So, What’s in It for Me?

All in all, I enjoy my job very much, and I’m thankful that in return for my work, I make enough for my family to live on (with the help of some summer work). I may not see my family as much as I’d like, but I know that what I’m doing is right for them.

But when I’m asked to do more for my job — without additional compensation — of course I hesitate. I need a trade-off for leaving my family. I’ll teach a night class and not be there to put my children to bed because I know that the money I make from that class will pay for three months’ tuition for my 8-year-old.

But ask me to give up attending that child’s dance recital to stand at a table during a Saturday morning admissions fair and expect me to do it for free? Sorry. There’s nothing in it for me — nor for my family. —Chris BarnettSo, What’s in It for Me? (Chronicle)

There are times when I feel this way, and other times when I truly enjoy stopping by the publications office on my way home from work, and lingering to chat and just watch the students being productive as they churn out the latest issue. Fortunately, I get a course release in order to advise the student paper, but the students do most of the hands-on work right around the time I’m supposed to be driving kids to lessons, giving baths, and reading bedtime stories. I do a lot of informal mentoring via e-mail and weblogs, and that’s something I can often do from home, but it’s only visible to those students who are heavy internet users.

I’m able to manage the work that I’m doing over this summer (an independent study and a more informal web project), so if you’re one of my students and you’re reading this, don’t worry, I’m not complaining about you. But colleagues have suggested that I make sure to consider my own writing as important as my students’. Time-management, that skill that I’m supposed to be able to teach freshmen, is something that I still struggle with. I made a big mistake in putting a lot of time into marking rough drafts of final papers in one of my classes this term… a minuscule number of students actually bothered to revise it. One student put in 98 minutes of time revising an F paper and seemed to expect that it would be worth an A or B. (How do I know the revision took 98 minutes? Check out MS-Word, File -> Properties -> Statistics.) Over the course of several drafts, consultations, and e-mails, I spent almost that much time evaluating the paper. Yes, I’d like to give students a chance, but obviously I didn’t manage my own resources well that time.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 1.05.09 AMRight now, my daughter is running around at my feet, scribbling on post-it notes with whiteboard markers. Any minute now she’s going to get bored and she’s going to need my attention. I can blog knowing that any moment I’m going to have to pause in mid-word to grab something out of her hand (she just tried to throw a set of keys at my 20-inch LCD monitor), but I can’t do much else. (Now Carolyn has just noticed a mole on the back of my neck, and she has asked about twelve times, “Why do you have a boo-boo?”)

On top of that, some long-term research that I’ve been working on over the past few years has suddenly started to pay off big-time. I’m uncovering new information more quickly than I could possibly process it even if I had a full-time research assistant, and I’ve somehow got to do it while The Wiggles are on TV.

I chose this life, of course, so I’m not complaining — I’m just reflecting. I won’t get fired if I don’t get my latest findings in a journal article this fall. Nobody will die of a disease that my findings might cure. Ecosystems won’t be affected by my absence from a big national conference.

Still, at times like this I think of my alternate life. Torill Mortenson’s recent “mommy moment” post makes me think. She reflects on how happy she is to have grown children. “Who needs soft marsipan-sweet cheeks and sticky paws when I can have a firm jaw and a strong hand to carry the heavy suitcase or drive the car?”

I’m not ready to give up the sweet cheeks and sticky paws — not yet. I’m being pawed and kissed by a lollipop-slurping preschooler at the moment, so I’m signing off for now. Everything else is going to have to wait.

3 thoughts on “So, What’s in It for Me?

  1. When your kids are grown, you’ll think they are PERFECT just like that, and be all done with sweetness and stickiness ;) That is my prediction!

  2. Good response, Mike. I was definitely thinking of you when I blogged this, since I envy your time-management skills. During the school year, the routine classroom demands of a full teaching schedule mean that I can choose to tackle this task or that task first, which is a kind of freedom not all workers enjoy. And if I absolutely hate marking quizzes (which I do), I’m free to reduce the number of quizzes I assign, to find some other way to make sure students keep up on their reading, or to bribe myself by permitting myself to play Deus Ex 2 for an hour on a Friday afternoon.

    There is much about my job that I love, and I don’t want to lose sight of that. Still, in the academc cycle, summer is the time for reflection and thought…

  3. As I read Barnett’s article, I empathized (of COURSE!), but I also kept wondering how a non-academic would respond to all this. How is a professorial job any different than a job anyplace else when it comes to employer demands to serve?

    On balance, I think academics actually get to spend MORE time with their families than those slaving away in 9-to-5 positions. I’m able to do a lot of work from home, I get summers partially off, I’m free to reschedule an office appointment if I need to, etc…and my non-academic friends have absolutely NO pity for me if I complain about having to do work on my so-called “off-time.” They don’t understand what my workload is really like, of course, but it’s true that when we’re able to effectively manage time on our own terms, time for scholarship, leisure, and family life can actually be an aggregate “benefit” that we get in trade for a lower salary than we might otherwise get in the public sphere. I’ll gladly staff an open house once a term and attend one extra meeting a month for an extra committee if it means I don’t have to punch a clock every day.

    The question I usually ask is not “What’s in it for me?” but “Why are you asking me?” The answer, unfortunately, is often that some other faculty member said no and simply passed the buck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *