* I will leave aside the job market stuff (like not controlling where I would live).
- Despite warnings from my adviser at Oberlin, I thought profs spent much of their time reading cool books. Yes, I had the intellectual curiosity that the posts of the past week posit as a requirement for the pursuit of a PhD, but I was not sufficiently curious to do the research ahead of time. I really spend a very small portion of my time reading cool books about International Relations. Of the non-grading, non-supervising, non-internet reading I do, most of it is of academic articles and books I need to read for my research and teaching. While much of that stuff can be quite interesting, a good portion is essentially required reading--what I need to read to get the literature right so that reviewers do not poop all over my stuff.
- The funny thing is that I did not really think of myself as a writer or that I enjoyed writing while in college. What was I thinking? I guess I was thinking I was going to spend most of my time teaching? So much of my non-grading, non-supervising time is spent writing, and, as this blog illustrates, I actually don't mind writing anymore. Indeed, I like it. So, I have found multiple media in which to write and write.
- Of course, I spend a heap of time talking. That is playing to my strength--not that I am good at it, but I do like to talk. And always have. But I didn't expect to be doing media stuff when I went to grad school. Nor did I do that much of it until I got to McGill and especially when I started doing stuff on Afghanistan.
- I never expected to spend significant amount of my time either chasing or administering money. Grant writing can take a heap of time. I spent most of my fall on a major development grant (which means that the big bucks would be after we prove ourselves and spend much time with a second application). And a big grant can be like a dog that catches the car it has been chasing--what now? Well, if I get the grant, I will be spending much time accounting for the spending. In my ninth and tenth years at McGill, I was still filing annual reports about a grant that built a lab several years earlier. Oy.
- When one watches a prof depicted in TV or movies, they get two things wrong,* one being that movie/TV profs never do any administrative stuff. Meetings, committees, reviewing stuff for journals, for presses, etc. I remember in grad school asking my adviser how I can get in on the article reviewing business. He wisely said do not rush it. I have viewed it like shaving--when you are growing up, you want to start shaving as soon as you can (well, for guys, mostly), but then you wish you didn't have to.
*Yes, the other involves sex with students. As I discuss elsewhere, the movies/TV get this wrong as well but perhaps more destructively so.
- I didn't realize how social the entire enterprise is. That while we largely work alone in our offices, not only do we co-author a heap more than I expected, but also that we are constantly reviewing and being reviewed by folks in one's intellectual community.
So, what else am I forgetting about expectations vs. realities of the life of the professor?
What else are you forgetting? How about the terrible academic job prospects for new PhDs?
Notice the first caveat--that I was not going to discuss the job market. I have exhausted that elsewhere.
One aspect I was unaware of has to do with elapsed time and projects. There are long, and sometimes unnecessary, delays with projects. Once you have an idea for a paper, it takes time to collect data. It takes some time to turn a first draft into a version that is ready to be sent to reviewers. It takes time for editors to send reviewers’ reports. Once accepted, it takes time for a paper to come out in an issue. It takes time to see if your project if a “dry hole” (no one cites it), or if it makes its way into someone else’s bibliography. As a prof, you need to love your topics, because feedback from the discipline is received far after a project in finished.
Excellent point--the time lags can be crucial, especially for junior faculty. I have gotten three year grants where one is supposed to show output before going back to the same well, but it takes longer than three years to start/finish a project. My new book in 2013 was funded in part by a grant I got in 2006.
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