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time breakdown for a typical week

laptop-coffeeMany discussions about doing research at a teaching institution break down into the kind of bickering and belittling evidenced in the comment thread on this Inside Higher Ed article.

So let me say from the outset, I teach writing and writing center theory and practice at an institution with a 4/4 load. I get a two-course release every semester to direct the Writing Center and I currently also have a one-course release every semester to coordinate a program. So I teach one course a semester and have, at least by my institution’s estimation, the equivalent of a 4/4 load.

(People have told me that the administrative work I get course releases for is “easier” than teaching, but interestingly, none of these people have done administrative work or if they have, they were not, in fact, able to publish more while doing it. I don’t think administrative work is easier than teaching, but it is different from teaching–a lot of it saps my energy much more than anything connected to teaching does.)

I have taught as many as seven courses a semester, back when I was adjuncting at two different community colleges. Seven writing courses/semester left no time for research. But I was teaching six courses/semester for most of the time that I was working on my Ph.D., so I know that for me, six grading-intensive courses/semester + research is possible, but it’s not preferable and I hope to never do it again. My point is not to say what is possible for you or anyone else, but simply to say that what is possible is a function of you, your circumstances in any given semester, what you are teaching, and what else you are juggling.

Here’s how I spend my work time in an average week during the semester:

  • writing center stuff (meetings, mentoring, planning, etc.) – 15-25 hours
  • teaching prep, including grading, and teaching – 8-13 hours
  • my own research and writing – 5-10 hours
  • service (committee meetings, prep, and follow up) – 5-7 hours
  • program coordination – 2-10 hours

There are weeks where my own research and writing get no attention, generally around midterm, when the Writing Center gets crazy, or heavy-grading times. (The times listed are based on what I found when I tracked my time for a few months using toggl.) What you see here is a typical week, but it’s not what every week looks like. 

I once told a brilliant and prolific scholar in my field that I envied how much she managed to publish on a regular basis and I asked her for advice. She said, “I don’t work out, I have no family, no pets, and my work is my life.” She went on to say that she was incredibly happy and loved her life. She didn’t miss workouts or pets or any of that, whereas I would miss them terribly if I didn’t have them. That conversation helped me feel some ownership over my choices–I have chosen to have a family. I have chosen to look only for jobs in Denver. I have chosen to stay at a teaching-focused institution. That doesn’t mean I am always happy with my choices, but in the grand scheme of things, I am.

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