Education

Research? Ain’t nobody got time for that

The secret life of your professor

While you might be wondering why it takes your professors soooo long to reply to your emails, we went to see what is actually keeping them busy. The short answer: a lot.
By Valeska Schietinger and Jacob Thorburn

RUG professors do research while scarfing down rush lunches, dash from meeting to never-ending meeting, and barely get time for bathroom breaks. The UKrant shadowed two professors to see what a day in the life of RUG educator is really like. Turns out, it’s busy.

A full-time contract officially entails a 40-hour-week. But a professor’s work often goes over time on workdays and spills into the evenings and weekends. There are hours of curriculum prep and responding to emails that are not included in the regular work week. And that’s the case across departments.

Why? Because actually teaching is only the tip of the iceberg; RUG professors also responsible for a laundry list of time-consuming tasks outside of the classroom.

Meetings

The most time-consuming? Meetings. There are conferences, department meetings, mandatory Dutch classes, student appointments, skype calls with colleagues from all over the world. You name it, your professor has probably sat through it.

‘Officially these types of meetings are considered “administration”’, says Julia Martínez-Ariño, assistant professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. Depending on the period of the academic year, ‘administration’ can swallow up a lot of time.

‘It peaks and valleys’, says Scott Eldridge II, assistant professor in Media Studies and Journalism at the Faculty of Arts. At the time, they were preparing for an accreditation visit – which means a lot more time in meetings than usual.

Regular faculty meetings are manageable enough, says professor Jeanne Mifsud Bonnici, professor at the Faculty of Law, but ‘project meetings can take up at least of fifth of my time.’

At least a fifth of my time is taken up

And all the time that professors spend on meetings, class prep, supervising, and teaching is time they aren’t spending on their research.

That’s a struggle, says professor Brigit Toebes at the Faculty of Law. ‘To read into new subjects and really understand them to make the next step in your research is incredibly time consuming.’

Sacrifice

Often, professors sacrifice that precious time to serve their students. ‘You’d probably find that most of us would sooner make sacrifices on our end than on theirs’, says Eldridge.

A lot of the inclination to sacrifice research time is a result of how teaching and research hours are allotted. Teaching is a fixed part of their schedules; research is something they fit in where they can get it in. Often, it’s the first thing to go.

‘There is nowhere else to cut from’, he explains. ‘This is why students don’t hear much from us over exam breaks, over the summer, or during teaching-free blocks. We are trying to cram everything else in’.

And so many professors feel pressure to take work home every evening, although this is officially not expected of them.

‘But otherwise, you can’t do it’, says Mifsud Bonnici. Checking emails after breakfast, going to work for eight hours, and then sneaking in another two hours of work after dinner amount to a ‘normal day’.

‘I try not to work in the evenings’, says Toebes. But Sundays often end up a full work day. ‘It is not really possible to have a 40-hour work week’, she says.

Mifsud Bonnici agrees: ‘An 8-hour work day is not realistic. Most of my days average 10 or 11 hours, which still isn’t enough time to manage all the things I need to do.’

They like it

But business aside, they all really like their jobs. ‘Sometimes I tell my students that I might look like a nerd when I teach, because I am very engaged’, says Martínez-Ariño. ‘But it is because I like what I do, and I try to transmit that passion to them.’

Toebes says she finds interacting with students really inspirational. ‘They give me new ideas all the time.’

And Mifsud Bonnici? She loves the way the academic community brings so many people together. ‘I am still very happy in my job. In any other life, I would still choose to be a lawyer and an academic.’

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