Monday, April 21, 2008

Working hard, or hardly working?

That's what my grandfather used to say when he came into the bagel bakery where I had my first job. It drove me nuts at the time, and I think the fact that I have used the phrase is a sign that I am Officially Getting Old, but I couldn't think of a better title for this post.

So I decided a month ago to keep a log of how much time I spent doing work, mainly because of this article and all the discussion it inspired. Because in spite of all the angry reactions -- and in spite of the fact that Bauerlein seems clueless about the fact that the majority of faculty have 4-4 or 5-5 teaching loads, I thought that he might sorta kinda have a point. I thought, well, I'm teaching four classes. Fourteen hours a week, actually, since we have these four-credit comp courses from hell. I admit that I don't have the service requirements that a tenure-track person would, but I am on the job market, which is a time sink in its own right. And I'm pretty sure I don't work 60+ hours a week. In fact, I bet I don't even work forty hours a week. Or do I? What the heck is "work," anyway?

So I started writing down exactly what I did and how much time I spent doing it on the day after spring break, exactly five weeks ago, and I stopped yesterday. During that time, I had two phone interviews and one campus interview (I counted job-seeking as work), attended one (local) conference, and accompanied a bunch of students to Nearest Big Metropolis for a weekend of theater- and museum-going. Here is what I learned from the experiment:

Conclusion #1: I was pretty much right about the amount of time I spent working -- an average of around 31 hours a week, as it turned out. In my busiest week -- which FELT very busy -- I spent 36 1/2 hours on work. So yeah, I'm a lazy slob. I'm OK with that.

Conclusion #2: These figures may skew wildly high or low, depending on what you think counts as work. Unlike the estimable Dr. Crazy, I did not think to lay out ground rules before I started, so I found myself constantly trying to make decisions: Does watching Shakespeare videos on YouTube count as class prep? (Yes, as long as I really planned to use them in the class.) Do office hours count, even if I usually spend them reading blogs and playing Word Sandwich? (No, I decided, office hours only counted if I was actively meeting with a student or doing something else work-related at the time.) Does random and idle reading about academic topics count, or attending other people's conference presentations? (Yes.) Should I count the whole weekend when I went to Metropolis with students? (No, only the time when I was actively engaged in watching Shakespeare, or in ferrying students to and from the train station ... and I felt kind of guilty about counting those parts, because the whole weekend felt more like a perk than a duty.) How about the fifteen minutes I spent helping the theater tech move my guest-room bed out of the apartment so it could star in the campus production of Brighton Beach Memoirs? (Sure, campus citizenship is part of the job. I counted the time I spent at random campus events, too.)

It's possible that if I were at a different type of school, I would find it easier to make these calls. The thing about New SLAC is, there are SO many unwritten expectations about showing up for stuff and "being a part of the life of the college," as they put it at new faculty orientation. I spent a lot more time at these events when I still cherished hopes of being tenure-track, but I still show up to a few of them, either because they're things I enjoy or because I owe someone a favor. So it's mostly-voluntary work, now, but it wouldn't be if I'd been hired for the t-t position, so I decided to count it.

I didn't count things like checking out the latest calls for papers or dashing off a five-minute e-mail to a student while engaged in otherwise recreational Internet browsing. Perhaps I should have, but honestly, most of the time I don't even notice that I'm technically working when I do stuff like that.

And then there was the time I went to see a play by New-To-Me Playwright, was totally blown away, and decided that the sophomore Honors seminar really needed a field trip to see a different play by New-To-Me Playwright. After debating with myself at some length, I counted the time I spent researching New-To-Me Playwright and organizing the field trip, but not the original afternoon at the theater, which was meant to be entirely recreational.

So anyway, this whole exercise has brought home to me just how fluid the boundaries between professional and non-professional activities are in academia. I think that's both a blessing and a curse. When there are no clear boundaries, it's easy to feel like you're working All. The. Damn. Time (or, more insidiously, to be working all the damn time without actually realizing you're doing so). On the other hand ... it's kind of cool that so many of the things I like doing are, in fact, professionally useful.

Conclusion #3: I don't spend nearly as much time grading papers as I thought I did. Maybe I have a tendency to confuse time spent grumbling about grading with time spent grading. Or maybe I'm saving it all up for the end of the semester. Oh dear.

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