Friday, September 1
This is what kills me about my particular work environment. I'm in a part of the building where in the abstract six other nicely-paid professors have their offices, and on the typical day I see maybe one or two of them. More commonly than I ever would have imagined when I took this job, none. They come in to dispatch their obligations and then go home, because they "work at home." My guess is that 20% or so of professors actually are more productive working at home, and they provide the rationalization for the astonishing ability of the rest of us to collect salaries far, far above the median for a full-time worker in the United States and yet get to stand in the hallways and complain like a war crime has been perpetrated upon us if schedules require us to come into our workplace more than three days a week.

Yes, I know, the best thing about this job is the autonomy. I agree. I know that academia favors those who are keep-to-themselves-types (even as it simultaneously favors those who are build-large-social-network-alliance-types). But, still.

I am sure it would bother me less if I wasn't single. If I had a family, I would love that I could come into the office and have Total Solitude Time. (And, yet also, I'm sure I'd have less of an opportunity to come into the office and have Total Solitude Time.) Not to sound pathetic, but it's just not much fun to come into work and see no one and then go home and be by yourself as well.

A weird thing about this is that my institution gets very concerned about space and the balance between the principles that office space should be given based on (1) seniority vs (2) specialty area. The argument for the latter is that you put people with similar interests next to each other and soon you'll need to wear sunglasses to work for all the blinding intellectual synergies that ensue. To which I have to physically take hold of my tongue to keep from screaming, "What the hell does it matter? No one is ever here!"

13 comments:

Dandelion said...

I tried the "working at home" excuse once and the post-doc I was talking to totally called me on the fact that everyone knows "working at home" is just a euphemism for lounging around in your pajamas.

kodachrome said...

>soon you'll need to wear sunglasses...
LMAO!!!

Scarlet, I would pay good money, on top of the plane ticket, to hear you or anyone in our position say (let alone scream) a thing like that. I naively said it many years ago when I interviewed at [place where nobody actually lives in the same city as the university]. I think that didn't go over very well. Come to think of it, I may have toured the country asking embarrasing questions about each department's intellectual community, not really knowing that I shouldn't expect to find that at my new job. But the other thing I like about your sunglasses critique is the way it reveals the head-in-the-sand social engineering that universities so often attempt. They just can't seem to admit to (or dare I say, ADDRESS) the basic problems of academic life before they start. So, because of your searing critique, I won't be mad that you snagged my door# from me!

Sienna said...

Scarlet, you must be in a department full of people with whom it would be nice to hang out, if only they were there. I have to say that I have had some colleagues in my lifetime whose work-at-home habits have been on *my* list of things to be grateful for.

twilight blue said...

My very social department is quite the opposite. On the days that I am in my office, various folks drop by to say "hi" throughout the day. I really like most of my colleagues and am happy to spend time talking with them. Indeed, I have an electronic teapot in my office, which not only provides me with requisite caffeine but also facilitates the occasional office tea party.

That said, I do hide out at home several days a week, as it is the only place where I get enough uninterrupted time to do article-length thinking. Of course, that I am able to be productive at home says nothing about the number of days during which said productivity occurs while I am wearing my pajamas well into the afternoon...

Salmon Ella said...

When my advisor was chewing me out this summer, one of the things he mentioned was that graduate school often requires that we put in upwards of 80 hours a week in the lab, and that even when I finish, I should still expect 60 hour weeks and blah blah blah. So what I want to know is: If I am so lazy and non-committed compared to everyone else, why is it that when I go in during the evenings and on the weekends, I am often the only person in whole building?! Somehow I doubt everyone has mass specs and whatnot in their home offices, so the 'working at home' excuse doesn't cut it for me. Not that I think everyone should be working 60-80 hour weeks, but don't tell they are just to guilt trip me when clearly it isn't true!

Anonymous said...

Um...You actually know professors who are 'nicely paid'???

Please tell me this is a joke!

As far as a salary 'far, far about the median for a full-time worker'...what the heck are you talking about? Are you really trying to compare someone who walked through hell to get a Ph.D. with a minimum-wage job? I've worked both ends of the spectrum and let me tell you there is no comparison. Just remember all the potential income forsaken for that stupid degree!! Academics are grossly underpaid by any economic analysis.

One of the reasons I chose academia (as opposed to joining my other friends who didn't bother finishing their undergrads but are all extremely overpaid managers at Microsoft - talk about socioeconomic injustice) was the free work schedule. I am a single mom. The ability to work at home is a life savor for me and my son. Besides which, I actually do get a lot more done without students and colleagues dropping by to 'chat' every five seconds. I accepted half the starting pay I could have garnered in industry. Over the next 20 years the gap between what I will earn in academia and what I would have earned in industry with triple (without stock options).

I think the important question is how productive are these people? Do they have grants and students? If the answer is no...I applaud you calling them on a gross abuse of the system. Noone should get paid for not doing their job. However, if the answer is yes, they are productive...then are you really complaining that you have noone to talk to?

Sorry to be negative but this one hit a nerve.

kodachrome said...
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kodachrome said...

Anon, as someone who wishes for an intellectual community--or just a couple of drinking buddies in my field. I don't think it's wrong to work at home any more than it's wrong to take a semester's leave from teaching and spend it in a place where it's easier to focus exclusively on research or writing. (One’s office is empty either way.) But I do think there are structural issues in academe that work against intellectual community, such as the desire to limit the number of people in any one subfield.

The main issue you raise is something like flex time, which is well-taken, and less controversial than what's been discussed here. But your main complaint is economic. College profs get paid about twice the median wage in the US, which is about average for a PhD.* When I consider my lot in life, though, I don't just compare it to my friends' lives--that would be at once elitist and waaay too depressing!

Now I'm wondering: if hairboy were in my field and he were an office regular. Could I make him a drinking buddy, given the hair thing? Probably. (But I won’t deny hearing the “George of the Jungle” theme song in my head.)

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*According to a Bureau of Labor Statistic Report (pdf) the median income for people with PhDs in 2001 was $66,000 while the median income for the general population in the same year was $30,300. You can get academic salary figures broken down by rank, discipline, and school at The Chronicle.

Scarlet said...

Anon: No problem with being "negative." I like being disagreed with. You raise two distinct and great points for discussion, although I'm so far behind on numerous fronts right now I can't really take up either.

The first is whether academics are overpaid, underpaid, or paid just right. That I would love to write a whole separate post about sometime. I disagree that academics are underpaid because I disagree both that we should be looking for what we could be making at Microsoft for comparison and we should view the time we spent in graduate school--hellish as it might have been--as being a 'sacrifice' compared to what we would have been doing in the private sector during those years. My general belief is that professors, on average, are more than fairly compensated for what their profession offers in terms of lifestyle advantages, but I think the truth of that statement varies considerably across institutions, fields, and even within departments.

The second is about productivity and working at home. I would love to see a systematic study of this overall, especially since what gets done "working at home" is a major mystery and my intuitions about it mainly reflect my own observation of the correlation between office presence and indirect measures of productivity. (That said, it also reflects some particular observations that I'm sure don't apply to your case.)

Anonymous said...

When talking about productivity at home..does that include all the all-nighters spent writing and revising papers and grant proposals??

Anonymous said...

I should acknowlege chodachromes comment about salaries. I'm not arguing that Ph.D.s don't make more than average...but shouldn't they? The fact that Ph.D.s in academia make typically half what their counterpart in industry make...or what other professionals (M.D.s, dentists, pharmacists, attorneys, M.B.A's) make is my main gripe.

kodachrome said...

Hi Anon, I understand. It's a point of reference debate. You are looking up and feeling pissed, Scarlet is looking down and feeling... er... overpaid.

Sulphur Siren said...
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