What we do all day

I was finishing a gym workout the other day when a fellow exerciser popped the question:
“What the heck do you professors do all day when you’re not teaching?”
Well, it wasn’t really a question, more of a challenge from the so-called real world that insinuates college teachers sit on their butts dozing while the rest of the world does, well, the real work.
There’s no better answer to the question than a specific one. I charted my activities for a few days, described thusly:

Wednesday, October 25
8:15-8:30: Prepare for Board of Student Publications meeting.
8:30-9:30: Board of Student Publications. Footnote: I am faculty representative of the student-dominated board (when they show up) which oversees the Spectrum.
9:30-9:45: Read and respond to e-mail.
9:45-10:15: Review COMM 112 lecture.
10:15-11: Prepare lecture material for student on-line discussion group.
11-noon: Institute for Regional Studies, book proofreading. Footnote: Most NDSU professors have a variety of responsibilities besides teaching. For me, it includes producing books for the Institute, the university’s arm of publishing and outreach.
Noon-12:30: lunch. Read journals.
12:30-1:20: Department meeting.
1:30-2:20: Class, COMM 112.
1:30-1:45: Correspondence.
2-4:30: Research. Footnote: All new faculty must publish research at NDSU, or face non-renewal of contract. My specialty is journalism history, but I find very little time during the school year to do research. This two and one-half-hour chunk is unusual.
4:30-5: Meet two students and telephone one student requesting academic advising.

Thursday, Oct. 26
9-9:30: Read e-mail, return telephone messages.
9:30-10:20: Review graduate material. Footnote: In my role as the department’s director of graduate studies, I need to shuffle paper for our master’s students, currently numbering more than four dozen, and an average of one or two applicants a week. NDSU seldom offers extra money for these added roles, but will give what’s called “release time”—one or more fewer classes to teach than the “normal load.” In fact, I teach one less class a year as compensation for this role.
10:20-11: Prepare on-line lecture synopsis.
11-11:30: Research.
11:30-1: Lunch and workout at gym.
1-1:15: Meet with student regarding academic questions.
1:15-1:45: Write student letters of recommendation.
1:45-2: Pick up video for class.
2-3: Research.
3-3:30: Meet two prospective students concerning minors.
3:30-3:50: Research.
3:50-5: Graduate prospectus committee meeting. Footnote: All Ph.D.-level professors are expected to serve as primary advisor to at least a couple graduate students, and serve on a number of graduate committees. Graduate advising requires a substantial amount of time for critical reading and responding to theses; some professors spend more teaching time here than in actual, lecture-based classes.

General observations: Time spent in various activities may vary widely from this snapshot of two days’ work; for instance, at mid-term and semester’s end grading blocks out the major portion of the days, and I spend considerably more time planning the semester’s lectures at the beginning of term. Committee work may chew through most of my research time one week, and I spend a chunk of time in devising internet-based curriculum ideas.

Collecting together this web page material takes about a day, and meeting with prospective students by request of the admissions office averages an hour a week. I work one night a week this semester teaching a night class. While other professors routinely take work home, I try to finish here, and to keep my average hours at about 40, summer and winter. Many professors work longer hours; perhaps some work shorter. By contract I am not required to be on campus summers, but that’s the bulk of my research time, and work for the Institute as well as for many graduate students doesn’t end in May. Teaching at university level is a lot more than standing in front of students.

Copyright 2004 by Ross F. Collins <www.ndsu.edu/communication/collins>