So, you’re back to work?

School summer holiday has come to an end in Australia and I get asked ‘And you? You’re back to work?’, naturally implying that as an academic I, too, have spent the past seven weeks off like my children and just returned to work now. For most people outside universities the work academics do is hard to imagine. Those who had been students at some point in their lives know that we teach and somehow  imagine that teaching requires some preparation. Although — I’m not even sure that they do, given that one of my student evaluations last year accused me of being ‘lazy’ because I ‘only’ delivered 16 hours of lectures and made the students present in the last five sessions…

At the same time there is a debate raging on twitter not about whether we DO work a lot but if that’s a good thing or a bad thing and whether we should brag about our 60 hours per week or mourn about our family/love/social lives going to sh**. And newspapers recycling the myth that research is a walk in the park or, actually, something easily done during a maternity-leave holiday when nursing a baby or in between changing nappies.

Just to be clear: I don’t work 60 hours…anymore. I did for a long time and my health and family suffered so I am extremely careful nowadays not to fall into that trap again. Two children and a partner — a family, in short — need attention, time and love, and THAT needs time! And yet, the price I pay for sticking to my 40 hours a very slow career because I publish far less than most of my colleagues. And I moved from the country that presently is the busiest in making academic life hell to sun shine Oz.

That said, what do we do spend our time with when we work 40 hours even in teaching-off times? Maybe I should give a little breakdown of my week to make it real:


At the computer at about 9.30 after having dropped off my seven-year old at her vacation care spot. It’s been six weeks now that my research assistant has sent me her annotated bibliography that I wanted to integrate in the literature review I’m writing at the moment so from 9.30 to lunchtime I verify her sources, look up others that I think should be associated with them and write on my review. I manage to write my set goal of 1000 words so call it a good day at lunch. After lunch I skim through my emails: I’m Director of Teaching and Learning and as the new semester starts in two weeks there are couple of changes to their teaching colleagues want me to approve. It takes approx. one hour to read through the notes and requests and even though I just need to write ‘happy to approve’-emails, it nags away time. Then I go back to my own teaching. I have not finalised the reading list yet as I want to have more than half of the required readings to be books or articles by female colleagues. Despite the massive increase of women in academia and in IR, they are less likely to be cited in scholarly articles and less likely (by far) to appear on syllabi. Especially in my area of teaching (International Security, International Cooperation) the ‘canon’ is still dominated by men. If you use only google scholar and textbooks to constitute your reading list you will miss out on the excellent work of women who know stuff.  Because of this male dominance, however, it is extremely time consuming to put women and minority scholars on the reading list. Luckily other colleagues have started to establish reading lists and yet these are far from complete. But…it still takes time, so two hours of my Monday afternoon were spent on putting together the reading list for lectures 1-3 — out of 12 so still a lot to do! In the meantime it is 4 in the afternoon and I have one hour left before I my partner will pick up our little one and work time is up! Time to think up a couple of quiz questions for the assessments…


In the office at 9.30 I have half an hour before student A.B. will come to discuss her study arrangements for next academic year. Student A.B. has failed several assignments last year and requires special attention to get her back on track. It’s the same for students C.D. and E.F. who will come later in the morning for the same reason. None of the students have the same circumstances and student E.F.’s case requires a follow-up with the Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching as I have frankly no idea how to handle this special case. Lunchtime comes and I have not yet written one line or looked at my reading lists…After lunch I skim through my emails and this there are a couple that need more extensive replies so the afternoon is taken up by emails and working on my reading lists. No writing. 🙁

Wednesday same as Tuesday. Thursday I have the desk clear to write on my review just to discover that most of what I wrote on Monday needs redrafting. But another 1000 words get done. Good day. In the evening, after dinner, I get back to my reading list as a colleague had posted a request for reading tips on Facebook and I want to see if the responses he gets fit my reading list, too. Another two hours to add to a usual work day.

Friday starts with emails and following up on the literature tips from Thursday night. Lunch with guests. And an early end to the working day as we can only afford after-school care for three days a week.

That’s about 40 hours, i.e. 2000 words of a paper draft, three dozen emails, pastoral care for five students, two dozen administrative requests, half a syllabus written, a couple of assignments thought up, two conference panels organised but — lucky week! — no meetings and no classroom teaching yet, no student emails, no lectures to prepare (commonly two hour lectures), no papers/lectures/recordings to upload on the class site, no news paper read and no assignments to mark; also no research to organise or do (e.g. interviews), no special readings other than those I’m writing about, no journal articles to review, no grad student papers to read, no journal/book to edit etc. If I would want to do what I did this week and any of these other things, or what I did this week but write 5000 instead of 2000 words (as I should if I want to publish more) or what I did and any fancy admin or ‘academic community’ position (let’s say journal editor) then yes, then I would have to work 60 hours and so I’m not doing it. Good for my health and sanity, bad for my career. But if you sleep well, even guilt is easier to bear.