Thursday, October 3, 2013

College Proffie Misperceptions. This Week's Big Thirsty.

Occasionally I sneak out midweek for some golf. (Legend has it that this is more than occasionally.) I'd taken in 44 essays on Monday, so my grading load was a little heavy. And because one course I play has several minute waits on some tees, I bundled along 5-6 essays to grade.

I got in a foursome of guys I didn't know, and on a particularly long wait on the third hole I brought out some papers and started to grade.

This mystified my partners. "You're working? I thought you were a college professor."

Right then my phone buzzed and I took a quick call from a student about a problem he was having with his research. And I answered two emails from students about setting up individual appointments.

"Shit," said one guy. "Thank God I never got the Ph.D." We all laughed.

And for the next 5 hours they peppered me with questions about the academic life, one that they had all thought was elite, rich, and relaxed. I told them my salary at one point, and one guy said, "But that's just for a semester, right, 4 months?" "No, that's my whole year."

These guys, a mechanic, a car salesman, and the assistant manager at a pest company were stunned. Each of them made more money than me, and pest guy made more than double.

It was a long afternoon. I got 5 papers graded and I wised up some splendid fellows about our job.

Q: What are your favorite (least favorite) misperceptions about the life of a college proffie? What do you have to wise up folks about?


32 comments:

  1. We never have sex with our students, unlike David Duchovny in "Californication." Well, hardly ever. We also don't often have office furniture or offices as nice as his character does.

    Our labs don't have budgets as high as the ones in the James Bond films, or in Jonny Quest. But then, being portrayed in film or on TV as a higher-budget operation than we are is not unique to proffies. The characters in "Friends" are supposed to work in a coffee shop. It must do excellent business, since a real Manhattan apartment like the one they're shown living in would cost about three times more than they'd be likely to be able to afford.

    Speaking of Jonny Quest, Jonny's dad, Dr. Benton Quest, has got to be the most versatile scientist I've ever seen. One week he's working on lasers, the next week he's working on rockets, the next week he's doing undersea research, and the next week he's doing Egyptology. I fancy myself a real-life Indiana Jones, but I almost never use the whip: I usually manage by being nice to people.

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    1. Also, the guys in "The Big Bang Theory" may be postdocs, but they sure have a lot more leisure time than any postocs I've ever seen.

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    3. Most poignantly: that our students are SO profoundly stupid, poorly prepared for college and life in general, and immature, and how administration so often treats them as customers who are always right and honest, and how the poor adjuncts are hard-pressed to make a living even though they teach the bulk of our courses and students. Every time I try to explain current trends in academia to someone who hasn't been here for decades, or ever at all, I feel like Clarence Oddbody telling George Bailey upon arrival in Pottersville, "You'll see a lot of strange things from now on....You're not going to like it, George."

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    4. Wait a minute, I just watched one of the dozens of syndicated Friends episodes on TV tonight and I have learned that all of the "Friends" do NOT work at Central Perk. (Rachel does briefly; Joey does for one day; Phoebe occasionally sings there, but that's more of as an independent contractor, sort of like my glory days as the worlds fanciest and underappreciated VAP. Remind me to tell you about those days sometime.)

      Oh, and I learned that the apartment, which would be a pricy item, I mean, if it were in the real world and not on some TV show, actually was rent controlled through her dead grandmother's lease.

      But now I must look into the sky and decode the heavens. You English teachers probably have to go teach Catcher in the Rye. Spoiler alert: It's a HUNTING hat.

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    5. What would make me supremely happy is if Frod was doing TAOFF himself. That would make my day.

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  2. I do this thing in between classes, in the evenings and sometimes on the weekends. It's called research.

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  3. Misperception: the work effort of teaching occurs only during the 50 minute session leaving the remainder of the day available for "me." People seem surprised when i tell them that the main work of teaching occurs before class (in preparation) and after (evaluating student work). Sometimes the sessions in the classroom are as close as I get to an actual break from work during the day.

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  4. What YY1 said. Also, the failure to multiply the time required to deal with special exceptions/attention that I might provide for any one student by the total number of students I have (c. 90, and it could be much worse). And the failure to realize that teaching is a form of research, and good teaching involves not only giving regular feedback to students, but also using one's interactions with them and their work to revise course materials. And finally, the assumption that because I have a Ph.D. from a pretty fancy place and have a full-time job, I must also have a decent salary and job security/tenure. As people here know, that's not true at all, and I'm not at all unusual.

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  5. I also agree with YY1. In-class time is the easiest part of my work week.

    My contributions, mostly about my expertise:
    I teach different classes every semester. I don't teach in my specialty, because my specialty is not usually included in a BA in math. I am capable of teaching ANY undergrad math class. Being a mathematician does not imply (a) that I am smarter than other people, nor (b) that I am ignorant of the humanities or the social sciences, nor (c) that I am a "numbers guy," whatever the fuck that means.

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    1. I encounter someing similar being in the Psychology Department. The assumption is that I am a therapist, and a Freudian at that. They also assume I am "touchy feely." I won't "psychoanalyze" you because I went to grad school and scooped out the brains of small defenseless rodents. Also, I teach statistics (a clinical background would help me deal with the student phobia of stats, the stress of the course and the PTSD that occurs as a result) which is not a "touchy feely" course.

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    2. THIS. Heck, I'm a psychologist who does clinical work, and I still won't "psychoanalyze" you. I don't spend all day in "sessions", I do research (which happens nights, between classes and weekends as Beaker Ben says), and I teach (for which most of the work happens outside the classroom, like YY1 says). It's fun when the misconceptions overlap; I don't stroll into class, psychoanalyze students, hit a few therapy sessions, and retire for the day having netted a massive salary.

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  6. Because I'm a professor, people assume I'm brilliant. Because I'm a scientist, people assume I'm stronger than God.

    Well, they're right on both counts. They are wrong in thinking, however, I'm nerdy. Because I'm the shit.

    And Cal, how much fucking golf can you play? Don't you ever grade papers?

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    1. ...oh, and I mean, grading papers on the third tee is not like being at work like me with the atoms and the grad students.

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  7. Yup, YYI again. Specifically, it's when people meet me off campus during the daytime and say "So, not working today?" Alas, the in-laws did it a lot, until I learned them better.

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    1. My father-in-law made a lot of comments along that vein, for the purpose of needling me, in the early years of my marriage, until I told him to Fuck Off. He's kept his trap shut since. We now talk about public radio, Bob Dylan, the weather, things like that.

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  8. That because I teach in a certain discipline, I am an expert in ALL THINGS related to that discipline.

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  9. My research involves fieldwork in a mediterranean land, which of course is a reason I love it. It doesn't mean it isn't work. I actually went to the beach far fewer times that you, and no, I didn't bring you a souvenir.

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    1. Exactly! I go home (abroad) to do research each summer because that's where I find the best books in the language I need them to be, but I am actually WORKING all summer. The free bookmarks from the university libraries in my home country are gift enough for my colleagues. When they say, "You're so lucky to have spent all summer abroad," or when they ask if they could meet me there to get a tour of the country, they have no idea that I'm hunkered down in the basements of dingy libraries trying to get outdated microfiche machines to work.

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  10. I find that my own colleagues can be the biggest offenders of this! One in particular (who left our Comprehensive Regional Liberal Arts...erm...something or other classified University for a R1, ugh) kept telling me to GIVE my online class away and work for U of Phoenix...ya know, because I'd make loads of money for no work.

    Sigh.

    I didn't have the heart ot point out that the biggest reason I teach the course online is because it saves his (and the rest of the department's ass) when they tally up the data for all of their underenrolled courses.

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  11. "Oh, you're not teaching this term? So I guess you're on vacation then, right?"
    and
    "Oh, you teach a class for 6 hours each week? So, you work only 6 hours a week?"

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  12. That someone who has read something somewhere sometime knows as much as I do about a topic I have spent years researching.

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    1. This. It happened once during a delicate internal exam for which I had prepared with massive laxatives. The doctor decided to engage me in conversation and then disagreed with my entire discipline because of his "research" which consisted of going to church. Did I mention he was literally up my ass?

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  13. That watching the History Channel makes you an historian, and you can challenge the prof. based in what you learned (!) there.

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  14. That I don't have a choice about where I teach. For years my in-laws kept asking why I didn't teach at one of the colleges in my city of residence (instead of commuting 70 miles round-trip to the place where I had a TT position and later, tenure). I patiently explained that the nearby colleges (a) would be very unlikely to hire one of their own recent graduates; or (b) didn't have an opening that year. They seemed to think I was rationalizing when I described the bureaucratic maze of getting a position approved.

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  15. The pest guy has it better. He gets to kill his pests, they don't come back the following semester.

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