Dear Mentor: More free time?

Dear Mentor,


Do you have more free time as a professor than you did as a grad student? Does this vary by type of institution or field? I am a swamped grad student and need hope that life will not be like this forever, but what I hear and see from my professors does not look promising.

From Kelly Aukema

If you are defined by your work, driven only by success or fear of failure, driven to please someone or to prove yourself, you are a workaholic and the answer to the question is no. Addiction to work is a serious problem. We often joke about it, but it is real, and it is rampant in our professional culture.

As a recovering work addict, I can assure you that if you are a workaholic, changing your occupation or going from grad school to teaching or professional life will not bring you more free time. Your only hope is to get to the root of the problem. Seek professional help or counsel from wise friends. If you can honestly say that you are not addicted to work, then there is hope, though you will still have to make wise choices that require serious soul searching.

I define free time as time to do whatever I choose. Most of us choose to do activities that build us up or energize us in our free time. With that definition, it makes sense that free time will mean different things to different people. Do professors have more free time than graduate students? I have now worked for three professors. All three love their work, derive joy from their jobs, and spend incredible amounts of time on what I would consider to be pure work. Their free time is often spent at their work, by their choice. As I do not like doing many of the things I see these professors doing, I have made the choice at this point not to be a professor.

My husband did choose to be a professor with a small teaching component and a large research component. He loves to teach. He loves research. He even likes the challenges of writing grants, reading the political landscape, and maneuvering through financial mazes. I do not. Likewise, we have two young boys and staying home with them fulltime would be hard work for me. I find working in the lab with grad students, doing research, and turning out research papers is for me a life-giving process and allows me a balance of work I enjoy and time for other things in my life.

Let me encourage you to make time to think about what you enjoy about graduate school or life in general. What makes you excited? I believe each part of our lives, especially work, is worship to God. To illustrate the point I’m trying to make, when you are alone, you probably don’t sing worship songs that you don’t like. In the same way, I would encourage you to make long-term career decisions to do things that speak from your heart to God.

From Dorothy Boorse

This varies tremendously by school and field both in graduate school and as a professor. While I am very busy, I have more free time than I did as a grad student and more than when I started as an assistant professor. The first two years as assistant professor are likely to be extremely busy, possibly painful, but you get more time as you get your teaching preparations sorted out. My observation is that if you go to a primarily research university, the pace remains frantic through tenure application and then you have some chance to ease up a little. At smaller teaching schools you are still busy and still do research but you have more discretion about it and definitely it gets much better as you have taught more. I also was able to negotiate a 3/4 time appointment without loss of benefits, so that I can do more research, which leaves me busy but not frantic, except at finals and the start of the year. Expect the first years to be tough. It was worth it though, at least in my case.


What has been your experience? Do you have more free time after grad school? For those of you who have completed grad school, let us know what you have found. Comments welcome below!

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