“University Professor” is the “least stressful” job of 2013? I call bullshit.

This is me. Every single day.
This is me. Every single day.

Somebody at CNBC has their head so far up their own arse they can see daylight from the other end. They have just published the most inane and poorly researched “Top 10” list of 2013. And it’s January 4th.

Based on interviews with Tony Lee of Careercast.com, CNBC has ranked ten job positions based on whether or not they are stressful, whether or not people are control of their day, and whether or not there is physical risk associated with the job.

And clearly this interview was conducted while Tony Lee (above) was still hung over from New Year's Eve reveling.
And clearly this interview was conducted while Tony Lee (above) was still hung over from New Year’s Eve reveling.

The first clue that this “Top 10” list is bogus? Least stressful job #10 is “drill press operator”. Because operating heavy machinery on a busy factory line is clearly a low stress, low physical risk, kind of job.

Because no one every lost a limb doing this.
Because no one every lost a limb doing this.

Moving on, Lee asserts that Laboratory Technician is #5 least stressful job. Why?

Due to the critical importance of getting the analyses of these tests right, there isn’t a lot of pressure.

“They’re given the latitude to do the job at their own pace because it’s important that they get it right,” Lee said.

Wait, what? I was a lab tech before I went to grad school. And yes, there’s a lot of importance placed on getting lab experiments right. But there’s also a lot of importance placed on getting lab experiments done. Which is where the pressure comes in: you have to get those important experiments right as fast as you possibly can. And you get blamed when they go wrong (even if they went wrong because the machine the lab bought is a piece of junk bought on the scientific-equivalent of Craigslist).

Super low stress.

Y'know when a lab technician is enthusiastically grinning while pipetting? Only in stock photos.
Y’know when a lab technician is enthusiastically grinning while pipetting? When they’re actually an underpaid model taking pictures for a stock photo website.

But the true kicker was the job that went to the top of the list: University Professor. Let’s check out the explanation that Lee gives in it’s full, epic glory:

And the winner of Least Stressful Job of 2013 is … university professor!

(Cue the commencement music.)

Professor is a newcomer to the list this year, and it shot straight to the top.

“If you look at the criteria for stressful jobs, things like working under deadlines, physical demands of the job, environmental conditions hazards, is your life at risk, are you responsible for the life of someone else, they rank like ‘zero’ on pretty much all of them!” Lee said.

Plus, they’re in total control. They teach as many classes as they want and what they want to teach. They tell the students what to do and reign over the classroom. They are the managers of their own stress level.

The most stressful thing about being a professor?

“Interacting with other professors!” Lee said.

You’ve got to be kidding me. University professors — and, I mean, recently hired, fresh-out-of-graduate-school, trying to earn tenure professors, are in the “least stressful” job of 2013? I mean, it’s true, professors aren’t typically at risk of being crushed by heavy machinery, but neither is an accountant.

This is the picture that was included with the entry for "university professor" on that top ten list. Because classrooms are always full of eager students, sitting at the front of the class enthusiastically vying to answer a question while a game-show host-looking professor grins and points at a chalkboard. It's never a sparsely populated room of unruly, hungover teenagers texting in a corner if they bothered to show up at all.
This is the picture that was included with the entry for “university professor” on that top ten list. Because classrooms are always full of eager students, sitting at the front of the class enthusiastically vying to answer a question while a game-show host-looking professor grins and points at a chalkboard. It’s never a sparsely populated room of unruly, hungover teenagers texting in a corner if they bothered to show up at all.

Lee has apparently never actually spoken to a university professor in his life, if he’s completely unaware of the fact that class teaching load is not something that professors are in control of. Professors are told what classes they will be teaching, and recent hires are often given the most difficult, unruly, and time-consuming classes to teach. No professor is in “total control”, getting to “teach as many classes as they want” or “what they want to teach”. Someone has to teach the intellectually-stimulating introductory biology class, that has to be offered four times throughout the week just to accommodate the hundreds of students who have to take it every year. Guess who gets that course? The new professor.

Lee suggests that professors can waltz into a classroom and “reign” over students. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the students who reign over teachers, hitting them with mid-semester and year-end evaluations that are the only measure by which professors are graded for their performance. And students, by-and-large, don’t evaluate professors based on their ability to teach and whether or not the course was challenging, but based on whether or not they grasped the material. These two are not the same things.

Oh, and while professors are teaching all those classes, they’re also under stress to publish articles as often as possible in order to keep their jobs. Because the awesome bonus of the university professor job position is that you have to teach a bunch of classes, but you’re not even given credit in your job performance review on whether or not you’re teaching all those classes (outside of whether or not your students liked you). You are judged based on how often you publish in the hours outside your teaching. You are judged based on how much data you were able to collect in lab. You are judged based on the amount of federal grant money you bring into the university.

And you have a piddly five years to prove it (one year of which is typically non-productive because you have to spend it setting up your new lab and hiring a technician).

(Update: Cayden also raised the stresses of being an adjunct professor in the comments section; the comment is worth quoting in full. “I mean “university professor” may also encompass a lot of different kinds of appointments. I’m an adjunct. I make ~$2500 a course a semester to teach 35-40 people something I don’t choose. If I lose one of my two classes, I lose my health insurance (which I still pay for). I could be randomly fired (er…sorry, non-renewed) for anything at all. I’m 25 and I’m going grey, and that’s no coincidence.”)

So, university professor as the “least stressful” job of 2013? I call bullshit. Massive, massive amounts of bullshit.

University professors (and all of us in academia, actually) do this job because we love it. Because we are passionate about our subject matter, and about teaching and mentoring students. But, none of us — not a single one — believes that this is an easy, low-stress job. There’s a really, really good reason why the physical sciences are hemorrhaging graduate students who are leaving academia for industry positions: there’s a growing sentiment among the younger generation that because of the competitiveness of the funding environment, the high pressure to publish, the lack of control over teaching load, and the relatively low salary, the stresses of doing the job of an academic professor are not worth the pay-off, any more.

On the other hand, clearly, the least stressful job of 2013 is “Random Blogger Who Writes for Career Websites”. Because, apparently you can be completely unqualified, know absolutely nothing about your subject matter, and still get your steaming pile of horse dung published by a mainstream news outlet.

Tony Lee, I’m looking at you.

(H/T: @ebeh)

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  • Cayden

    I mean “university professor” may also encompass a lot of different kinds of appointments. I’m an adjunct. I make ~$2500 a course a semester to teach 35-40 people something I don’t choose. If I lose one of my two classes, I lose my health insurance (which I still pay for). I could be randomly fired (er…sorry, non-renewed) for anything at all. I’m 25 and I’m going grey, and that’s no coincidence.

  • Great point, Cayden. I completely forgot about adjuncts. Even with a full courseload (which most adjuncts aren’t even given), it’s barely enough money to live on. I looked into doing this as a graduate student for a little extra income, and it wasn’t even worth the time to do it on top of my own classes and research. Thanks for pointing this out!