Top 10 Reasons Being a University Professor is a Stressful Job
By thisiskris18 ¶ Posted in Uncategorized ¶ Leave a comment
Being a university professor is in no way the least stressful job for 2013.
In fact, 2013 is likely to be one of the worst years to be a university
But many pixels are being spent across the Forbes.com platform at the site
of Forbes staff columnist, Susan Adams. Adams has been a legal affairs
columnist at Forbes since 1995 and writes widely on leadership and careers.
I don’t know Adams but I do know that working full-time for Forbes requires
one to meet a very high bar. For example, many of my readers would know
Matt Herper as one of the top pharmaceutical industry journalists in North
America. Similarly, Bruce Japsen, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, is one of
the best writers on health care in the US.
So I was extremely surprised and, frankly, disappointed that Adams would
write such a misguided article, based apparently on a report from CareerCast
.com and her perception of university faculty through one tenured professor
she knows. Yesterday, Adams issued a mea culpa within the same post — and I
give her credit for keeping the original post up. As of this writing her
post has has 123,000 pages views and 351 comments (115 in the last 24 hr),
primarily objections from faculty members on the front lines at US
I don’t want to make the same mistake of a small sample size but I feel
that my primarily academic biomedical research and teaching career (since
1992) gives me some latitude to make a few generalizations. I’ve worked at
a state university’s top 25 academic medical center and pharmacy school, an
elite private research university, a teaching-intensive, historically-Black
college/university in a large state university system, and am now a half-
time writing professor (in a department of English) at a state land-grant
university. I also work half-time as a science communications director for a
state natural sciences museum. The emphasis on teaching vs. research at
each institution has varied. I’ve earned tenure twice, once in the
traditional fashion at the 7th year of an assistant professorship and again
at appointment as a professor and department chair.
With the caveats of my own experiences and those of colleagues with whom I’
ve worked or otherwise interacted around the world, here are my top 10
reasons that being a university professor is stressful:
1. Performance, advancement, and almost every scholarly metric is dependent
on anonymous peer-review
Write a grant application, get three anonymous reviewer critiques. Submit
research results for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, get anonymous
reviewer critiques. Submit your tenure portfolio or post-tenure portfolio to
a college promotion and tenure committee, get anonymous reviews. While one
may know the general composition of grant review and promotion and tenure
committees, you don’t know precisely who is gunning for you. Anonymity is
sometimes useful but more often allows petty vendettas to occur that are
independent of the work at hand.
2. In the biomedical sciences, universities rarely pay one’s full salary
Research universities, medical schools in particular, are highly-dependent
on federal research funding to pay faculty salaries. So, you have to raise
anywhere from a quarter to 100% of your salary. Some research universities
typically hire more faculty than they can afford with the assumption that
research project grants will generally cover a relatively stable percentage
of faculty salaries. The National Institutes of Health has recently
announced that it’s expected universities to step up over the next 20 years.
3. Faculty must provide salary and university benefits for research staff
If you’re in a tenured or tenure-track position, your salary will likely be
covered for at least nine months (but everyone works 12 months regardless
because you’re competing for research funds against others who will work 12
months even if they only have a nine-month salary).
However, if you have research staff, fellows, editorial assistants, etc.,
you have to pay for these folks off your research grants. That’s usually
100% of not only their salary but benefits as well. Research grant funds
technically come to the university so salary and benefits are in effect paid
by the university. But if you lose your grant, you lose your laboratory
personnel – no backstop, no six-month severance. It’s here today, gone
tomorrow. And all the investment, expertise, and institutional lab memory
goes away. If you lose your personnel, it becomes more difficult for you to
score subsequent funding. That then puts you in a position, even if you have
tenure, of having lab space taken away and having more teaching and
administrative committee work piled on you, making it even more difficult to
score subsequent funding.
4. Faculty must provide universities with the teat of indirect grant costs
The pressure for faculty to obtain research funding is not just self-
motivated. The common complaint among faculty is that if one is lucky to
score a grant in this funding environment, the first thing a supervisor will
ask is when they’re submitting the next one. Why? Because universities
garner an additional 40-80% on top of what your laboratory requests for a
project. Yes, if I get a grant for $200,000 per year, the university gets $
80,000-$160,000 that I don’t see.
These funds are obviously necessary to cover indirect costs such as
utilities, facilities and maintenance, and safety and security functions.
But these funds are often squirreled away for other special projects of high
-ranking administrators. At some universities, the funds are managed well —
to provide recruitment packages for new tenure-track faculty. At other
universities, the distribution of indirect cost recovery is questionable.
More central functions that should be covered by indirect costs are now
being billed directly to laboratories even though their grants provide the
university with substantial indirect costs.
You can never have enough grants at most biomedical research universities.
5. Success rates for biomedical and science & technology grant funding is at
an all-time low
Currently, grant funding rates across the National Institutes of Health and
National Science Foundation are at their lowest percentages in history (see
the dotted line on the figure at this DrugMonkey post). At the NIH, many
institutes are funding at the 11th percentile (and I’ve seen some in single
-digit percentiles). One is permitted a total of total of two submissions
such that overall funding rates can sometimes approach 20%. Writing each
grant generally takes four to six weeks but you don’t learn the grant
scoring for three months, the actual funding possibility until six months (
or longer if Congress is dragging their feet), and see the actual funding at
nine to 12 months. In many cases, it can be over two years (or never)
between conceiving an idea and seeing research support.
The result is that this is the first time in 20 years that I’ve seen more
than three people I know giving up their laboratories and moving on to 100%
teaching positions or other careers entirely. That’s okay from the
standpoint of personal satisfaction but the federal medical research
enterprise has made tremendous investments in individuals. It’s a terrible
waste to see well-trained scientists leaving the academy.
The system also penalizes women for being the gender that gives birth to our
future citizens. The “tenure clock” normally doesn’t get delayed if one
has a child and takes maternity leave. Some granting agencies are now
allowing applicants to note that they may have had a break in productivity
because of family or health issues. But, by and large, women are not treated
kindly by the system.
And just in case you think 80% of science professors are complaining,
consider this: one of the 2012 winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry lost
his funding from a private research institute a few years ago. His work
could not move forward because he had to let some research staff go.
Fortunately, his wife is a scientist and has been working with him through
thick and thin. He lives in a high-cost market and had to pick up side work
(he was fortunately a physician) to be able to make his mortgage. Now he has
a Nobel Prize. But most of us don’t.
6. Many US universities operate under a customer service model while
accepting students unprepared for college-level coursework
“The customer is always right,” didn’t always apply to universities. Many
places still require that students assume substantial personal
responsibility for success. But I’ve seen some state universities kowtowing
to student demands that undermine academic integrity. We’re even seeing
helicopter parents contacting professors directly about their kids’ grades
(disclosure is against federal law) and complaining to department chair and
deans. The default reaction from administration is that the professor is at
fault. Professors are also penalized if their course grades have too high of
a percentage of D’s and F’s. At the same time, some of the same
universities are allowing students to enroll in college with SAT scores of
800 or below — for combined math and verbal components. Even among
populations that might not have the luxury of taking standardized test prep
scores, that doesn’t account for the 300 or so more points that may of us
establish as the minimum (I scored an 1120, by the way, so I was no genius).
Too many professors are being expected to make up for the deficiencies of
public high school education.
7. Increasingly reliance on adjunct teaching faculty
For teaching-intensive institutions, a new tactic to cut costs is to hire
temporary faculty to teach courses. Rather than paying a professor $75,000
plus benefits, you can now hire from the ranks of unemployed scientists a no
-benefits PhD at $3,000-$4,500 per 3 credit hour class per semester. I have
seen some tenure-track faculty actually be threatened by their supervisors
with being replaced by such adjunct faculty if they can’t score grant
funding. The abuse of adjunct faculty by US universities is a travesty.
8. The public and some university administrators underestimate teaching
If I teach a 3 credit hour class, it may appear that I’m only working 3
hours/week. However, developing and updating course material takes time,
especially in rapidly-changing fields like mine (pharmacology). At one of my
former universities, we had a defined formula that I quite liked and agreed
with: you get eight hours of time for each one hour of lecture time if it’
s brand-new material and four hours of time for each one hour of lecture
given if it’s an existing course. Those numbers are about right in my
You also have student office hours of four to eight hours per week, time
grading assignments (much more time-consuming now that I’ve become a
writing professor) and exams, and professional development time where one
might attend a seminar or off-campus conference to learn about your field of
study. So, a 3 credit hour class can easily take 15-20 hours/week.
Depending on the school, a full-load might be two or four classes. So, it’s
pretty easy to get to 30-40 hours/week with just two classes. The average
prof works about 60 hours/week so, uh, yeah, that’s a 50% effort.
9. Administrators underestimate online teaching effort
If you’re already teaching the class, it’ll be nothing to throw it up
online, right? Universities are increasingly moving classes to online
offerings, a genuinely useful approach for students working full-time.
Unfortunately, some universities are simply stressing online classes because
it brings in revenue without significantly increasing infrastructure costs.
Professors are usually given less credit for online courses than for those
in-person. Most professors I know who teach online classes say that much
more effort is required for online classes.
10. Administrators overestimate the need for administrators
I know that accreditation guidelines, safety, development, grants and
research compliance, and other administrative issues require dedicated
administrative personnel. Jobs that used to be done by one person now often
seems to require two or three and we’re seeing the number of assistant
associate vice deans for whatever increasing over the last five to seven
years. I used to be part administrator — I’d get additional salary for
that, but not for increased teaching or university service — so I guess
that I used to be part of the problem.
Oh, and why not 11:
11. “Tenure” is no longer tenure
Tenure is a hot-button item particularly for critics of state universities.
Indeed, tenure had its purpose in allowing academic freedom of thought and
opinion without institutional retaliation. Some people think it’s no longer
necessary. But it is, particularly given the substantial dependence of
universities on salary support for faculty. Most universities have also
instituted more stringent post-tenure review processes, generally about
every five years. I’ve rarely seen a tenured professor be fired but a
professor with tenure who is deemed unproductive by whatever anonymous
review can certainly be made to wish they didn’t have a job.
Now, I’m not saying that being a university professor is harder than highly
dangerous jobs like being an oil rig worker, steel worker, logger, soldier,
or deep sea commercial fisher. But I believe that Susan Adams was misguided
and irresponsible in using CareerCast as a source in her initial post. Her
large audience on this high-profile platform reflects some of the
difficultly university faculty face with regard to public perception. I
expect more of any Forbes contributor like me or my science writing
compatriot, Emily Willingham, but certainly much more from a long-time
Forbes staff writer.
I know that I’ve stressed the biomedical side so what do you have to add?
【在 f*******o 的大作中提到】
: Top 10 Reasons Being a University Professor is a Stressful Job
: By thisiskris18 ¶ Posted in Uncategorized ¶ Leave a comment
: Being a university professor is in no way the least stressful job for 2013.
: In fact, 2013 is likely to be one of the worst years to be a university
: But many pixels are being spent across the Forbes.com platform at the site
: of Forbes staff columnist, Susan Adams. Adams has been a legal affairs