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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 rjr162 ( 69736 )

    My wife works at a rehabilitation/nursing home and there are so many college professors in there that have gone Looney. Some think they are aliens and others have gone Looney in other ways

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:03PM (#42489513)

      Ahh, I understand your confusion there, your wife accidentally stumbled into the Philosophy department. It's a completely understandable mistake to make, the average university philosophy department is filled with senile, tenured professors and hipsters who spent more on their iPads then they did on toothpaste that semester. If you tried to talk to any one of them you'd be hard pressed to believe you _weren't_ in a retirement home.

      Easy test to keep her from getting mixed up again; if she walks into the building and is immediately hit with the stench of patchouli, body-odour and hashish, she's probably wandered into the local college again. If on the other hand it's just the usual potpourri of soiled beds, Old Spice and death, then she's going to have a wonderful day at work!

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:12PM (#42489583)

        hipsters who spent more on their iPads then they did on toothpaste that semester.

        What the hell? You spend $600 on toothpaste per semester? As in $100 of toothpaste per month? And you find it strange other people don't?

        • by immaterial ( 1520413 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:30PM (#42489695)
          One month's worth of toothpaste: $100
          One month's worth of toothbrushes: $175
          One month's water bill: $315
          A smile bright enough to woo a female into a slashdotter's basement: Priceless
        • what else are you supposed to use to stick bathroom tiles with?
          damn tiles keep falling off, grr.

    • by ark1 ( 873448 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:09PM (#42489565)

      My wife works at a rehabilitation/nursing home and there are so many college professors in there that have gone Looney. Some think they are aliens and others have gone Looney in other ways

      As the saying goes, there is a fine line between the genius and insanity.

  • Hey, what about us drones, man?
    • Re:Grad students? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:18PM (#42489611)

      Hey, what about us drones, man?

      Don't worry, you are Forbes' target audience: the under $50K/year crowd that needs to be taught how capitalism is good for you in the long run.

      As always, they'll run an article next year about how you are on a great track and maybe one day will be earning $120K/year. So please don't join Occupy Wall Street, just concentrate on not getting drunk at your next Christmas party or something.

      • So please don't join Occupy Wall Street,

        Because OWS is going to change anything?

        • In my opinion, they definitely shifted the politics of the country more to the left.

          • In what way? That sounds interesting.
            • IMO By just being in the news so much, their ideas get absorbed over and over again in the public consciousness. The same principle as used in advertising. Repeating an idea over and over again is nebulous force, difficult to fight against with a logical argument, but definitely present and can be extremely powerful. Especially the way they did it, showing mobs of people all in agreement of *something*, which provokes the "me too" instinct. Even if that *something* is not logically consistent, or even compl

              • Yeah, maybe you're right. It did kind of put into people's minds the idea that there is a line between the 1% and the 99%, and the republicans are on one side of the line, and democrats on the other side of the line.
            • 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: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.

    • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @11:22PM (#42492477) Homepage

      http://www.villagevoice.com/2004-04-20/news/wanted-really-smart-suckers/ [villagevoice.com]
      "Here's an exciting career opportunity you won't see in the classified ads. For the first six to 10 years, it pays less than $20,000 and demands superhuman levels of commitment in a Dickensian environment. Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it's time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession's ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off. Welcome to the world of the humanities Ph.D. student, 2004, where promises mean little and revolt is in the air. ..."

      Or also:
      http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science [greenspun.com]
      "The average trajectory for a successful scientist is the following:
            1. age 18-22: paying high tuition fees at an undergraduate college
            2. age 22-30: graduate school, possibly with a bit of work, living on a stipend of $1800 per month
            3. age 30-35: working as a post-doc for $30,000 to $35,000 per year
            4. age 36-43: professor at a good, but not great, university for $65,000 per year
            5. age 44: with (if lucky) young children at home, fired by the university ("denied tenure" is the more polite term for the folks that universities discard), begins searching for a job in a market where employers primarily wish to hire folks in their early 30s
          This is how things are likely to go for the smartest kid you sat next to in college. He got into Stanford for graduate school. He got a postdoc at MIT. His experiment worked out and he was therefore fortunate to land a job at University of California, Irvine. But at the end of the day, his research wasn't quite interesting or topical enough that the university wanted to commit to paying him a salary for the rest of his life. He is now 44 years old, with a family to feed, and looking for job with a "second rate has-been" label on his forehead.
          Why then, does anyone think that science is a sufficiently good career that people should debate who is privileged enough to work at it? Sample bias. "

      For ways beyond that, see my online book:
      "Post-Scarcity Princeton, or, Reading between the lines of PAW for prospective Princeton students, or, the Health Risks of Heart Disease"
      http://www.pdfernhout.net/reading-between-the-lines.html [pdfernhout.net]

      Or this book by Jeff Schmidt:
      http://www.disciplinedminds.com/ [disciplinedminds.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 @04:20PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Dear God, my neighbor has a cow. I have none.

        Please kill my neighbor's cow.

    • by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:36PM (#42489747) Homepage Journal

      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.

      Except that once in a while someone is screaming that they want to kill you.

      • Except that once in a while someone is screaming that they want to kill you.

        That seems to be a perc of pretty much any job in the US at least.

        • I think you can take any job where you have to deal with the public and toss it into the "stressful" heap. I worked at a refreshment stand one summer and hated people by the end of it. But I think a job where you sentence people with fines or jail time will get more than it's share of stress.

          Maybe engineers should be in the non-stress category. What's the Douglas Adams quote? "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

    • but some Judges can be voted out.

  • Randal Graves: Some guy just came in refusing to pay late fees. Said the video store was closed for two hours yesterday. So, I tore up his membership.
    Dante Hicks: Shocking abuse of authority.
    Randal Graves: Hey, I'm a firm believer in the philosophy of a ruling class. Especially since I rule.

  • 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?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Smallpond ( 221300 )

      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.

    • 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

      Well, it's actually quite simple. First, we have a lot more stuff, of much higher quality, than was available in the 1960s. Technically, it's a 1959 model, but I'm sure you'll spot me one year for this [youtube.com] video of a 1959 Chevrolet Impala in an off-angle collision with a 2009 Impala. Our houses are much, much larger. We have cable and air conditioning and cell phones and computers and DVRs and giant flat televisions that hang on the wall. So that's part of it.

      The other problem is the Red Queen effect of women'

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @05:42PM (#42490233)
      Wages are record lows [businessinsider.com] as percentage of GDP and dropping. At the same time wealth inequality is continuing to expand with the top 1% of the country currently owning as much wealth as the bottom 50%. Pretty damn obvious where those productivity gains have gone.
    • 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 ark1 ( 873448 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:04PM (#42489533)
    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.
  • by NIK282000 ( 737852 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:06PM (#42489543) Homepage Journal

    ..is "drill press operator" a job all its own? I haven't been to a single machine shop or factory where they have one person who's only job is to run the bloody drill press. If there was such a person he would be forever in the way of everyone else who had work to do.

    • Production environment, with people using drill presses to pop holes in using pre-built drill jigs and possibly fixturing to hold down the work depending on the size and other factors.

      It has died down in recent years due to lower volumes being produced in North America, combined with CNC machines making drilling part of the same process instead of a additional step, but some higher volume items are still done this way in this part of the world.
    • I believe these people operate drill presses in an assembly line. Do a search online for 'drill press operator' and you can find job openings.
    • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @04:56PM (#42489911)

      ..is "drill press operator" a job all its own?

      It's code for male porn star.

  • When I was a prof, we taught in a cardboard box by the side of the road . . .

    • You had a cardboard box! We only dreamed of having a cardboard box! We had to lecture in a hole in the ground, writing on the dirt with a rock. Every night our department chair would thrash us to sleep with his belt.

  • 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.

    • Well, they would have done that, but then they'd have had to get some of those lazy good-for-nothing professors to come down from their ivory towers to do the study.

  • 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.......
    • What are you going on about pointing out issues in TFA? You're not going to get anywhere arguing about points in it.

      • I know, it's really depressing. A lot of times all you have to do is copy a paragraph from the article, and people mod you informative. It's only informative because no one else actually read the article......
    • 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 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.

    • "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."

      And most universities own everything created by their professors.

  • Welcome to Big Data Research, where the algorithms can't lie. Actually evaluating the stressors of real jobs using scientific methods is so old-school. And if the outcome appears incorrect we just need a bigger database...

  • by gratuitous_arp ( 1650741 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @07:59PM (#42491177)

    As a college professor, you have to teach new things to people who already know everything. That does sound really hard to do.

  • 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.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal