There has been a heated discussion in this week’s Chronicle about the amount of work tenured or permanent lecturers do and whether things get easier or harder as you get up the food chain.
There are several points here: firstly the author Gabriella Montell was arguing that lecturers have to do more of their own administrative tasks now. This is true. Second, and this is more controversial, she was arguing that those in a permanent job are undervalued and are perceived to be lazy because their contact classroom hours are often less than more junior scholars.
I can see both sides of the fence on this one. I worked in temporary jobs for 3 years after my PhD and it was incredibly hard, time consuming work. The largest burdens are learning new material from scratch in fields you are not familiar with and teaching at an institution that doesn’t consider you a fully fledge member of the department so that you are flying blind for much of the time (and feeling ostracised). Tenured lecturers and professors do not usually face those burdens. However, the amounts of paperwork and managerial tasks they do are often very heavy.
One of the respondents to Montell’s original argument argued that the only way they survived having a permanent position was by learning to prioritise: this is good advice. But they suggested that it was important to learn: “(1) to say no, (2) to be satisfied with doing a mediocre job for most things, (3) that it’s okay to miss unimportant deadlines, and (4) to do the important and ignore the urgent.”
I would agree with points 1 and 4, but I am not sure about 2 and 3. Is it ever OK to be satisfied with doing a mediocre job, let alone “for most things”? I know that you cannot be a perfectionist and you have to accept that sometimes you have to let a project go and move on to the next thing, but giving mediocre lessons or producing mediocre research or even giving a mediocre performance in a staff meeting is not good practice.
Also I would challenge point 3, that it’s OK to miss some deadlines. I think we all know how frustrating it is when we’ve asked colleagues to get back to us by a certain date and we have to chase them a second, third or fourth time. If you make a habit of doing this, more and more people in your field are going to know that you’re unreliable and that’s dangerous for your career. It only takes 30 seconds to whiz off an email of apology at being unable to complete the task and giving a commitment of when it will be finished. So, my advice: don’t fall into the habit of missing deadlines because everyone else does it. Stand out from the crowd!