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January 22, 2013

Published here on January 16, 2013

According to, university professor is the least stressful occupation of 2013. I have often wondered whether or not this is true. I work at the help desk for Moodle during the week, and we’ll frequently try and contact professors to follow up on students’ questions. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve gotten a hold of a department head and asked for a particular professor and gotten this: “Oh, he’s in the Mediterranean.” This is often mid-semester, mind you.

Amid the frustration of not solving the problem at hand due to the professor’s disappearance to paradise, I am left questioning whether professors do anything but travel. But these are the outliers.

There was such a strong blowback from the professorial community, that a Twitter hashtag was formed: “#RealForbesProfessors.” A quick scan of this topic online, and I found an extensive list of what professors do with their time. Claims of 60 hour workweek norms, the constant pressure to publish and the unending stream of ungraded assignments all filled the page.

“I may write a proposal while driving tomorrow (using a voice recorder, not typing!) #RealForbesProfessors have to multi-task,” tweeted one Notre Dame professor.

CareerCast cited financial security as one of the reasons professors are less stressed, reporting an average salary of $62,050. However, this number sits in the middle of some pretty different extremes. A full-time professor at Harvard gets $198,400 as a salary, and an adjunct professor at N.C. State can make as little as $20,000.

“As an adjunct,” one professor from New York tweeted, “I never worry about being broke since having a negative account balance is technically less than broke.”

This ranking gives off a false notion of laziness. It supports my initial musings that professors spend more time on exotic beaches than in classrooms. Our professors are workhorses when it comes to ensuring that class goes well—reading up on the most current research, adding to that research, planning syllabi and, yes, grading all of our assignments. And that’s just for class, saying nothing of research demands, advisees, and other part-time jobs some have to take to stay afloat financially. That doesn’t sound stress-free to me.

Higher Education published a study on stress and professors back in the ‘90s. A little aged, yes, but not irrelevant. Of the duties of a professor, the study found that teaching is the least stressful and research is at the other end. This makes sense; professors are often professors in the first place because they want to teach. Naturally, doing what they love keeps the cortisol levels in check.

Your counter-argument, no doubt, is that tenure ends the “publish or perish” stress, but the study found this to be untrue. Stress was much more associated with rank than with tenure. Autonomy, it seems, is more relaxing than job security.

“The distinction of having the ‘least stressful job’ in America,” Hinda Mandell, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, wrote in USA Today Saturday, “is really about time management, and the fact that if we have flexibility in our work—where and how we do it—then our work isn’t considered real work.”

While professors may enjoy a higher degree of autonomy than, say, a shift worker, they still have a variety of groups piling on the to-dos. At the top of the list are students, who rely on professors to prepare them for their futures. Dieticians, jewelers and hairstylists—the next few items on the “least stressful” list—can hardly say the same.


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