to any recognizable career journalist, but rather to a Sports writer), does not seem to have had the same luck. The comments of the Forbes reporter on the existence of a Summer break for graduates ('I am curious whether professors work that hard over the summer') are particularly noteworthy." Here is the CareerCast report the article is based on, and a list of the "stress factors" they considered. The author of the Forbes article passed on a very detailed explanation of how tough a university professor's job can be.
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Forbes 2013 Career List Flamed By University Professors

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @03:56PM (#42489463)

    Judge on the state bench. They get fat salaries (usually well over $100K), pensions, the usual perks of state employees (vacation and sick day carryovers etc), and many have lifetime tenure on top of that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:03PM (#42489519)
    In the 19th century we managed to get the workweek from 100 hours to about 50 hours thanks to the industrial revolution and energy sources like coal and oil. Now I keep hearing about how "productive" everyone is and how advanced our technology, and yet people work longer hours than ever and households now require both parents to work just to get the same level as single income families in the 1960s.

    So, if we are so productive, what are we producing and for who?

    If our technology is so advanced, why do we need to work so much?

    What happened to the leisure society concept?

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:11PM (#42489575)
    This article is nothing but storytelling, which is effective in stirring the pot but not informative. An actual study on career stress would be so much more interesting. Even following a simple protocol, such as randomly querying a large selection of people throughout the day, could generate interesting data. Or you could randomly take saliva swabs and measure cortisol concentration. Or you could continuously measure heart rate, and sample blood pressure.

    It just bothers me to see people spinning up myths and expending so much energy in debate that is so fact-free.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:16PM (#42489607) Journal
    The complaints in the summary are somewhat sensationalistic.

    The story in the link of the "Doctor living on food stamps" is about a Ph.D. in medieval history who is an adjunct professor at a community college teaching only two courses.

    This isn't exactly a normal professorship, she's not even working full time.

    The other story about '100 hour work weeks' isn't talking about professors at all, it's talking about grad students. If you want me to feel sorry for the stresses of being a grad student, yeah I do, but once they become professors it's not the same.......
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:20PM (#42489627)

    Funny how what was once normal for all American workers - paid time off - now only largely remains in public sector jobs, but instead of the public asking why their paid time off was taken away or how they can get it back, the public is asking how they can take it away from the last remaining jobs that still have it.

  • by jfruh ( 300774 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:28PM (#42489677)

    The problem is that many non-academics believe that the primary job of college professors is teaching undergraduates, and so they see any time not in the classroom as "time off" (never mind that the ratio of classroom prep time to classroom time can approach 1:1 if you really care about doing it right). In some institutions this is much of what college professors do, but in most schools that have any pretentions of being a research institution, academics are expected to produce publishable scholarship. Scientists and engineers spend much if not most of their time in the lab; humanities profs tend to work less collaboratively, but still spend a lot of hours reading, researching, and writing in whatever their field is. Most schools will give lip service to the idea that working with students is the most important thing, but in reality most of the incentives are geared towards producing quantifiable amounts of research (so many books, so many published articles, etc.). Far from having semester breaks "off," professors often use this time to focus more intently on their research, and sabbatical years are generally used to polish off major works of scholarship. On the surface, it can seem like this is work you're doing for you rather than for your job -- after all, it's your name on the book, and you take your reputation with you if you jump to another school -- but this work is one of the university's primary missions, and it's what they're paying you to do, as it reflects back on htem.

    It's also worth nothing that in those schools where teaching undergrads really is the primary mission, professors spend much more time in the classroom than the stereotype discussed in the Forbest article (i.e., 3 or 4 classes a semester as opposed to the two typical of a research institution).

    Finally, there's an awful lot of diversity within academia as to what professorial workload is like. In particular, more and more academics are being hired on interm or adjunct bases and end up spending a lot more time in the classroom for a lot less money than what tenured and tenure-track profs get. The irony is that the way to get onto the tenure track is to publish impressive research, but the lower-level jobs often don't allow you the time to do it.

  • Re:Choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xner ( 96363 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:31PM (#42489701) Homepage
    I note that you have offered no rebuttals of the parent's points save "I know what I am talking about". I'm not sure you do. Would you please expand on how and why you think the parent is wrong? Note that if by "getting into an academic career" you mean "getting tenure", the I suggest you re-read the parent post carefully.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:38PM (#42489755)

    This exactly. I am frankly not surprised that a Forbes article is being promoted as "authoritative" on slashdot, a site that leans libertarian and as such is *heavily* anti-intellectual.

  • Re:Choice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:41PM (#42489777) Homepage Journal
    It's forbes. Of course they would not choose the actually least stressful job, the executive. In this job if you bankrupt the company, you get a bonus. If your decisions kill people, you get to go free.

    Here are the actually stresses in a job. Will I be working tomorrow. If I don't work tomorrow, am I getting paid enough so I can save money, or will I get a severance of unemployment sufficient to get to me to the next job. Before the wingnuts go off on me, I am not saying that anyone deserves these things, only that these things do lower stress.

    One way to get a lower stress job is to get the education and training so that one can get a job that has less competition. Fo instance, we expect teachers to have college degres and most of the time no felonies, and an ability to not kill the children who have nothing better to do than to attack teachers. This is a very large pool of people, but not as large as say an office manager. An office manager is a very important job with it's own set of requirements that limits the pool, but an office manager will likely start at less of a salary than a teacher, and will be more likely to less job security.

    This is why we have all these people getting MBAs, so they can enter what is a much smaller pool of people who can be executives. What is interesting is that all these people are buying MBA, but hardly anyone goes into a wekkend doctoral program. I do not see many people who want to be a professor because the money is good and the work is easy. I mean I know many managers who have an house and an expensive car and get home before 5pm. Professors OTOH may be teaching classes at 7. I am in a univeristy class where the professor teaches from 7 to 8.

    It is true that a professors schedule can be flexible, and they can make it harder or easier. What I don't agree with is that as a group, those with masters or higher do not often have the same flexibility. I don't have the flexibility to take just any day off to get errands run, but many managers I know do.

    As I said, this is Forbes, and anyone who is not pushing papers is going to have an easy job. I am sure they would say that wprking at a car wash is easy, simply because they have no conception fo what real work is. That is producng a real product that will drive profit, not just taking a percentage off a trade, or leveraging the arbitrage.

  • Re:Professors (Score:4, Insightful)

    by savi ( 142689 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:42PM (#42489785)

    Speaking as a professor in the humanities, you have no idea how awful the job market is. In my discipline (history), you can expect 6-10 decent jobs per year to come open in each subfield. There will be 100-350 applicants for each of these. Getting to the point where life as a professor is "easy" requires either very low standards (you don't care how much you're paid) or going through a few decades of grueling, underpaid, 60+ hour work weeks. It's a great job, but anyone who declares that, as a profession, being a professor is "easy" and not stressful has zero understanding of academia.

  • by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:43PM (#42489787) Homepage Journal

    In the 19th century, surprisingly few people had iPads, flat screen TVs, two cars, and, heck, indoor plumbing.

    They could also look forward to yellow fever, polio, dying before the age of 50, no warning on hurricanes, and nobody caring about your civil rights if you were female, colored or non-Christian.

    Other than that, it was heaven.

  • Re:Grad students? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:50PM (#42489861)

    So please don't join Occupy Wall Street,

    Because OWS is going to change anything?

    I doubt they'll change anything. But Forbes seems to prefer you don't think about changing anything beyond having a better relationship with your boss.

  • Re:Grad students? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @05:03PM (#42489963)
    OWS really got two phrases into popular vernacular: "the one percent" and "income inequality." Believe it or deny it, at least the discussion crops up. It's not a big shift to the left, just a few more people thinking about the consequences of sequestering all of the country's wealth in a tiny slice of the population.
  • Re:Choice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elyons ( 934748 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @05:34PM (#42490159) Homepage
    Spot on. I just started a tenure track faculty position (80% research) and just spent my first winterbreak trying to catch up on all of the research work that I couldn't do while teaching 300 undergraduates. That means 10 hours a day, every day. I'm fortunate that my wife could take the holiday and visit family, and fill me in on the happenings with everyone. But grants are coming due, paper revisions need writing, new papers are waiting, and conference talks are happening in a week. I'll be lucky to be caught up in on this work in April. But then again, I knew what I was getting myself into accepting this position (I've watched friends ahead of me in this game go through this). Easy position? Hardly. Would I trade it for anything else? Nope. Never a dull moment.
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @05:40PM (#42490213) Homepage Journal

    Hey guyz guess what? I've worked *plenty* of 50-60 hour workweeks and holidays. Deadlines all over the place. Pressure to perform. Stress levels off the map, schedules, budgets, and meetings.

    At a construction company. As a labor crew leader.

    Note to professors: It's called "the real world", deal with it.

    Note to you: anywhere where people live is the real world.

    I've held a fairly wide variety of jobs in my life: Army infantryman, Air Force medic, civilian EMT, web developer, programmer, DBA, teaching assistant, research assistant, graduate research fellow. (Next, hopefully, comes the remainder of the academic track: postdoc, assistant professor, associate professor, professor ... if I'm lucky, and I reach the endpoint before "corpse" appears on the list.) So far, my working life has been about equally divided between military, industry, and academia. You know what? None of these fields is any less "real" than any of the others. In every single one of them, I've had to deal with long hours, unreasonable demands, and the feeling that I'm never getting paid quite enough. You know, like damn near everyone else in the world. And paying attention to the way my advisor and other faculty members live, I don't expect this to change until (if) I retire.

    We academics understand perfectly well that other people in the world have hard jobs too. All we ask is that other people recognize that our jobs are, first and foremost, jobs, like anyone else's. And if you're not willing to do that, then just take your "real world" self-righteousness and shove it up your ass.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @06:41PM (#42490665)

    I appreciate all of the comments and encourage you to read them. My intention here was to relay an intriguing list put together by a career and job listing site, CareerCast, that surveyed data on 200 jobs and drew up a list of professions it deemed least stressful, according to metrics I describe above, which are weighted toward categories like physical demands, environmental conditions and risking one’s life. CareerCast didn’t measure things like hours worked and the stresses that come from trying to get papers published in a competitive environment or writing grants to fund research.

    Does not look like any reputable source was used to elaborate this study. No wonder it turned out botched.

    It didn't turn out botched. On one end of the spectrum you have people whose low paying jobs put them in whatever uncomfortable and deadly environment the needs of the many require on that particular day of the week, and at the other end you have people who make good money sitting around and talking and writing about their favorite subject day in and day out.

  • by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @07:32PM (#42490975)

    You probably aren't going to enjoy reading this, but labor unions played a big part in people having things like weekends, time off etc.

    As to why people are working longer hours despite being more productive you might want to consider that many people are doing more than one employee's job so that the rich people who own the orgs ( know as "job creators" ) can profit more by hiring few people.

  • by wakeboarder ( 2695839 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @08:10PM (#42491271)

    The quality of life is very much different, if you think of all of the crap you buy vs what people had in 1960. Plus have you ever been in the houses of 1960? people were mostly content with 1500 ft^2, now people wont settle for anything less than 2500 ft^2. []. Would you buy a car from 1980? You'd save a lot of money but you wouldn't have the same luxuries.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @08:48PM (#42491561)

    My experience: I worked for 15 years as an engineer, mostly at startups, and then went back for a PhD and became a professor of computer science; I'm up for tenure next year so this post is anonymous. I'm at a research university - not a top-tier one, but good enough that I'm expected to bring in significant grant funding and do leading edge research or I won't get tenure. It's more stressful than the startups I worked at, although not horribly so. (i.e. they weren't a walk in the park...) Some of the factors adding to the stress:
    (1) Deadlines. Conferences and grant submissions have strict, non-negotiable deadlines which typically only get altered for natural disasters. I've yet to see an industry deadline that didn't have some wiggle room. (including salespeople doing a song and dance while you fixed the last bug for a demo)
    (2) Competition. I went from being an irreplaceable member of a team (at most of my employers, at least) to a situation where 500 people would apply to replace me if I lose tenure. In addition, if I messed up at a previous job I could go somewhere else and try again, while you really only get one shot at an academic career.
    (3) Politics. Fixed-sized organizations (schools, universities, hospitals) tend to have nastier politics than organizations which are planning to grow, because every person who gets ahead means someone else loses out. Look up Sayre's law on wikipedia, although I'm not sure academia is the worst offender in this area - google "nurses eat their young" for a non-academic example. (note that my department is actually quite decent in this area)
    (4) Teaching. Half your work (i.e. teaching) has strict deadlines several times a week, and the other half has long-term goals measured in months or more. It's all too easy to let teaching expand to 100% of your time, which means there's another 50% that has to get done when you should be sleeping instead.
    (5) Funding. In a research field, getting funding is crucial - in CS it's mostly to pay the PhD students who actually do the work. It's not as much work as getting funding for a startup, but the amounts are far smaller and you have to do it for your whole career.
    (6) "Service". Serving on the hiring committee and wading through those 500 job applications. Serving on the admissions committee and wading through a zillion grad school applications. Reviewing papers for conferences and journals. Flying to Washington to review grant proposals for the NSF or NIH. Other than NSF reviews, where you get a per-diem and can make a bit if you skimp on the hotel, the rest is of course all unpaid.

    Once you get tenure, you can in theory sit back and do almost nothing. The worst your department can do is not give you raises, make you teach an extra class or two (including all the night and summer classes no one wants to teach), give you a bad office, and deny you any grad students. I can think of plenty of worse jobs, but none that are so hard to get. I think the only reason the tenure system works at all is because it mostly weeds out anyone who has so little self-respect that they'd be satisfied with this, which means back to the rat race again. If someone slips through who is willing to sit on their butt, it's a mess.

    Note that I can't speak for other fields. In computer science (and many other technical fields) the competition is shaped by the fact that almost anyone involved could drop out and get paid more. You don't worry about student loans (beyond undergraduate) in these fields, because your grad school was paid for by someone else's research grants. There's a general consensus about what constitutes research, which is shared to a large extent by the broader public. In other words, I'm the exact opposite of an English professor in many ways...

    So am I happy with my career choice? Yes. Just like pro athletics, the reasons it's stressful are the same reasons people choose the career in the first place - because you're trying to compete with other people who are the best. I gave up nearly half a million in salary to go back to grad school, and would be making nearly double what I'm making today, but I might also be saying "I could'a been a contender..." instead of actually going for it.

  • by rk ( 6314 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @10:46PM (#42492303) Journal

    The moment the article talked about the school year as a factor, I knew it was pretty much a bullshit article written by someone who THINKS they know what professors do. I work in a research lab with professors (I'm not one of them, I'm a software engineer) and teaching classes is not even the main part of their job. My boss loves teaching and wishes he had MORE time for it, but can't teach but maybe one class per semester because of research time, lab management, grant proposals, and other commitments.

  • Re:Funny.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OneAhead ( 1495535 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @12:31AM (#42492797)

    Yes, absolutely! We've collectively had it with this damaging stereotype slowly infiltrating all the media. To be successful in present-day academia, you have to live for your work. Many successful professors never had the time to raise children. Those that do (and a lot of those that don't) have marital problems, because every evening, every weekend, every vacation, you'll be taking work with you. Otherwise, well I guess you could find a teaching-only job in a backwater community college and not even try to compete in your field. Or leave science altogether.

    And all that would be OK - we're really passionate about what we're doing and a lot of us love the job despite all the pain - but the fact that we're constantly being painted as lazy fat cats that have an easy life, that's too much. This stereotype is slowly destroying American science, because it makes policymakers think they need to put just a little bit more pressure on us. And with this article in Forbes, a line has been crossed. You probably could get away with making covert allusions in mainstream media that black people (or pick whichever majority you want) are lazy, but put it into a high-profile magazine like this and you'll have riots. What you're seeing are outbursts of a pain that's been building up for decades. The stereotype has become an acute threat. If we were farmers, we would drive our tractors to the capital and block all the roads, but since we're academics, we write angry walls of text.

  • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @12:33AM (#42492809)

    This isn't exactly a normal professorship, she's not even working full time.

    Unfortunately, this has become EXTREMELY normal. There are lots and lots of people teaching part-time because colleges and universities want to hire cheap part-timers rather than pay more for full-time professors. Some drive long distances between different schools so that they can teach enough courses per semester to actually live on the combined income.

    If you don't know this is happening and commonplace, you are simply ignorant of the situation. But the moron at Forbes who wrote the article should have at least done a tiny bit of research to find out about it before writing such utter crap.

  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @03:15AM (#42493427) Journal

    My boss loves teaching and wishes he had MORE time for it, but can't teach but maybe one class per semester because of research time, lab management, grant proposals, and other commitments.

    That RIGHT THERE should tell us how fucked up the US university system is... When a professor's job of teaching is secondary to everything else, what has become of a university? Is it nothing more than a high-end Government research lab (with free/low cost lab techs called students), or should it get back to the original goal of learning and teaching?

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes