Iowa State faculty members spend their average work week mostly teaching, according to the Faculty Activities Report study from Academic Affairs Committee submitted to Board of Regents in November.
Across all faculty, the typical work week is about 54.8 hours, with 21.6 hours spent on scholarship, research and creative work and 22.1 hours spent on instruction.
“It’s complicated because they change, but typically [...] I teach my classes, hold my office hours, [...] and at the same time, the work week also looks like me facilitating my other class; I teach an online class," said William Novotny Lawrence, associate professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State. "After my office hours, I go home, and that’s when I work on that course. So that’s preparing the lectures, looking at modules for the next unit, looking at grading, answering emails from students from the class — all of those things."
Lawrence said he also has several other obligations and projects going on outside of teaching.
“The thing that changes is that we have a lot of service obligations, like research, as well," Lawrence said. "So right now, I’m in the process of writing a book, or co-writing it with someone else. So in addition to doing the facilitation of the course, [...] in addition to the book, I’m also juggling other research projects. So that’s just one of my service endeavors that I have too, that I’m always working on, and a lot of emails with that and meetings every year, and a big national conference."
The Academic Affairs Committee report data comes from self-reported surveys, which about 82 percent of Iowa State faculty responded to. The average hours in a work week for faculty overall has decreased from 58 hours in 2012 to 53.9 hours in 2018.
“A typical work week is Monday through Friday; hours vary, but [...] I’m usually here by 7:30, 8 o’clock," said Cynthia Haynes, associate professor of horticulture. "And then there’s some weekend grading, sometimes even a weekend trip up here to water plants or prepare some things. So, if you’re talking hours, it’s usually more than 40 hours a week; it’s usually less than 60. [It] depends on the week."
Some faculty members can feel the hard stress of school work along with university students, though in different ways.
It's kind of a "perfect storm" of obligations happening all at the same time, Lawrence said.
"I’m also affiliated with two departments here [...] so sometimes there’s that week where I have a committee meeting, but then I have a faculty meeting for English, I have a faculty meeting for Greenlee and I’m still working on lectures and stuff, and then those moments you kind of go like, 'Oh my gosh, what’s going on,'" Lawrence said. "So it’s like in bursts, but not consistently. Generally, I’m pretty good."
Some professors are able to have help from teaching assistants, but the workload can still be demanding of their time.
“I think, as always, teaching and education is a really intensive process," Haynes said. "So, if you have more people to share the load, or to delegate certain things, I think that makes it easier, as long as everyone does what they’re supposed to. [...] I feel like I could do a better job if I had a little more time to devote to [teaching]. And I will say, though, that we’re pretty fortunate in that I have some help from undergraduate TAs."
Professors’ work is sometimes affected by their students and the feedback they receive, both good and bad.
"I’m always thinking about my classes [...] trying to figure out [...] what’s going to work, how do I change this, how do I do that," Lawrence said. "When you have [...] students who perhaps lack respect or speak to you in ways in which you would never speak to anybody regardless, [...] those things kind of stick with you because you just wonder what’s going on; what is it that’s happening that people think that’s okay?"
While teaching is the most prevalent duty during most faculty’s work weeks, financial cuts and other issues have caused service loads to be higher, Lawrence said.
“I would say probably one of the things that’s happening, and I think this is happening at universities across the U.S. actually, is that service is going up,” Lawrence said. “At a university like Iowa State, which is kind of a research-heavy university, [...] we’re expected to produce. And then teaching is always really important too; I research so I can teach."
Besides a heavier teaching and research load, some professors are also expected to do more service. Lawrence said the service component can weigh heavily on faculty alongside their other expectations.
"It’s not even that I mind doing service work, it’s what I’m here for, it’s what helps keep the department and the university going," Lawrence said. "But sometimes you find that you’re on all of these committees, and by the time you finish those meetings, how am I supposed to write anything [...]? And so it happens, and I think it happens to a lot of folks, and it’s happening at a lot of institutions.”
The Academic Affairs Committee survey on faculty work weeks is conducted every two years, and according to Haynes, it can be helpful in allowing faculty to assess their priorities in work.
“It does kind of make you realize that work-life balance is kind of hard," Haynes said. "And as a scientist, this makes us kind of recognize that, 'OK, maybe I can be more efficient here, or maybe I need to say no here, or I need to prioritize the research, or I need to prioritize some extension activity.' So that’s the good thing from it, from doing a survey like this, is it makes you reflect a little bit on what you’re doing."