One of the things about being a blogger is that sometimes your friends reveal articles you may have missed and deliberately ask you to comment. That just happened to me. On a lovely Saturday, my cell phone told me that friend X had mentioned me in a post. In fact, he said he wanted me to comment on an article which discussed the least stressful jobs of 2013. The article can be found here.
At the top of the 200 job list was surprisingly University Professor. According to the author, “university professors have a lot less stress than most of us. They have long summer holidays, nice breaks over Christmas and New Year’s, and also in the spring. Even when school is in session, they don’t spend that many hours in the classroom (!). Tenure track professors may have some pressure to publish, but deadlines are few (!). As for compensations, the median salary is $62,000 which is enough to live on.” The article continues to say that Universities are expected to increase the number of professorships by 2020. All of these lead the job to be in poll position on the list. Wow. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. I would have hoped that Forbes might have checked a few facts before publishing that. I suppose they didn’t appreciate just how many university professors would read the article and write back (well I suppose they do have all that time to waste reading magazines like Forbes!!).
I have to say, my favorite line in the article is “professors answer to themselves, they are basically kings of their own fiefdoms”. Crumbs. Anyone who has been through an academic experience would surely know that all professors answer to their departmental chair, who in turn answers to the dean or provost. Hardly a ruler, (note I didn’t say king as there are professors who are women), and certainly held accountable for their actions. Yes, I will agree with the writer that professors are highly qualified and experts in their fields, but that shouldn’t lump them in the same category as jewelers, dieticians and hair stylists. These last 3 are very likely to be self employed whereas a professor usually works for a college or university. After all, if I decided to attempt to teach molecular cell biology, who would chose the University of Kate over prestigious institutions like Harvard, Yale or Stanford?
My next favorite section states that, at the end of the day, people with these professions leave their work behind and their hours are generally 9-5. Seriously? That is unbelievable. I don’t know anyone who performs research who works “normal hours” and can switch their brains to think of non-research topics once they leave the office/lab. To be completely fair, my own hair stylist doesn’t work 9-5 either, and she often thinks of her clients outside the salon. These sweeping generalizations are embarrassing for the author and the publication. While I know that many of you reading this are very familiar with the academic way of life, and are probably as appalled as I am at this article, I know you will be equally appalled at the lack of fact checking. That this has been seen by the public disheartens me. This may have besmirched the views of many individuals about professors (and also many of the other jobs mentioned including medical laboratory technician, medical record technician, librarian) which is disgraceful. Yes, there is now an addendum which explains the author may be wrong but, if the reader had a print copy, they will be blissfully unaware of it.
So what is the point I am making? I believe I may have mentioned this once or twice (and probably many more times), but it is so important to double check facts before you send your written work out into the world. Once they are out, they are out. Like Pandora’s box, they may have severe and far-reaching consequences. As for everyone in academia, it is now our challenge to spread the word that once you have begun to climb the ivory tower, and are a professor, the position is not “cushy” and involves an awful lot of work and stress. We should also state that no researcher does it for the hours or pay. Everyone that I know who performs research does it because of the challenge and sheer love of the field. It is for this fact, being a researcher should be listed as one of the best jobs out there. We get to do what we love and constantly push the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Some of the best moments of my life involved getting publications or an amazing result. Some of the most stressful were writing grants, meeting deadlines and giving presentations. Some of the most dedicated individuals I know are professors, who continue their quest for knowledge despite all the associated stresses.
Let’s start a new list. Being a university professor should top the job satisfaction list of 2013. It should also top the most honorable list with teachers and others who aim to improve the education of others. It is a selfless thing to do, one which is sadly underappreciated.