Workload underachiever

Dec 03 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Workload at a university is a funny thing. There's no one-size-fits-all because there's a lot of variables. How much does someone teach? How much do they research? How big is (are) their class(es)? How big is their lab? What committees are they on? It's a puzzle and almost everyone thinks they are doing THE MOSTEST!

And here's where perception and reality do not always match: Some things are easier to bean count than others.

Classes are the ultimate in terms of ease of counting. There's clear data on class size and contact hours that can be compared across the board. Prof A teaches two 30 person classes and Prof B teaches 1 70 person class and co-teaches a smaller seminar. We can compare those directly.

Committees are harder, but once you add up the number of committees, the responsibility of the person on each committee and how often they meet, it's not too bad.

Research is tricky. Do we count the number of grants? The total $$ someone is bringing in? Do you count submission effort? Panel service? How about the number of students in the lab? Postdocs? Techs? Where do they fit? How about thesis committees? Papers? Does it matter where they are getting published? Adding to the mix is that all of these things are hard to compare across disciplines.

Generally this can be worked out with whoever is determining the workload. But the perception across the department may not reflect this. In my department I have noticed the perception that those who teach less due to their research efforts are somehow, "not pulling their weight".

Not surprisingly, I'm writing this because I want to avoid ending up in this situation. However, I am teaching under load for my department, but our level of grant support is on the higher end. So, when the departmental teaching load gets circulated for curriculum planning, are my colleagues going to think "he's not pulling his weight" or "that makes sense based on his research program"?

I am left trying to strategize. Do I develop that new course I've been thinking of? Do I just keep my head down until someone with influence on workload tells me to pick up my teaching? Does perception matter now that I have tenure? None of this is straight-forward and if I asked everyone in my department I would probably get n+1 opinions.

But for now, I am one class meeting away from sabbatical. It can't come soon enough.

4 responses so far

  • The frugal ecologist says:

    Interesting. At my former university there was a very defined workload as far as teachin based on your appointment. Both in terms of contact hours and number of courses - this was across our entire college at a very large R1 (I.e 40 % teaching = 2 3-hr courses per year). This resulted in clearly defined expectations within our department. It certainly was possible to buy out of teaching with grants, but this was a very formalized & transparent process. It's interesting reading how different departments do things so differently.

  • TheGrinch says:

    We have the same issue -- the perception of not contributing enough if you are not teaching full load. In some cases, it is indeed true, while in some others can only be considered borderline.

    I guess it has to do with the fact that the department will not survive financially if everyone was stellar in research but did no teaching. So if you did not teaching at a nominal level, your research is somehow being subsidised by the teaching done by others, and thus you are not pulling your weight. I am yet to understand how this works to be honest.

  • EarthSciProf says:

    Sounds like a tricky problem. At my (comprehensive) university, the number of courses/contact hours taught is non-negotiable with buyout or administration being the only way to reduce teaching load. But the courses taught (big lecture versus small seminar) is where the negotiation comes in.

    My initial inclination to try to get ahead of the game but I'm not sure that's the right way to go. I think those recommending waiting until somebody tells you to teach more may be right. What are the possible negative ramifications for a lighter teaching load? Will it hurt your case for promotion to full? I assume research dollars, reputation, and students graduated will be the big factors for promotion?

    Sabbatical!!! How'd things shake out for your sabbatical in terms of where you'll work and how you'll run your lab?

  • I teach a class both semesters, so it's not like I'm holding out. What I don't teach is a larger lower-level course.

    As far as consequences go, I don't know that there are any for teaching the workload I am approved to teach. Whether my colleagues agree that I am contributing equally is harder to pin down and quantify.

    Sabbatical will mostly be local. I have a family I can't uproot, so I have some plans, but nothing that will take me away for extended periods.

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