What We Do with Our Time

John Ziker, chairman of the Anthropology Department at Boise State University, typically conducts field research in the Taimyr Autonomous Region of north-central Siberia, studying the Ust’-Avam, where people depend on hunting, fishing, and gathering for the majority of their food.

But he and his colleagues Katherine Demps, David Nolin, and Matt Genuchi, have now turned their scholarly attention to Homo Academicus, and the result is a provocative micro-study of how we spend our time.

Responding to the recurring political concern over the adequacy of faculty workloads, Ziker and his colleagues felt that the annual reporting that faculty typically do to summarize their work provides a snapshot, rather than a detailed panoramic view, of how much we work and what we focus on when we are working. As an alternative, they have developed a Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study, adapting models used by researchers in Ziker’s own field of anthropology and by researchers employed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Their dean provided seed money that they used to compensate research assistants and the 30 initial participants in the study, faculty at his own institution across the broad spectrum of disciplines. Early each morning for two weeks, they and their research assistants would interview the 30 participants in detail about what those faculty members had done over the course of the previous day. Then, in order to quantify that information and to account for the various ways in which participants described similar activities, they developed a method of coding the data that they were gathering.

In contrast with the commonplace assumption that faculty work only a few hours a day for nine months our of the year, Ziker and his colleagues have found that faculty members work, on average, about 60 hours a week, year round. Assistant professors work slightly more than 60 hours per week; associate professors slightly less. Full professors work the most hours per week, and chairs works the least, but the variations seem much less noteworthy than the median number of hours worked regardless of rank or appointment.

They have broken down the “job” into the following functions: teaching, service, research, professional conversations, multiple tasks, mentoring, in transit, advising, and administrative tasks. The data has even allowed them to create a profile of how the time spent on these job functions varies by day of the week an how it extends across the weekend.

They have further broken down our “academic” work into the following “practices”: class preparation, course administration, dissemination, email, hiring/recruitment, housekeeping, instruction, letter writing, manuscript/writing, marketing/public relations, meeting, peer review, phone call, primary research, professional conversations, reading/lit review, reception/dinner, reporting, research administration, research development, scheduling/planning, student recruitment, travel, and workshops/conferences.

Lastly, in terms of the major elements of this study, Ziker and his colleagues have categorized with whom faculty typically interact while working: namely, alone, community, faculty/colleague, family/friend, graduate student, prospective student, staff, undergraduate student, various, and other.

Ziker summarizes their major findings as follows: “The most surprising finding of our analysis of practices was that faculty spent approximately 17 percent of their workweek days in meetings. These meetings included everything from advising meetings with students (which could be considered part of teaching or service depending on the department) to committee meetings that have a clear service function. Thirteen percent of the day was spent on email (with functions ranging from teaching to research and service). Thus, 30 percent of faculty time was spent on activities that are not traditionally thought of as part of the life of an academic. Twelve percent of the day was spent on instruction (actual lectures, labs,  clinicals etc.), and an equal amount of time was spent on class preparation. Eleven percent of the day was spent on course administration (grading, updating course web pages, etc.). Thus, 35 percent of workweek days was spent on activities traditionally thought of as teaching. Only three percent of our workweek day was spent on primary research and two percent on manuscript writing.”

The full study is available in the online journal The Blue Review [TBR], a journal of Popular Scholarship in the Public Interest published by Boise State University’s College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and featuring the scholarship being conducted by Boise University faculty: https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/

The journal itself is conceptually of considerable interest. It takes the usual university periodical highlighting faculty research one step further by presenting the actual research. In essence, it keeps the research entirely “at home” by publishing it there while apparently also allowing for some peer review.



3 thoughts on “What We Do with Our Time

  1. Pingback: A Follow-Up to “What We Do with Our Time”: An Interview with Katie Demps, Matt Genuchi, David Nolin, John Ziker, and Nate Hoffman | Academe Blog

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