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College professor: What's it like?

mo24mo24 Posts: 329Registered User Member
What's it like to be a college professor?

I'm not yet in college, but i'm curious about what kind of work-life professors have. Is there a big difference in pay/lifestyle between an undergraduate and graduate professor?

How many hours per week does a single college professor generally spend teaching class?

Are many professors employed during the summer months too?

Would the average professor generally have plenty of time to conduct research during the standard '9 to '5 work hours, or is it typically after-hours?
Post edited by mo24 on

Replies to: College professor: What's it like?

  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    What's it like to be a college professor?

    If you're fighting for tenure, it can be rough. But once you get tenure, it's a gravy train because, with only a few exceptions, you are basically guaranteed a job for life. From that point on, as long as you complete the bare minimum of tasks (i.e teaching classes assigned to you, sitting on assigned committees,etc.), you can't be fired. Even if you do your job terribly, you still can't be fired.
    I'm not yet in college, but i'm curious about what kind of work-life professors have. Is there a big difference in pay/lifestyle between an undergraduate and graduate professor?

    Undergrad and grad prof is basically the same. In fact, except in the LAC's, most undergrad profs ARE also grad profs.
    How many hours per week does a single college professor generally spend teaching class?

    Say maybe 6-8 hours per week of actual lecture time (teaching 2 classes a semester), maybe another 6-8 of administrative work for those classes. It's fairly easy going.

    Note, if it's your first time teaching the class, and especially if it's the first time that anybody at your school has ever taught the class, then you will have to spend a lot of time developing lecture materials. But after you've done that, then every subsequent session of that class is just a repeat of itself (with some edits), so you can spend much less time preparing materials.
    Are many professors employed during the summer months too?

    You can teach summer classes to make extra money. But most profs conduct research during the summer. Some (especially the tenured ones) take the whole summer off.
    Would the average professor generally have plenty of time to conduct research during the standard '9 to '5 work hours, or is it typically after-hours?

    Some during regular hours, some during after-hours.
  • karthikkitokarthikkito Posts: 1,387Registered User Senior Member
    Some during regular hours, some during after-hours.

    But before tenure, all the time :).

    (minus teaching and occasionally sleeping!)
  • afanafan Posts: 1,686Registered User Senior Member
    Well, Sakky's summary is true for the bare minimum, but people who get tenure are not likely, by personality, to be interested in the bare minimum. At the most venal, although once tenured you are assured a job, your salary will still depend on productivity. Do nothing for years, and your real income can plummet. In order to stay at the top of the field- and get promoted from associate to full professor, get books published, get speaking invitations, etc. you have to work hard at your research. Scientists cannot take the summer off because they have labs to run.

    The non-scientist tenured profs I know who "take the whole summer off" spend that time doing the reading and writing that they do not have time for during the year.

    Traditional tenure is becoming even harder to come by. Universities don't want dead weight hanging around. So increasingly tenure is something only available to star performers, with more and more faculty on renewable contracts. Even at the top research U's, there is a tendancy to use non-tenure track faculty for much of teaching and research, and reserve tenure only for the best of the best. These people look upon tenure as a minor note of recognition occuring early in their careers, not the major goal of their lives.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Well, Sakky's summary is true for the bare minimum, but people who get tenure are not likely, by personality, to be interested in the bare minimum. At the most venal, although once tenured you are assured a job, your salary will still depend on productivity. Do nothing for years, and your real income can plummet. In order to stay at the top of the field- and get promoted from associate to full professor, get books published, get speaking invitations, etc. you have to work hard at your research. Scientists cannot take the summer off because they have labs to run.

    True, if you want to stay at the top of your field, you have to do all those things. But many profs are not interested in that. Many become far more interested in their money-making side businesses, such that they basically do no research and do the absolute bare minimum just to keep tenure. Nor do they particularly care about being promoted or increasing their professorial salary, because frankly, that is a drop in the bucket compared to what many of them (especially in business, enginering, economics, many of the natural sciences) can make on the side. That's where the real money is. If you get promoted to associate prof to full prof, your salary may go up by 25k. Maybe. However, you might make 250k or more per year as a consultant on the side.

    To give you an example, I know one prof at MIT who shall remain nameless who basically hasn't done any research in years - he hasn't published anything, doesn't WANT to publish anything, and is basically not interested in doing any research at all. He doesn't particularly want to teach either. MIT even threatened him by stating that if he didn't teach a class, they would revoke his tenure. So he began teaching a light summer class (when most students are gone), and he doesn't even really teach it - he brings in his old graduate students and guest lecturers to do almost all of the actual teaching. Instead, he spends all of his time on the venture capital firm of which he is a partner, as well as dealing with all of the startup companies in which that firm invests in.

    Charles Ferguson talks extensively about the side consulting money that many profs make in his book High Stakes, No Prisoners:

    "LECG (the Law and Economics Consulting Group) is the largest corporate antitrust consulting firm in the United states with revenues of more than $50 million [in 1999]...Rich Gilbert [Professor and current Chair of Economics at UCBerkeley] was a founder of LECG. When he entered the government [by taking a leave of absence from Berkeley to become senior Economist at the Department of Justice in 1993], he sold his LECG stock back to LECG, thus avoiding conflict of interest restrictions. Then, when he left Justice two years later, he repurchased it; his LECG stock is now worth more than $30 million. [Two other senior economists at the DoJ, Carl Shapiro and Dan Rubinfeld, were, not coincidentally, also Berkeley Professors of Economics, and were also members of LECG]. Carl Shapiro formed his own antitrust consulting firm with Michael Katz, another Berkeley professor who had just been the chief economist of the FCC. Their firm, the Tilden Group, was recently acquired by the other large corporate antitrust consulting firm, Charles River Associates. Katz and another Berkeley professor, Glenn woroch, run a research project, the Consotium for Research on Telecommunications Policy, which is funded almost entirely by the Ameritech Foundation (now run by SBC/AT&T). Woroch also consults for BellSouth. Daniel Rubinfeld, the Justice chief economist until late 1998, owned more than $6 million in LECG stock while working for Justice, representing the overhwleming majority of his personal wealth. LECG's newest seniors partner is Laura Tyson, the [former] dean of UCBerkeley's business school [and now the dean of the London Business School], who is also a director of Ameritech and was the chairwoman of the National Economic Council in the first Clinton administration.

    Berkeley is in no way unique. MIT's Jerry Hausman recently published a highly polemic paper in a Brookings volume, attacking the FCC for not giving the telephone monopolies more freedom in the Internet industry. What Hausman did not mention in the paper is that he has received millions of dollars from the telecommunications industry foe regulatory consulting and expert testimony. NYU's William Baumol, another famous economist and a past president of the American Economic Association, has a confidential consulting veresion of his curriculum vita containing a fifty-page supplement listing his expert witness engagements, for which he is paid more than one thousand dollars per hour...Peter Temin, former chair of the MIT Economics Department, has consulted for AT&T on antitrust and regulatory matters since the 1970's. Robert Crandall [former professor of economics at MIT, George Washington, and the University of Maryland and current Brookings fellow], consults for Bell Atlantic [now Verizon]."

    - pages 346-347, "High Stakes, No Prisoners", Charles Ferguson.

    "...Frank Fisher, a professor at MIT...has practically made a career out of corporate antitrust consulting..." - p. 322"


    The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of tenured profs who are just not interested in performing academic research, preferring to do other things, like making money on the side. True, they're not sitting on the beach doing nothing, but they're also not really doing anything academic. They're just enriching themselves through private engagements, and they're basically using their position as a prof at a major university as an advertising tool to attract more consulting clients. For example, every single prof at Harvard Business School can make a fortune on the side as a consultant because there are boatloads of small, VC-backed companies out there who would hire them just to be able to SAY that their business model is approved by a Harvard Business School prof. The same can be said for the profs at any other top business school.

    My simple point is this. Being a tenured prof is a very nice deal. Is tenure hard to get? Sure. But if you can get it, it's all gravy. Contrast that with private sector jobs where there is NO concept of tenure, and in which you can get fired for any reason or no reason. Heck, there are some companies out there where the BEST employees are actually likely to get fired, because some managers may see these employees as being so good that they are actually dangerous because they are a threat to replace the managers. The private sector has no job security. But academic tenure gives you that security. That security is a very big deal, as anybody who has ever been laid off knows quite well.
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