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:
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.