College professors spurn distinction of least stressful job
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 14, 2013 23:01
A study that ranked university professor as the least stressful job in America has made waves among those in higher education, including professors at Ohio State.
“One of my colleagues sent out an email to alert us about this finding and we all found it amusing, about the less stress,” said Randy Roth, a history professor at OSU.
Other professors aimed their distaste at a Forbes.com article, which relayed the CareerCast.com rankings in a brief article titled “The Least Stressful Jobs of 2013.” The article racked up hundreds of comments. Many pointed out that the criteria set by the University of Wisconsin researchers behind the ranking — including travel, deadlines, physical labor and risk to one’s life — overlooked the different but real types of stress of college professors.
The outcry caused Susan Adams, author of the article, to add an addendum to her original article.
“I was struck by the strong reactions I got from professors who feel that they are under a great deal of stress,” Adams said in an email. “I read every comment, tried to respond to quite a few and called out many that I thought were useful and detailed.”
Some OSU faculty felt that the ranking was fair, but only when applied to tenured professors.
“Once you have tenure it really gives you the freedom to pursue what you need to pursue and not worry if the project fails in the short run, and the short run for us is like years,” Roth said.
It is the non-tenured professors, which according to the American Federation of Teachers, make up as much of three-quarters of college faculty members, who are being misrepresented by the ranking Roth said.
“Being a junior faculty member or graduate student is horribly stressful. I mean, horrifyingly stressful. I can’t think of anything more stressful except maybe med school,” Roth said.
Ronald Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research and professor in the Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics, has a research interest in stress.
For those in the medical profession, much of their stress is derived from uncertain grants, Glaser said.
“Because of the economy and the budget stuff going on in Washington, things are becoming more difficult,” Glaser said.
Of the 68,951 grant applications filed to the National Institute of Health in fiscal year 2012, only 20.3 percent were accepted and Glaser said that number is likely to fall.
Glaser said he feels the strain of grant proposals on his research group of 21 faculty members, including his wife, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser.
“All we ever do is write grant proposals because we’re trying to stay afloat, stay alive,” Ronald Glaser said. “It’s very competitive. You want to talk about stress? It’s very stressful.”
Some students said they could see how a modern professor’s job might be easier with the help of the internet, but said the large class sizes could be overwhelming.
“I think that it could be pretty stressful because if you have a huge lecture you have to contact hundreds of students all the time,” said Malyssa Winters, a third-year in strategic communication.
Everly Okorji, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering, said he can see how the ranking could be considered inaccurate.
“There is a lot involved in the teaching process. I don’t know about it being very stressful but it definitely shouldn’t be the least stressful,” Okorji said. “These days you don’t have as many people going to get the help they need, so I can see why people would say it’s not as stressful as it used to be.”
Roth said that regardless of whether a professor’s job is stressful, the current tenure system allows professors the freedom they need to thrive.
“You look at the productivity of American faculty and it really shows what having that kind of support and confidence that you can go ahead and take risks does in terms of intellectual achievement and hard work, so I think the trade-off is really beneficial,” Roth said.