Doctor, doctor: a coda

PHD Comics: How Professors Spend Their Time, by Jorge Cham. Originally published 25 August 2008.

If there was a weak spot in my number-crunching comparison of MDs and PhDs from last week, it was in the accounting of how many hours a typical academic PhD works in a week. I’m confident of the numbers I offered — an average of 60 hours a week — but those numbers were based on the personal accounts of professors, including my own. There isn’t really any good, hard data recording how many hours a week a typical academic works.

The reason there isn’t good, hard data? “Academic labor doesn’t really break down into discreet parts,” writes English professor and blogger Philip Nel. “You think, write, edit, prepare for class, grade papers, where and when you find the time.” In a blog post from a few weeks ago (which I just found today), Nel accounts for his working hours over the course of a typical week and explains just what it is that professors do all day. It’s a fantastic account, and while it’s still rooted in personal experience, he backs it up with detailed records of his activities (toward the bottom of the post, you’ll find day-by-day hourly reports).

How many working hours did he record? 60. Which is the same as the average I arrived at in my own post.

Also, take note of how he accounts for his working time during summers. I knew in my own accounting that I was being lenient when I suggested most PhDs work only 40 weeks in a year; the truth is, we work off and on year round, and Nel’s accounting of his summer work is worth paying attention to, particularly for people who mistakenly assume we teaching PhDs “get summers off.”

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