Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Why academics also hate meetings

James Joyner at OTB discusses an article by Paul Graham on why certain classes of people hate meetings; while programmers and writers are cited by name, I also think the complaint applies to academics (many of whom—among the social and hard sciences—are both, compounding the problem). Or, as one of my ex-bosses once put it, work is what we do between meetings.

The article also inadvertently explains why the absolute worst teaching schedule possible for an academic who has a research expectation features 1–2 hour breaks between classes. As currently constituted, my schedule for the fall, with classes at 9:30 (MWF), 12:30 (MW) and 4:30 (MW), seems almost explicitly designed to ensure I will not be productive at all on Mondays or Wednesdays. On the other hand, at least that leaves plenty of time for the other useless academic time-suck—office hours.† (You almost cannot imagine the cheer that went up when we learned that we only have four scheduled office hours per week required next year rather than our current six.)

Update: † For people who haven’t been here before, I hoist the following clarification up from the comments:

What I think is [useless] is the 5 hours and 50 minutes I sit in my office in the average week when there are no students around but—because theoretically a student might appear out of the ether—I could be interrupted at any time, so can’t immerse myself in a project. … [T]here is no reason in this day and age why students can’t simply schedule a meeting with a professor if they really need to meet them one-on-one.

In point of fact, I actually go out of my way to encourage students to visit during office hours or meet with me before or after class if they need to discuss something with me; while I frequently talk to students immediately prior to or after class, the number of unique office visitors I see in a semester is usually countable on one hand. And most of them have already told me they are coming to visit, thus defeating the point of having “drop-in” hours. If anything, I’d prefer it if more students did come to my office hours unannounced, but since virtually none bother it seems like a waste of time for all involved.