In thinking about the year ahead, I’m trying to think carefully about how I allocate my time. It’s so easy to let teaching overwhelm me: it’s obvious that the students need this and that, and I see them at least once a week, they’re there, they have expectations. Scholars and editors are not on my doorstep, begging me for contributions; my colleagues don’t ask how research is going; research doesn’t create the same overwhelming pressures that teaching does. But let’s do the numbers, thinking not about what I (or my colleagues) really do, but about what we get paid for: I’m on contract from August 15 to May 15, or for 39 weeks. In that time, we get at least five federal holidays; let’s just call it five, for easy computation: 38 weeks. Assuming 40-hour weeks (which is after all the standard American work-week, though salaried employees don’t get overtime and are supposed to just get the job done however long it takes), that comes out to 38 x 40 = 1520 hours.

I’m evaluated at 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service: in other words, despite the beliefs of some students, state legislators, and others, research is a hefty chunk of my job. I’m supposed to put in 608 hours on it over those 39 weeks I’m on contract, and 608 hours on teaching. (And 304 on service.) At five courses per year, that’s 121.6 hours per class, including face time, prep time, grading, and whatever else goes into a class. Classes meet 2.5 hours per week, over a 15-week semester, plus a two-hour final exam time: 39.5 hours of face time in the semester. That leaves me 82.1 hours to prep and grade for each course; allowing 10 hours of pre-semester planning (which seems like not enough, but never mind that for the moment), that yields less than five hours per week per class to grade, prepare, and hold office hours.

And let’s not forget serving on M.A. exam committees and Ph.D. candidacy exams, which also count as teaching. I don’t do those every year, but some years I have more than one such committee. I pick some of the texts, devise questions, consult with the other committee members, read the exams, meet with students who failed. Ten hours total? It’s not a huge amount, but again, it’s time not spent on the courses I’m actually teaching that term.

Grading alone usually takes a lot more time than five hours a week (on average). This is why most of us work at our research in the breaks between semesters, and why many of us let teaching fill our lives during the term. But I’m staring at these numbers, thinking that I should work out assignments that can be graded in the time I theoretically have available for grading, and spend 19.2 hours a week, over the next 19 weeks, on research, to reach my spring-term (2-course semester) quota of 364.8 hours.

I won’t be able to do it. For one thing, time goes on a lot of other things that are work, but don’t contribute to “production” in any of the three categories: reading and answering e-mail may have to do with any of the three, but answering a student’s e-mail message decreases the time available for grading, as does walking a handout down to the office to be copied; sending a query about the availability of a manuscript contributes to future research, but it doesn’t increase the word count on a conference paper; responding to a colleague’s query may make the next meeting go more smoothly, but it doesn’t make the meeting any shorter.

Research will get made up in the summer, as it always does. Still: I’m keeping an eye on these numbers as I plan my classes and my work schedule.

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One thought on “Looking ahead

  1. Your calculations are fascinating–and somewhat depressing, too. As others have pointed out elsewhere, the standard 40-hour workweek might not be a realistic baseline for professors, but we have to have some kind of baseline, don't we, if we're to try to figure out how to allocate our time and contribute meaningfully in teaching AND research AND service–and have time for rest and renewal as well?Happy New Year–wishing you 8,760 happy, healthy hours until next year at this time!

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