# A Professor's Interrupted Research Hours

andytoh
I'm just wondering:

On average, how many hours per day does a professor lose from his valuable research time to fufill his duties of giving lectures, preparing the lectures, making assignments, tests, marking, assisting individual students, advising PhD students, having meetings, doing administrative stuff, etc... and all other duties not related to doing research?

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complexPHILOSOPHY
That is the other exciting part about academia, though! I really want to be an enthusiastic professor and a quality, researcher, equally. Perhaps I am deluded but I want to give back to the community that nurtures me, if I am able to do so.

I suspect from your questions that you don't look forward to the teaching aspect, or are you just trying to gauge the entire spectrum of professorship?

Beeza
I've asked a couple of my professors the same question. They all seemed to agree that their research falls a bit behind due to the huge commitment there is to teaching, but they don't mind. However, they do take advantage of semesters off from teaching to get some serious researching done.

arunma
I'd be interested to know the answer to this too. To be honest, I'm slightly more interested in teaching than in research (though I certainly want to have an active research career as well), so I wouldn't mind if the answer to your question is "a lot of time." Heck, some people look at me weird when I say that I'm looking forward to being a TA next fall.

andytoh
Is it more or less than 4 hours per day?

arunma
Is it more or less than 4 hours per day?

For what it's worth, my freshman physics professor once commented that between answering e-mails and office hours with students, he spent about three hours a day with students.

andytoh
So 3 hours with students outside of class, plus another three hours for classes and preparing classes. And then there is the admin stuff that we never see. We're talking at least 6 hours per day, none of which is research time ?

complexPHILOSOPHY
It's more than a full-time job, it's a lifestyle my friend!

mathlete
Dunno, but some definitely put in more times than others. You can tell which ones took time to plan out notes and add useful examples and which ones decided to copy practically verbatim from the textbook. The extra effort is definitely appreciated - if I wanted to read the text, I would! I don't need it dictated to me.

andytoh
It's more than a full-time job, it's a lifestyle my friend!

Yes, I would like to make math research my full-time job and lifestyle. I currently study up to 12 hours per day, and was hoping to be able to do 12 hours per day of math research and enjoying every hour of it. But with those 6+ hours per day taken away...

tim_lou
I do not think teaching is such a bad thing... Whenever I have a bad professor, I always think that one day, when I am in the same spot giving out lectures, I will explain every bits in details and do a much better job at delivering the concepts of physics.

Ki Man
You could always have your students do your research for you =P not sure how accurate that would be though

Homework Helper
some one told me once that all three aspects of the job, research, teaching, administration, are potentially infinite commitements, you just have to learn somehow to keep them under some control.

i,.e. you can potentially lose your entire day every day to those other tasks.

the only escape is a research leave of absence at another university where you are not on faculty and hence have no duties,.

that is heaven, but it happens very seldom, as there is not any pay for that in general. i sold my car once to get such an appointment. it was great!

finally we got hungry, i sent my family home and tried to live out the last month alone on $50. I was counting on the$5 I deserved for turning in my office key to buy food, but the worthless secretary had not turned in the key and there was no $5 for me, I freaked out, and had to spend a dollar on a rose to make up to the person I yelled at. but those days were exciting and fun, not bad at all. Last edited: andytoh i sold my car once to get such an appointment. it was great! finally we got hungry, i sent my family home and tried to live out the last month alone on$50. I was counting on the $5 I deserved for turning in my office key to buy food, but the worthless secretary had not turned in the key and there was no$5 for me, I freaked out, and had to spend a dollar on a rose to make up to the person I yelled at.
I take it this part is just a joke, or at least an exaggeration.

some one told me once that all three aspects of the job, research, teaching, administration, are potentially infinite commitements, you just have to learn somehow to keep them under some control.

i,.e. you can potentially lose your entire day every day to those other tasks.

the only escape is a research leave of absence at another university where you are not on faculty and hence have no duties,.

that is heaven, but it happens very seldom, as there is not any pay for that in general.
Is there something wrong with this universal system? Shouldn't a professor's talents be used solely for research, and the teaching duties be given to TA's or something or another? After all, what's taught at university does not require the full expertise of a professor. And most students end up learning on their own anyway.

Taking away 6+ hours per day from a professor's research hours is like forcing a highly talented computer programmer to spend 6+ hours per day doing simple computer tasks and so the fruits of his talents will not fully materialize.

Stephen Hawking gets to do research full-time (he cannot teach anyway), and that is correct because this way his talents are being used fully. But I think this should be the case for all professors. But one person's opinion will not change anything so I should not complain.

Ki Man
I take it this part is just a joke, or at least an exaggeration.

although that's possbile, I'm not so sure

Beeza
I take it this part is just a joke, or at least an exaggeration.

Is there something wrong with this universal system? Shouldn't a professor's talents be used solely for research, and the teaching duties be given to TA's or something or another? After all, what's taught at university does not require the full expertise of a professor. And most students end up learning on their own anyway.

Taking away 6+ hours per day from a professor's research hours is like forcing a highly talented computer programmer to spend 6+ hours per day doing simple computer tasks and so the fruits of his talents will not fully materialize.

Stephen Hawking gets to do research full-time (he cannot teach anyway), and that is correct because this way his talents are being used fully. But I think this should be the case for all professors. But one person's opinion will not change anything so I should not complain.

Then be a research professor. We have plenty of those at my university. They don't like to teach, so they don't. But, I'm pretty sure there's no tenure for them, and they must support their income off of their own research grants.

Gold Member
Years ago when I taught at a community college, as a part-timer I had 16 hours of contact time a week with my students, my preparation time was about 6-10 hours a week. I had nights and weekends to mess around with physics problems I wanted to do. Most full-time faculty members don't have as many contact hours, i.e. class time and office hours and can attempt to do research and many do not redo their notes every year so their prep time is minimal.

andytoh
Then be a research professor. We have plenty of those at my university. They don't like to teach, so they don't. But, I'm pretty sure there's no tenure for them, and they must support their income off of their own research grants.

So I guess that's the bottom line: money.

Governments simply will not pay enough for sole research work by mathematicians and scientists, and so these bright, talented people have to resort to the tuition fees from students, and thus have to give up 60%+ of their research time to the paying students. The world's progress in math and physics would advance much faster if it wasn't for this.

I never once thought about money during all my math studies--I love math for math--but it seems like we are forced to.

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eep
What's so bad about teaching? If these "researchers" never teach, how does the next generation learn?

andytoh
TA's can teach university courses adequately (I've had TA's substitute for my professors for extended periods of time). A professor's talents should be left enitrely for research IMHO (and, in terms of helping out the next generation, advising PhD students--the professor's expertise is needed for that).

hrc969
Is there something wrong with this universal system? Shouldn't a professor's talents be used solely for research, and the teaching duties be given to TA's or something or another? After all, what's taught at university does not require the full expertise of a professor. And most students end up learning on their own anyway.
I don't know about you but I much rather have my classes taught by mathematicians who have years of experience doing research rather than a TA. At my school sometimes they allow TAs to teach classes but almost always under their advisor's supervison. Or course the classes they are allowed to teach are something like the first or second course in calculus. I can't think of a single class where I would have had as good a class if we had a TA teach the class rather than the professor.

I am currently taking an honors algebra class and THERE IS NO WAY a TA could do as good a job as our professor. A professor can give much more insight into the subject than a TA and that's very important. Methods and proofs you can get from a book, but you can't always get the insight that a professor can give.

Taking away 6+ hours per day from a professor's research hours is like forcing a highly talented computer programmer to spend 6+ hours per day doing simple computer tasks and so the fruits of his talents will not fully materialize.
Yeah, like some one said already, you can always just work as a researcher and not do any teaching. You probably won't get tenure and you would have to go from one university to another every so often. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If its what you like, go ahead. But some of us look forward to teaching and a lot of professors love to teach, so yes complaining won't do anything.

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Homework Helper
My story was literally true. I was a postdoc subsisting on a very inadequate grant. I turned down the second year of an NSF postdoc, and whent he agency asked me why I did, I told them honestly I could not I've on the amount ($15,00 a year for a family of four, in Harvard square). At one point we were out of money so I sold one of my cars, an old VW, for$300, for food money. Later there was not eniough for all of us, so I sent my family home to georgia, while I stayed in a friends house which was under construction, living in a dust and plaster filled building.

After giving notice to the math dept, and turning in my office key, which had a $5 deposit, I tried to get my deposit, and was told the key was not turned in yet. I became angry, since I had counted on that$5 for food.

I argued with the lady who was custodian of the keys unfruitfully. I felt bad and went out and bought a $1 rose and came back the same day, gave it to her, and started over again, as if I had never met her. She laughed, and I did not have the heart to tell her why I needed the$5 so badly. She would have felt too bad, but I still did not get it.

Later when the secretary at fault resigned, they found my key and a lot of others in her desk drawer. She was famous for never doing anything except looking at herself in the mirror. Indeed that's how they got rid of her. One of the professors, a very clever man, suggested to her she should be a model, and she quit to pursue that career!

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Homework Helper
By the way, few professors mind teaching motivated students like the ones here. Talent is nice, but anyone who wants to learn is a pleasure to teach. Its spending time in a situation where your time seems wasted on people who are not willing to try that is frustrating.

Still some of those students would try harder if they knew how important it will be to them. Poor study habits take time to shake off, and I try more than ever now to help poor students learn to be more attentive, and to work harder. I try not to take lack of attention as disrepect, and to look on it as just immaturity.

I myself was a very frustrating student to many of my former teachers, and now I try to contact them to thank them for their patience with me.

But in a competitive situation, where a profesor is herself being judged on productivity, and is working hard night and day just to survive in academia, or people are literally going withoiut food to feed their families, it is a lot to expect a teacher to have great patience with a student who will not wake up for class, or read the book, or turn in hw.

arunma
TA's can teach university courses adequately (I've had TA's substitute for my professors for extended periods of time). A professor's talents should be left enitrely for research IMHO (and, in terms of helping out the next generation, advising PhD students--the professor's expertise is needed for that).

I don't know about you but I much rather have my classes taught by mathematicians who have years of experience doing research rather than a TA. At my school sometimes they allow TAs to teach classes but almost always under their advisor's supervison. Or course the classes they are allowed to teach are something like the first or second course in calculus. I can't think of a single class where I would have had as good a class if we had a TA teach the class rather than the professor.

I am currently taking an honors algebra class and THERE IS NO WAY a TA could do as good a job as our professor. A professor can give much more insight into the subject than a TA and that's very important. Methods and proofs you can get from a book, but you can't always get the insight that a professor can give.

As someone who's going to be a physics TA next fall, I'm a bit qualified to comment here. Hrc is right, there's only so much that a TA can teach. As someone who has BS degrees in physics and math (with A's and B's in my upper division classes), I would certainly feel qualified to teach lower division subjects such as calculus 1-4, and algebra- or calculus-based classical physics. But there's no way I could teach advanced physics topics such as quantum mechanics or stat mech, to say nothing of specialized topics like space plasma physics. And I couldn't teach the higher level mathematical topics like complex analysis or numerical methods either. The truth is, you don't genuinely master a subject until you've had a lot of exposure to it. I didn't master freshman physics at the end of my freshman year. I mastered it after I took advanced classical mechanics.

Professors have had years of teaching and research experience, and are well-versed in many advanced undergraduate topics in physics. They, and perhaps the fourth and fifth year graduate students, are the only ones I can think of who are qualified to teach all undergraduate physics courses. So I'm not sure it would work very well if TAs began teaching all undergraduate courses. Besides that, if TAs taught all of my courses, I would have missed some great stories, like the one about the time my E&M professor met Paul Dirac (story available upon request).

Gold Member
I take it this part is just a joke, or at least an exaggeration.

Is there something wrong with this universal system? Shouldn't a professor's talents be used solely for research, and the teaching duties be given to TA's or something or another? After all, what's taught at university does not require the full expertise of a professor. And most students end up learning on their own anyway.

Taking away 6+ hours per day from a professor's research hours is like forcing a highly talented computer programmer to spend 6+ hours per day doing simple computer tasks and so the fruits of his talents will not fully materialize.

When your parents are paying gobs of  for tuition they expect that the expert who is supposedly a faculty member not a low paid TA to be teaching the courses. Now if you want to be a full time researcher, you should be employed as a research faculty member, upside: no teaching, downside: no tenure in many cases and you have to cover every penny of your salary plus overhead with research grants in all cases. If you get say $75K salary, you beed to bring in between$150K and \$200K to cover all the overhead, now if you teach a couple of courses a year and can squeeze some research in while doing that you can effectively work on less grant money.

Now taking time to do the mundane things like committee work etc... is part of the job and because most academic departments are democracies the full time employees are expected to contribute to their well being in those aspects. If you want to play, you have to pay and that is the payment. Hawking is a special case, for him to prepare for lectures on a daily basis would preclude him from researching anything because of his disabilities. Feynman, Bardeen and many of the other top-notch researchers all taught their assigned courses.

Think about this, the time away doing other things helps them do their work because you are not completely absorbed in it all the time. How many times have you worked a problem for hours and days without a break and gone off to do something else when you have your "ah ha!" moment and come back to finish the orginal problem in an hour.

Homework Helper
TA's can certainly teach elementary calc AT leAST IN THE WAY THEY leARNED IT, BUT a prof can teach it anyway he/she wants to.

there are many many ways to explain a subject you really understand, and have spent years thinking about.

i can teach calc with insights from archimedes, or Newton, or fermat, or euler, riemann, or errett bishop, john tate, or any of the many other masters i have come to know, either personally or through their writings.

i may be wrong, but i think i understand calculus better than most textbook authors, [not the ones i recommend here, but many of the ones we often use], and I try to incorporate my understanding in every class.

how many elementary calc profs will show you how to compute the volume of a 4 dimensional sphere by the same technique used for a three dimensional one?

see if you can read the treatment in a standard book and see how to extend it. many of them give it in a way that is not clearly extendable. why?

how many know that Newton already proved "riemann integrability" of monotone functions? (see michael comenetz's calc book). or that riemann himself already proved that a riemann integrable function is equivalent to one whose discon tinuities have "lebesgue measure" zero. (see riemanns works, paper on trigonometric functions). or that fermats algebraic method already computes the derivative of every function in elementary calc, without limits, except sin and exp.

of course many profesors know these things, but not all, and probably not most TA's. I have even seen [and reviewed] calc books, good ones too, whose authors were clearly unAWARE OF these points, since they contradicted them.

how many TA's know the connection between differential forms AND DERHAM COHOMOLOGY? IT IS HARD TO GIVE insights into more advanced material unlessone knows it oneself. when i taught advanced calc the first time, i used stokes theorem to rpove the non existence of vector fields on an (even dimensional) sphere, and the brouwer fixed point theorem. and this was in 1971.

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Homework Helper
here is a simple question a bright student might conceivably ask: why do we assume continuity in the FTC? I.e. there are many integrable functions that are not continuous. how do we recognize their indefinite integrals?

i.e. any integrable function has an indefinite integral, which is also a function of its upper limit.

what properties does this function have that characterizes it, so we can recognize it and use it to evaluate the integral? Or is the method of antiderivatives available only for continuous functions?

people who have done research are likely to ask such questions, whereas people who only learn from books uncuriously, do not, they just repeat everythig the same way it occurred in theior book.

Homework Helper
Gold Member
Besides that, if TAs taught all of my courses, I would have missed some great stories, like the one about the time my E&M professor met Paul Dirac (story available upon request).

Let's hear it! :tongue2:

arunma
Let's hear it! :tongue2:

My pleasure!

My professor was once at a physics conference in Trieste. During the lunch break he visited a restaurant to sample the local cuisine. At a nearby table, he happened to notice an old man eating with his wife. Now this man was different from everyone else. He wasn't engaged in any conversation, he had a dispassionate frown on his face, and he slowly ate his meal as if he were having prison gruel. That afternoon my professor attended a talk by Paul Dirac, and it turned out it was the guy from the restaurant!

OK...it sounded funnier when I heard it in person.

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
TA's can teach university courses adequately (I've had TA's substitute for my professors for extended periods of time). A professor's talents should be left enitrely for research IMHO (and, in terms of helping out the next generation, advising PhD students--the professor's expertise is needed for that).
But considering that most creative and significant advances in math and science have happened through people in their 20s and 30s, I could argue that students, postdocs and junior faculty should never have to teach - that job should be given entirely to professors.

Homework Helper
but why change the system that has worked so well? how do you know it wasnt having to teach that made the young faculty so productive?

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
My pleasure!

My professor was once at a physics conference in Trieste. During the lunch break he visited a restaurant to sample the local cuisine. At a nearby table, he happened to notice an old man eating with his wife. Now this man was different from everyone else. He wasn't engaged in any conversation, he had a dispassionate frown on his face, and he slowly ate his meal as if he were having prison gruel. That afternoon my professor attended a talk by Paul Dirac, and it turned out it was the guy from the restaurant!

OK...it sounded funnier when I heard it in person.

What was the expression on the face of Wigner's sister?

Homework Helper
wow! i recall trieste from my stay there as having some of the best restaurant food in the world.

Homework Helper
Gold Member
My pleasure!

My professor was once at a physics conference in Trieste. During the lunch break he visited a restaurant to sample the local cuisine. At a nearby table, he happened to notice an old man eating with his wife. Now this man was different from everyone else. He wasn't engaged in any conversation, he had a dispassionate frown on his face, and he slowly ate his meal as if he were having prison gruel. That afternoon my professor attended a talk by Paul Dirac, and it turned out it was the guy from the restaurant!

OK...it sounded funnier when I heard it in person.

I still had a laugh out of it.

Dirac is my favorite character from physics along with Landau.

Staff Emeritus