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.
To be honest, if I could find a job that let me make my own hours I’d be sorely tempted to leave academia; I’ve seriously considered a few administrative jobs that would give me some teaching responsibilities (and I have one on my stack of “applications to be sent” at present), but, at a fundamental level, the flexibility to make my own schedule within reason probably is more important to me than the privilege of teaching bright young people.
That said, since said non-academic jobs appear to be largely nonexistent, I suspect I’ll be in the academy for quite a bit longer—so long as anyone will have me, of course.