What professors actually do with their time

“El professor” from Casa de Papel draws a picture not so distant from reality: that of an unreachable character, who hides in an obscure office and rarely approaches daylight. Let’s admit that professors are a strange kind, and that the title seems to come with a compulsory ability to disguise and disappear. Professors only show up in lecture theatres on class hours. They never seem to be in their offices and they answer their emails after days… or weeks!

So, it is about time to tackle the question: what do professors do with their time? It was a pressing question for me and my friends when I was at university…here are some keys to answer it, now that I am one of these enigmatic professors.

Disclaimer: this article does not aim to put professors in boxes, or generalise, but rather make one understand the rich and varied reality of those that teach in higher education. 

Well, first of all, professors don’t just teach: they also do research and services. Let’s break that down, shall we?

Teaching. Depending on a series of factors, a professor might teach between 80 and 300 hours per year. What is important to understand is that for each hour of teaching, there is a lot of preparation, planning, admin, and marking related. You can actually multiply teaching time by 3 to 6.  So, if a professor teaches 150 hours per year, it can represents between 450 and 900 hours of actual work. That’s between 12 and  22 hours per week. Add to this student supervision and counselling (dissertations, internships, theses…).

Research. Professors who have a PhD are also expected to publish academic articles regularly. There are no standard rules as to how much you need to publish. Let’s just say that pressure to publish is…ehrm…significant!* It’s hard to put a number on how many hours a week you spend on research because some weeks can be very intense and others not. In my case, research is more important than teaching for my evaluation, so overall I need to spend more time on it.

Services. Services represent the “miscellaneous” – yet unavoidable – items. They include being part of school boards and work groups, leading teams and departments, presenting at conferences, doing workshops, being part of the board of a journal, maintaining contacts with businesses and institutions…etc. Again, no rule in terms of hours, but you can imagine it takes a significant amount of time.

And, you have it! That is what professors do.

Of course, this varies tremendously based on countries, types of institutions, contracts, and also individual skills, expertise and preferences. All professors are different.

I hope however to have shed some light on the variety of things professors do with their time. On top of writing blogposts 😉

*we talk about “Publish or Perish” among us…sad reality!

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