Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why Do Professors Work So Much?

Philip Nel, who, by the way, wrote a great book on Dr. Seuss, explores this question at Inside Higher Ed. Here is a taste:

As I am writing this article, I should be writing something else: an email to an editor, an email to an author, a letter of recommendation, notes for tomorrow’s classes, comments on students’ papers, comments on manuscripts, an abstract for an upcoming conference, notes for one of the books I’m working on. I cannot remember the last time I ended a day having crossed everything off my to-do list.

Nel suggests a few reasons why we work too much.  Check out his piece to see how he develops these points:

1.  Habit
2.  Economics
3.  Busy-ness is built into academic work
4.  Academic work can be fun
5.  Technology is both a help and a hindrance
6.  There is a thin boundary between "work" and "not-work"

And here is Nel's conclusion:

My other point is that we need time to think. I mean this quite literally: thought requires time. Ideas need some idle, nonproductive space in which to thrive. This kind of sustained thinking is an important part of being human, but it’s also vital for good academic work. Peter Higgs, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the Higgs boson, recently said that the imperative to publish all the time would disqualify him from contemporary academe. “Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough,” he observed. “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”
Though university administrators may not want to hear me say it, we need to encourage people to become less productive. Make time to not work. Make time to think. Make time simply to be.