research faculty duties, how to balance?

I was sitting in the lunchroom in our lab building alone last Thursday for a afternoon snack, grabbed a magazine from the bookshelf at the corner and  glanced few articles. the very first scientists feature article actually brought my attention, not in a traditional research sensitive way, but more humanistic thinking.

The article was a interview of a research director, Bill Jack, from the New England Biolabs (NEB) company, which is the rocket company in the whole enzyme industry. One interesting question the interviewer was asking is what brought him to NEB. Bill’s answer was quite surprising.

“As a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, I expected to pursue an academic position. When I finished my postdoctoral work, I received job offers from an academic institution, an industrial company, and NEB. At the time, I had three sons, the youngest of whom was 2 years old. When making my decision, I looked at my sons and realized that if I took the academic position, in six years, I might have tenure, which would allow time to get to know them. But there was a real possibility that I would miss a large part of six formative years in those boys’ lives. While I admire those who can succeed in academia while maintaining a balanced life, for me, that seemed a daunting task.

I read through the discussions in our forum and it is quite clear that everyone knows that the three major duties as a faculty: research, teaching, service (outreach). I heard so many stories about how stressful of being an assistant professor and how miserable it can be for graduate students working for them. I don’t think that means most of the assistant professors are evil, but apparently going through tenure-track is definitely a very stressful process. Even as those associate professors, especially when going through funding cut, the depressing atmosphere can be easily sensed. My supervisor he likes to supervise and tutor undergrads in the lab by himself, however, during these two recent years, he was so busy with grant writing and other services, he barely got a chance to work on his own bench. Most often we will hear from him “I got to get this grant due by …”; “I have to work on this weekend”; “I am tired”……

I really don’t think those faculty duties are completely beyond one’s potential, but just like what Bill said in his interview,”be successful in academia while maintaining a balanced life, that seemed a daunting task”. I am not sure about the statistical data about how many working hours those research faculties generally devote every week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is significantly above average. And I wouldn’t be surprised that when we see more negative comments about the teaching performance of those research faculties. I think this is beyond what I know about the importance of research for tenure-track, just by sensing it, I can only say it is hard, for Bill, also for myself.


3 thoughts on “research faculty duties, how to balance?

  1. I honestly do not know how people become successful in academia while leading a “balanced life”. I work more on the weekends than a lot of people do in the entire week, and it seems to be to no avail. My to-do list never gets accomplished and I am constantly up against the wall with deadlines. I know I take on too much outreach work and it was probably a bad idea to accept an adjunct position from a time-management lens, but still. To do what is expected requires at least a 70-hr week I think. I have asked research faculty whom I look up to about how they manage to balance things and they laugh. One notable research faculty member told me “I don’t, which is why I am successful at my job”.

    There was recently a Forbes post about how a college professor was the least stressful job of 2013, which infuriated me. Luckily, an addendum was quickly added and another Forbes contributor put up this piece in response:

  2. I worry about this as well. Having come from several years in industry, I honestly don’t think that teaching easier. In fact, I think that doing it well requires an enormous amount of effort. When I think about tenure, I’m honestly not sure that I will end up trying to pursue it. It may be too early to tell at the moment, but I think it about it a lot lately. Thanks for the post.

  3. I really liked reading your post. I had never really thought about this before, but I have always planned to head to the industry before pursuing my career in academia. After reading this, it does reassure me a bit in my career path. I know my advisor and many of the professors I work with do have tenure and are still very busy people, however I am sure they get much more leniency when it comes to taking off and flexibility. I know the first time I talked to my professor about teaching he said if you ever plan to work at VT or a university similar you must know you have to want to also do research. Thanks for this post it was a great insight to think about!

Leave a Reply