what do non-professors think professors do?

Most people are unaware of what professors do outside of a few Hollywood stereotypes, such as the whip-cracking Indiana Jones. At the beginning of the semester, I always briefly introduce students to the multiple work responsibilities that professors have – research, teaching, and service to the profession, institution, and public. Occasionally, I also mention the career stages of academics. Because students usually only encounter professors in the classroom, many students (and non-students) don’t realize that professors have various responsibilities in addition to teaching, and these beliefs can translate into under-informed recommendations and policies, such as this and this. Despite painstakingly written and documented rebuttals, some still persist in propagating erroneous beliefs about what professors do, as evidenced by a blogger who continues to earnestly recommend academia for its long breaks and “minimal” travel requirements.

Students can be introduced to otherwise opaque aspects of academia and the building of knowledge outside of the classroom. In particular, they can participate in national and regional academic conferences and events. While attending a regional conference, one of my former students commented that she had a newfound “respect” for academic work. For me, her comment underscored how such immersion can help others understand what is involved in particular types of work. So don’t forget to remind your students, ASA submissions for the 2013 conference closes 3pm EST this Wed., Jan. 9th! Hope to see our readers at this conference in NYC on Aug. 10-13 and ESS in Boston on March 21-23, 2013.

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Written by katherinechen

January 7, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Posted in academia

7 Responses

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  1. Wow I read the linked orgtheory post trolled by guillermo – the guy obviously has never heard of ethnographers’ heavy emphasis on “letting people speak for themselves”


    January 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

  2. Great links. Agree it’s something that deserves repeating. Most people think professor = teacher who occasionally does some armchair opining on irrelevant issues. Of course, at State universities that are majority funded by tuition, not tax dollars.

    Graham Peterson

    January 8, 2013 at 8:36 am

  3. I’m just curious if taking class time to explain to students what professors do has some more direct pedagogical purpose? It seems like it is a technique for dampening expectations about the professor’s responsiveness, in which case I may give it a try. But, seriously, how do you frame this bit of lecture for your students?


    January 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm

  4. @Joe, I have had the luxury of broaching this subject with undergraduates in the context of discussing organization structure and/strategy. Since most of the students have more than passing knowledge of only two organizations, their university and McDonald’s, they like the details. You would be surprised that they have nearly no knowledge about what a Dean does, as well as all the other positions in the hierarchy. I have found these discussions to be as lively as any outside of ethics and social responsibility. And they WANT to understand what those old people in the front of the classroom do after they put the eraser down.


    January 9, 2013 at 10:57 pm

  5. @Joe, just a few sentences sprinkled throughout the semester can contextualize what we do with an explanation that makes clear that teaching is one of several responsibilities, like “Please turn your assignments on time. If too many of you turn these in late, I may not be able to grade them by the original schedule. Like you, I have to manage my deadlines, like submitting a book manuscript/paper due to X publisher/journal/conference.” I also provide explanations to help students understand why they are doing certain tasks, like why filling out teaching evaluations is important, i.e., “The administration looks at these to make a decision whether to keep an instructor; instructors look at these for ideas on how to improve their courses.”
    However, as Randy notes, the university is rife with examples which can aptly illuminate various organizational theories or sociological concepts, such as garbage can theory, McDonaldization, etc. It’s often helpful for students to understand why they’re having certain experiences in the university.


    January 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

  6. @Joe – forgot to add that I also contextualize research by providing examples drawn from my own research. For example, to show students how to use quotes from field notes and interviews in their papers, I’ll show them an excerpt of “raw data” and how I used these to illustrate points in my own work.


    January 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm

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