Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

From the New York Times, a nice Labor Day reflection on why we choose the academic life:

On paper, the academic life looks great. As many as 15 weeks off in the summer, four in the winter, one in the spring, and then, usually, only three days a week on campus the rest of the time. Anybody who tells you this wasn�t part of the lure of a job in higher education is lying. But one finds out right away in graduate school that in fact the typical professor logs an average of 60 hours a week, and the more successful professors work even more � including not just 14-hour days during the school year, but 10-hour days in the summer as well.

Why, then, does there continue to be a glut of fresh Ph.D.�s? It isn�t the pay scale, which, with a few lucky exceptions, offers the lowest years-of-education-to-income ratio possible. It isn�t really the work itself, either. Yes, teaching and research are rewarding, but we face as much drudgery as in any professional job. Once you�ve read 10,000 freshman essays, you�ve read them all.

But we academics do have something few others possess in this postindustrial world: control over our own time. All the surveys point to this as the most common factor in job satisfaction. The jobs in which decisions are made and the pace set by machines provide the least satisfaction, while those, like mine, that foster at least the illusion of control provide the most.

Left to our own devices, we seldom organize our time with 8-to-5 discipline. The pre-industrial world of agricultural and artisan labor was structured by what the historian E. P. Thompson calls �alternate bouts of intense labor and of idleness wherever men were in control of their working lives.� Agricultural work was seasonal, interrupted by rain, forced into hyperactivity by the threat of rain, and determined by other uncontrollable natural processes. The force of long cultural habit ensured that the change from such discontinuous tasks to the regimented labor of the factory never went particularly smoothly.

In 1877 a New York cigar manufacturer grumbled that his cigar makers could never be counted on to do a straight shift�s work. They would �come down to the shop in the morning, roll a few cigars,� he complained to The New York Herald, �and then go to a beer saloon and play pinochle or some other game.� The workers would return when they pleased, roll a few more cigars, and then revisit the saloon, all told �working probably two or three hours a day.� Cigar makers in Milwaukee went on strike in 1882 simply to preserve their right to leave the shop at any time without their foreman�s permission.

Certainly the flexibility, the control over my time, the variety of schedules that changed day to day and semester to semester, these all drew me to teaching college, were a big part of the reason I turned down a better paying, better benefits position teaching high school.

Though I’m finding stay at home mom also offers commensurate perks. Plus a cute as buttons baby to play with.

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