Monday, February 27, 2012

Today was a a ____ day to be a professor

At the end of every day, I make a statement like, "Today was a good day to be a professor", or, "Today was a bad day to be a professor". (And some days are partly cloudy.)

It's interesting to reflect upon which activities bring me the most joy, and which are the most frustrating. So, let's see:

Favorite thing: Meeting with my RAs. They are just good kids. They are sweet, fun, and brilliant. I love sitting around and bouncing ideas around with them and solving problems together. They impress the heck out of me with all they've accomplished thus far.

Least favorite thing: Drama and politics. Every sphere of this job involves some of each. For drama, I process it on a case by case basis, and try to be as fair and understanding as I can.

For politics, I am usually completely clueless. Sometimes I'll talk to someone, and hours later realize there were hidden subtexts beyond my ability to comprehend and quickly respond to in the moment. I'm not sure if I'm poorly socialized, aloof, or both, but frankly a lot of the politics surrounding this job positively baffle me.

Unfortunately being successful as a professor seems to require political savviness, in a way very different than in industry. I felt like in industry the rules were clearer; perhaps because everyone was working toward the same goal (e.g., please the customer). Academia is more like a collection of small empires. We all have shared goals of Furthering Education and Advancing Knowledge, but go about them in very different ways. We have frequent encounters with other Dukes, where we must broadcast our land's contribution to the Kingdom at every turn.

Post the PhD level, anyone with motivation and drive can learn to prep and teach a class, acquire external funding, effectively manage a research group, and publish lots of papers in good places. Political savviness, however, is another beast entirely.


  1. Academic politics is easy: don't be a jerk, don't be a threat, and don't let it get under your skin if other people want to play games.

  2. My PhD advisor told me (I think he was paraphrasing a quote) that the politics in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small.

  3. Up until now that has always been my modus operandi.

    However, recently I have decided for some things you may be perceived as a jerk / threat if you do not properly cross all t's and dot all i's. But it is not possible to predict firecrackers in advance, which can be frustrating.

  4. Ha! Good way of looking at it.

    Though the downside is if you anger people in high places pre-tenure, they have long memories.