Wednesday, July 26, 2017

15 things never to say to an assistant professor

Thanks to Twitter, a small list:
  1. "So, when are you going up for tenure?"
  2. "Nice Civic." (by Ash)
  3. "So how is teaching?" (by Shane Caldwell) 
  4. "It must be nice getting the entire summer off. What do you do with all that free time?" (by Andre)
  5. "When's your next grant application due?" 
  6. "That whole publish-or-perish thing is just a myth, yeah?"
  7. "You only teach one class each semester? What do you do with rest of your time?" (by Andre)
  8. "Student evaluations don't mean much, do they?"
  9. "But the school pays for your kid to go to college, right?" 
  10. "How's that tenure package coming?" 
  11. "So what happens if you don't get tenure?" (by gingerest)
  12. " tax dollars pay your salary? Makes me your boss I guess hahahahahaha" (by John) 
  13. "Wait, you get paid how much?" (by John) 
  14. "So what do you do during summer break?" 
  15. "So what happens when you don't get tenure?" (by Andre)


  1. "What do you like most about teaching pre-meds?"

  2. "Nice civic" is sooooooo true.

  3. I love #4 and #7. They expose one of academia's little secrets - that professors aren't really hired to teach, and many of them dislike it and consider it a distraction from research!

  4. I like #11 and #15. Whenever I've described the tenure treadmill to people outside of academia (i.e. the vast majority of humanity), I expect them to sympathize with my plight as an assistant professor. Instead, I usually hear some variation of the following: "Wow, you have guaranteed job security for 6 years? You really do live a charmed life in an ivory tower". Having spent a number of years in industry where the axe can fall any day, I have to agree that the tenure probationary gig isn't as bad as we sometimes make it out to be. Where else do you get a one year terminal contract to put your affairs in order?

  5. Didn't get tenure? Teach high school chemistry and team up with a healthy Walter White to produce Pervitin II and/or specialize in making A students of people like Haley Dunphy. The first lesson is the meaning of quid pro quo.

    Either will get you a spot in a Federal or state institution for a minimum of 20 years and a segment on Dateline explaining your achievements.

  6. Chemjobber, I can usually tell when your posts are satirical or sarcastic but I'm not sure about this one. I don't mind most of these questions...maybe the difference between being an assistant prof. at a PUI/SLAC rather than an R1? I try to constantly remind myself (and colleagues) that, while we may be working 60+ hour weeks and getting paid 1/3-1/2 what industrial chemists get, the flexibility offered in academia and the job security provided by a six-year probationary period is pretty spectacular.

    1. I think this was written/co-written/co-commented on profs in the PUI space. (i.e. Andre.)

      Speaking for myself, I would be annoyed at many of these questions because I hate updating people on situations where the outcomes are hazy and there is really no news to be had. There is nothing quite like tenure in industry - we have no real security of employment, and I suspect that our tradeoffs are made from that calculation.

      In the end, though, I think you're right - professors, in the right situation, have a pretty sweet gig.

  7. "Nice Civic. Is that one of the '91s?"