Academic Monday: What Do You Need?

I am now much happier than I was when I started this post because the electrician came and fixed the electricity. Now I can, for instance, take a tepid, not a freezing shower if I want to, and if it is dark, I have light in the bathroom. This is after twelve days.

That, perhaps, is why I was thinking that while everyone else posts on what professors should do, I would rather think about what we need. These are the things I think you need to survive in the profession and do well. Not all of them are easily attainable, however.

Some faculty will read my list and say I clearly have desires too bourgeois to be a serious academic. Others will be amazed that I am willing to admit I have working conditions which impelled me to even think about some of the items on this list.


1. Really nutritious food at regular intervals. Otherwise you are weak. It is not always easy to get or afford such food, however.
Superman-style workouts. You have to be bionic. However, with the kind of work week professors, doctors, and lawyers have the lack of time for such workouts is not always just an excuse.
Nine hours of sleep every night. Again, this is not always allowed.
Cultural enrichment that really is enriching. This is rarely available.
Visits with friends who are really friends, not just social contacts. These are very difficult to arrange.


1. A good city and/or a good spouse. You cannot live by yourself and handle an academic job in the country, in the suburbs, and/or in a red state. The only successful people I have ever seen do this have spouses helping them materially and/or financially. If you expect to have any sort of career you should marry a portable and supportive person in graduate school.
At least one of these: a light teaching schedule, a library, or a very large budget for books and journals. You cannot travel to libraries on a heavy teaching schedule, nor is interlibrary loan designed to replace a standard collection.
Good, responsible students, enough of whom are majoring in your field (or in allied fields) so that they have some familiarity with it. These are far less draining than other kinds of students, especially lower division students taking required courses.
Academic freedom, freedom from harassment, and competent management offering both support and autonomy as well as doing its part to make the university look like one such.
A large enough salary that you do not have to spend too much intellectual energy on the question of how to get through the second half of the month and that you do not think twice about seeing a doctor when sick.


1. A large enough salary to have a reliable car, unless you live where these are absolutely unnecessary.
A large enough salary not to have to put off minor home repairs, if you live in an area where buying is more easily affordable than renting.
Travel funds. It would be nice to be able to go to a conference a year, and go on a modest vacation, and visit home — not to have to chose only one of these, or choose two and combine them.

I would like to read Eric Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University, and discuss it on a Reading for Pleasure Wednesday.


12 thoughts on “Academic Monday: What Do You Need?

  1. Going part time means saying good bye to research and upper level / graduate teaching … unless you’re in a position to be a gentleman scholar, and your work is so influential that they have you teaching interesting courses without being a professor! It also means saying good bye to having any influence in the institution, in sum, good bye to most of the things people who became professors wanted to do.

    Part timers are contingent labor — those are the people who teach the extra sections of English composition for non-majors, things like that that are funded two days before classes start. Unless they have a regular 40 hour job and then teach these things at night, they piece together a poor living by commuting among different institutions all day. See Marc Bosquet’s work on this:

    1. The Australian system is different. For instance one of my supervisors is only part time. It’s the same job as for full time doctors.

  2. I don’t think you need so much money to live on in Perth. For instance, I am considering whether I can survive, once the scholarship is cut off, on just the meagre ESL tutoring that I do, and Mike’s pension. It seems that we can survive on this, although, obviously, without (m)any luxuries.

  3. Aha — then that means this person’s professional expenses are taken care of by the institution, or that there’s grant money available (the granting agencies don’t refuse to fund you if your institution isn’t giving you the basics). I believe I might rather like Australia if this is the case.

    In the U.S. the “sticker shock” of no longer having things like health insurance that come with being a registered student, and of having by law to contribute to retirement systems when you have a job, and of the many and varied professional expenses you are suddenly responsible for as a professor, is quite large. It’s worse yet in Latin America.

    I wouldn’t believe it when I was still a student if the person who said this (one who had already launched as faculty elsewhere) were not the stoic type: “We’ve been broke before, but never this broke.”

  4. Yes. It seems she travels and also takes study leave, whilst working part time. Also health here is very accessible. You can phone a doctor, and usually get an appointment on the same day, except if it is during the holiday season. If you are considered low income, you can also get necessary operations done for free, although in some instances there is a slight bottleneck for certain kinds of operations. Generally, you are 95% likely to get the operation you need done on time. So university teachers here can often find a good arrangement, although school teachers here are more in the position you describe of having to shell out a great deal from their own pockets in order to teach their students.

  5. Quite interesting. I wonder if being part time, her opinions hold weight and so on; does she go to meetings and does she have a vote, etc.

    1. No idea, but I presume they do, or at least to the degree that she gets to operate quite effectively.

      The system in Australia, by the way, does not call everybody “professors”. I’m not sure if this is true in the US. Here you start off as a lecturer, and proceed to the status of senior lecturer after four or five years. It takes about 15 years to become a professor, from what I can gather, if all goes well.

      1. Yes, the British and post British system is different and I haven’t fully figured out how one distinguishes between senior lecturers and readers, or whether everyone is ultimately intended to be a professor.

        Here you have tenure track and non tenure track people. Tenure track/tenured types are all called some type of professor: assistant p, associate p, and full p, which is also just p; then there are professors who also hold named chairs and so on and are very honored. It is normal, though, for people in this group to make it to full professorship eventually.

        Non tenure track people are called instructors and lecturers, and also “adjunct” instructors or professors. These people can be MAs or PhDs, and can e full or part time, but they are contingent labor and aren’t normally on the graduate faculty, in line for grants and so on; research is optional, and many teach more than a full time load to make ends meet.

        It is possible, if you have a PhD, to change from instructor or lecturer to a professor line, but working conditions of the instructor and lecturer class often preclude the research record that enables this … unless you are only an instructor or lecturer very briefly, right after finishing your PhD.

        Traditionally one was advised against ever accepting a non tenure track position, for fear of being labeled that way and never getting out of that role for this reason. That is less true now from what I can tell; it’s the publications that count.

  6. I quite agree that “…you should marry a portable and supportive person in graduate school.” I’d add that perhaps you should mingle with grad-students working in other disciplines. Finding two posts in the same field, in the same town, coming open at the same time, can be a bit tricky.

    N. American institutions were once amenable to finding posts for spouses, but increasingly, this seems to be regarded as nepotism. Perhaps special exemptions could be made, if backed by studies on divorce rates among academics.

  7. Ironically enough, I’ve spent part of the morning reading and being inspired by this article on divorce and non marriage: .

    My recommendation of marriage was a little arch — I meant it in part to point out how low academic salaries are and how desolate it is to live without family or friends in these little faraway American towns where so many colleges and universities are.

    On marriage, though, I would say that if one must marry someone one met AT graduate school, it should absolutely be a person in another discipline — ideally a discipline corresponding to a different faculty or college, I would say. I hadn’t meant one should marry another academic at all, though. It is far better if they are in a different profession or trade. That is why I used the word “portable.” Thank you very much for bringing that up / helping to clarify it.

    It’s funny, what I’ve noticed is an increasing, not a decreasing willingness to do spousal hires, but I haven’t looked at any statistics so this impression is completely subjective. Still, I’d rather not be in a position to have to ask for a position for a spouse, or to have to have my spouse ask for a position for me. I think they should be in something else: medicine, law, librarianship, IT, auto mechanic, artist, any profession or trade that is in demand everywhere or can be done in a lot of places. Then they can come with you and yet develop their world in a way that is satisfactory to them.

    That’s a lot better for the relationship, too — you get some variety in your life. I can imagine, but could not countenance the horror of dating, and then marrying someone in my own graduate program — how stifling that would be! I also know a lot of people who have done it and with a few exceptions I don’t like what it does to them; they never seem to grow up and they seem quite narrow and provincial.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s