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(Photo: Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock)

What Do College Professors Do All Day?

• April 28, 2014 • 4:00 PM

(Photo: Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock)

Sit in meetings, mostly.

What do professors do all day? Anthropologist John Ziker decided to try to find out. Ziker recruited a non-random sample of 16 professors at Boise State University and scheduled interviews with them every other day for 14 days. In each interview, they reported how they spent their time the previous day. In total, he collected data for 166 days.

It’s a small, non-random sample at just one university, but here’s what he discovered.

All ranks worked over 40 hours a week (average of 61 hours/week) and all ranks put in a substantial number of hours over the weekends:

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Professors, then, worked 51 hours during the official workweek and then, in addition, put in 10 hours over the weekend.

What were they doing those days?  Research, teaching, and service are the three pillars of an academic workload and they dominated professors’ time. They used weekends, in particular, to catch up on the first two. The suspension of the business of the university over the weekend gave them a chance to do the other two big parts of their job.

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This chart breaks down the proportion of time they spend on different activities more clearly. Ziker is surprised by the amount of time faculty spend in meetings and I’m particularly impressed by the amount of time they spend on email. Most professors will probably note, with chagrin, the little bars for primary research and manuscript writing.

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This was just a first phase, so we can look forward to more data in the future.


This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “What Do Professors Do All Day?”

Lisa Wade
Lisa Wade, Ph.D., holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. in Human Sexuality from New York University. She is an associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @lisawade.

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