Anthropologist John Ziker decided to try to find out. With his collaborators — Matt Genuchi, Kathryn Demps, and David — Nolin Ziker recruited a non-random sample of 16 professors at Boise State University and scheduled interviews with them every other day for 14 days. In each interview, they reported how they spent their time the previous day. In total, he collected data for 166 days.
It’s a small, non-random sample at just one university, but here’s what he discovered.
All ranks worked over 40 hours a week (average of 61 hours/week) and all ranks put in a substantial number of hours over the weekends:
Professors, then, worked 51 hours during the official workweek and then, in addition, put in ten hours over the weekend.
What were they doing those days? Research, teaching, and service are the three pillars of an academic workload and they dominated professors’ time. They used weekends, in particular, to catch up on the first two. The suspension of the business of the university over the weekend gave them a chance to do the other two big parts of their job.
This chart breaks down the proportion of time they spend on different activities more clearly. Ziker is surprised by the amount of time faculty spend in meetings and I’m particularly impressed by the amount of time they spend on email. Most professors will probably note, with chagrin, the little bars for primary research and manuscript writing.
This was just a first phase, so we can look forward to more data in the future. In the meantime, I’ll add this data to my preferred answer when asked what I do all day:
Cross-posted at Business Insider, Pacific Standard, Networked Scholar, and the Huffington Post.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Karen Schaumann-Beltran — April 23, 2014
Except finals week. Then our hours skyrocket. What about grading? I did not see this on the chart.
Meg — April 23, 2014
What's the gender breakdown?
Frank — April 23, 2014
Study disregards the vast majority of academic instructional staff. Just over 76% of academic instructional staff is "contingent" (i.e., full-time non-tenure-track and part-time).
Equity Advocate — April 23, 2014
What about adjunct faculty? They count too. And as the comment below mentions, contingent faculty are the majority. Adjuncts alone make up more than half of the faculty nationwide.
Bill R — April 24, 2014
Looks like a hard-working group. Good to see...
PeterJ42 — April 24, 2014
Read that first paragraph again. Then change the headline. You have not reported on what professors do. You have reported on what they say they do.
The difference is that between science and pseudoscience. Voxpops are not science, just PR.
Brian — April 24, 2014
Exactly, ask any professor/teacher and they will tell you they are the hardest working person ever. Watch them on a daily basis and you will have another story entirely.
Granite Sentry — April 24, 2014
Definitely need to send a Jane Goodall in there with a notebook and Leica to study them in their native environment: grooming each other, fighting for dominance, forming hunting packs to kill gender-studies deniers, mating rituals.
Bwack N Squork — April 24, 2014
Can't help but notice that "Randomly and aimlessly browse the interwebs" wasn't one of the listed activities. Everyone knows that's what most people, professors or otherwise, do all day.
Sidney b — April 24, 2014
Judging by the comments, professors are not a very loved bunch!
Mirlee — April 24, 2014
From my vantage point, I see the teaching faculty engaged in some teaching related activity all the time. The schedule may be a little more flexible than the 9-5 job, but to get to this level you have to be willing to put in long hours and essentially work all the time. All faculty are required to research, publish, and present at conferences as much as possible. Of course, then there are the meetings for curriculum development, general staff meetings, meetings to discuss progress of the Ph. D. candidates, meetings with students, and the meetings for various university-related committees and appointments which we all have.
As an adjunct and a faculty member in another department, I have a different experience than the rest of the teaching faculty. I have no
teaching assistant to help with managing the onslaught of email I get on
a daily basis, the grading, or any other issue that might crop up
between class meeting times. Grading assignments takes up a considerable
amount of time. I also have to incorporate research, service, and the
actual teaching into my schedule. If I really think about what happens
in my week during teaching semesters, I spend over 40 hours doing my
regular day job and an additional 30 or more on teaching duties. I also have to attend the same meetings the regular teaching faculty attend and have similar appointments.
PrairieCowboy — April 24, 2014
I would believe this study if it said 31 hours a week, but 60+ is ego driven make believe. Silly waste of time that faculty associations across the land will quote as they whine how hard done by they are.
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Joy — April 24, 2014
I am disappointed that adjuncts aren't included... they work even more with less help. But, for those who think professors just sit around, you are totally mistaken. We really do work that many hours and do many, many things most people never see. And they didn't give a slot for grading, which takes up an enormous amount of time, especially in classes like English composition.
slk5 — April 24, 2014
what do professors do all day??? you don't think, a whole generation of college students, just woke up one morning, and decided to impliment the United "state" of America!!! prof brent terry of eastern state conn univ, ranted last week, that if the racist, misogynist, money grubbing conservatives gain control of congress, they will close down colleges!!! our schools ae filled with these supposedly "bright" people!!! just how hitler turned a whole country, by getting to the youth!!! God Save America!!!
DorothyP — April 24, 2014
Meetings are the inner-most circle of modern hell.
N. — April 24, 2014
*You will be annoyed how academic live correlates to primates tribes. Or maybe you already noticed it! ;)
ScienceDuck — April 24, 2014
Tenure-track faculty have jobs with many advantages. Flexible hours, work in an area you are passionate about. The chance to make a difference in someone else's life. I think most faculty work hard. However, the difficulty of that work clearly doesn't compare to being a waiter, construction, or even many non-physical jobs out there. On the other hand, I am a research faculty and have taken leaves to start up technical companies. The faculty job is much harder and the pay is lower! But it has merits that are compelling, such as creative freedom.
I do think the time percentages involved are interesting and point to how the institutional demands have consumed faculty time more than it should. The focus should be on research, mentoring and teaching, not committees. And adjunct faculty have more fundamental needs that should be addressed.
Fulton F Fortner — April 24, 2014
We know professors are probably noodling around online in their office most of the time, just like half their students.
Here's something more troubling to me...
Grandpa Jones — April 24, 2014
I've known quite a few in my years at a state college, got two degrees. None of them seemed like slackers to me. In fact, most were above and beyond, committed, passionate, and hard working. Not all were full professors either- many of them were adjunct. I do recall one that seemed kinda lazy. But he taught art, so... In general, there are all kinds of institutions and people in them and I'd say they work longer hours than most folks. They have a lot of complicated problems and commitments coming at them from all angles. They are accountable to their students, peers, and deans, staff and faculty. Many positions, especially adjuncts, don't get paid a lot.
Proud to be educated — April 24, 2014
I wonder how many of you/us have been educated by those lazy ass twits. It is amazing that we acquired any skills as those lazy liberals were trying warp our minds and make us into raging liberals :-)
Dan — April 24, 2014
Adjuncts are noticeably absent from the rank list. I am curious how the adjunct pool compares... oh yes... we are teaching all of the 8 am classes and core classes, on multiple campuses, for a pittance whilst full-time faculty are answering their e-mail.
jim birch — April 24, 2014
I'd like to add my own strongly held uninformed opinion but I don't like being part of the me too crowd.
Damn Skippy — April 24, 2014
This just in! 100% of Freshman Fraternity members report having sex at least 7 times a week with multiple females. A non random sample of fraternity brothers publically polled last Friday night at Babydolls Gentleman's Lounge, found that fraternity brothers are (on average) having sex at least once a night with multiple partners simultaneously. When asked for some camera video, most members declined out of "respect for their intimate partners." In a related story, 90% of sorority sisters self reported that they were virgins on their wedding night. More research must be done to verify their claims.
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John Bolender — April 29, 2014
I think the results would be more reliable if the professors somehow were not aware that they were being studied.
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Ruth Staus — April 30, 2014
I am not a Social Scientist so am unable to comment on social science methodology but as a professor I am pretty alarmed at the fact that these professors spend more time on e-mail and meetings than on instruction or scholarly work ( which, sadly, has also been my experience). When does teaching become the focus of what we do in education? What would education look like in the US if teaching was our number one priority?
Bagelsan — May 1, 2014
Oh jeez. I might not be a professor but I can still understand that this "study" is virtually worthless. Unless Ziker then goes on to track these professors' actual working times and compares the two -- and wouldn't that be interesting! -- this article should be titled "What Do Some Professors Say They Do Some Days?" I'd be frankly embarrassed if my profession tried to represent its diligence in this way; it pretty neatly proves the reverse of the conclusion, by claiming that professors are working very hard ...with a professor's lazily acquired data set.
This is like asking college kids on their class evaluations how many hours of studying they put in each day on every class and then having their grades depend on the number they report. You're going to measure an astonishingly hard-working bunch of students that way, raw test scores and actual learning and frequency of Facebook visits be damned.
It would be much better to, if not randomize the sample, at least have some sort of vaguely-impartial observer involved to spot-check the schedules. Perhaps the latest anthropological theory is that people have perfect memories, perceive time accurately, and report all of their actions honestly? Was that theory based on self-reporting too?
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PeterJ42 — June 10, 2014
I did a little bit of research today. I found that the top ten US Universities receive $8 billion in funding and are also allocated $54 billion in research grants.
So they are certainly costing the taxpayer plenty.
But there is another question. Once knowledge was rare and those who had it earned a premium. Now that knowledge is free and widespread, what is the true value of teaching?
gladtobeoutofit — June 11, 2014
How much time is spent arguing with other academics with the simple aim of having the last word? (never mind achieving universal truth!)
point — September 3, 2014
Matches what I did as a professor at a state research school.
I can’t wait for universities to all only have standing meetings. This would cut that WASTE of time down by at least 50%! (Older full professors and emeritus faculty or disabled can, of course sit.)
What is shocking, and they missed it in this article, is that often service and administration are the same thing. So nearly 25% of time is spent with paperwork and bureaucracy. Granted, registering students, promoting the program, touring prospective students, giving talks at conferences, etc. could all be purely service depending on how a school defines things. It can vary.
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Reader of comments — March 26, 2015
Thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it.
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q — October 9, 2019
Je ne pense pas que je mérite beaucoup de crédit', a déclaré Bumgarner.
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