Your professors job is not to be smarter than you.

It is funny how many prof’s and students forget this wee detail, but it is true. At the end of the day, you as the student are there to LEARN and to achieve YOUR goals. The job of your instructors is to GUIDE you and show you how to be a better and more rigorous thinker. Sadly, in the real world in order to get through Grad school you are going to be kissing a lot of professor ass because, well, they got sh*t on all through grad school and so now its your turn. Yea, that sucks. If you are an undergrad? There are a lot of great profs out there that love to work with undergrads (including the authors of this blog), but there are plenty of others that see you as a pain in the ass that must be endured to get to what they care about: Yes, harassing grad students and showing them who’s boss. Look, they know a LOT more about the topic area than you. They should, that is their job. But they are not required to be smarter: they are not the source of all wisdom, major or minor. They know a lot about their obscure area of study, but they may well know -zero- about the particular historical fetish you have.

But you students are not off the hook on this deal either. You often show up in the office expecting the ultimate final answer to everything from next weeks quiz to that you should do about that rash you got during a drunken hook-up with an indeterminate number of people over spring break. (And why? WHY? do you insist on showing us the afore-mentioned rash… we believe you, we really do.) Look, your Prof’s are just as screwed up as you, maybe more so because their “eccentricities” are considered typical or even arty (read: behavior that would never be tolerated anywhere outside of a university setting with tenure). The main difference is they have done most of the screw-ups you have and survived them and thus roll their eyes that you are so wrapped around the axle about it. You really do have to take control of your education. It is not a Happy Meal where you get to say “I’ll take the number 5” and its all dealt with. Well, OK, you can… but you are really wasting a lot of opportunity. Don’t look for Gods, Guru’s or even a mentor, look to LEARN and demand your teachers TEACH. Oddly, if you do that… mentors suddenly show up.

I suggest both students and instructors take my personal hiring philosophy into play. I always want to hire someone much smarter than myself… much smarter. Why? Because I am pretty damned lazy. My life goal is to be able to walk into the office and say: “Wow, I would love to help with this project, but I’m not as smart as you, so I have to go watch a movie and maybe take a nap.” I live to be the tottering former expert that is well past his prime and keeps getting paid scads of cash out of tradition.

And if you, young student, keep following your dreams you can reach mine, and thats what is important that end of the day, my dreams, isn’t it?

9 thoughts on “Your professors job is not to be smarter than you.

  1. Here here. I always describe myself as a personal trainer — it helps remind students that they are the ones, ultimately, who have to do the pushups.

  2. How much is the pay after tenure? I’ve always wondered if it was worth all the heart ache it talks to get it.

  3. You will have to ask the authors that are tenured! Of course, I bathe in Spanish doubloons every night, so tenure is a moot issue for me.

  4. Rick,
    Tenure and promotion to Associate Prof were good for a 7.5% raise when I went through.
    There are a lot of good reasons to go in to academia but the promise of high financial returns is not really one of them. Generally if you like what you are doing in terms of teaching and writing/research, tenure takes care of itself. If you are in it for the money though, you might not be so happy. If money is your sole motivator, you might consider mortgage banking, or other professions where success is measured by dollars and profits.


  5. I don’t have tenure, and just landed my first full-time-with-benefits job as an anthropologist, and I’m nearly 40 (will be in August).
    I went to graduate school in Anthropology because I wanted to spend my 20s going to graduate school. I also assumed that I’d be a tenure-track professor, but things didn’t work out that way. I’m married to a tenure-track professor (an archaeologist), but he was on the job market for 6 years before he got his current position (which we hope will be his forever job, tenure-willing).
    You don’t get the degree because you want tenure. You get the degree because you want the degree.

    And we may not always be smarter than our students, but we usually know a damn sight more about anthropology than they do. So when they are in our classes, they ignore us at their peril (or at least, at the peril of their GPAs).

  6. It may not be your professor’s JOB to be smarter than you are, but don’t worry, she is! HA!

    RE: tenure… Anthropology is a lifestyle choice, a calling, if you will. I’ve never considered being anything else, and I never, ever considered how much I would make. As long as it is a living wage (which in the Bay Area is no small thing) it is not so much what I do as who I am. It is BEYOND nice, it is an extraordinary privilege for which I am grateful every other day, to be able to support my family by being who I am and doing what I do. Tenure is like a marriage: until death do you part, unless you decide it isn’t working for you anymore. Some people probably go into the relationship for money, but most of us are dancing to a different drummer than that, and thus are pursuing a different dream – the dream to be acknowledged officially as who and what we already are.

  7. Tenured professor-hood (read: “ship”) may not be about the pay, but to find another job with the same level of job security may be hard to find. I’m tired, broke, in debt, enrolled in grad/professional school full-time, and in the prime of my life (supposedly, 26). You guys (professors) somehow found the moxy to wake up, prepare, teach, research, write, impress, and otherwise jump through a bunch of hoops to get where you are. Kudos to all my professors for that – you’ll always have my respect (not that the respect of one of your students means anything; after all, we’re not peers, or anything).

    At least everyone, prof and student alike, can agree on one thing – f administration. Wait, no, they’re not really that bad, just forced to do a job no one would actually want to do (budgeting the pursuit of knowledge), making tough decisions after achieving the type of recognition we’d all love to achieve. Staff – well, they come to work, support us all, and slug through it. I guess there’s no one to blame but ourselves. . .

    and that, my friends, is a lesson in personal responsibility. Happy New Year.

  8. The student’s job is to schmooze the professor and pretend to find them endlessly entertaining and wise. This is exactly why I have a 4.0 GPA. After a few semesters of C’s and D’s…I broke down and began kissing a**. Has worked wonders for my academic career.

  9. My professors are less intelligent than I am. That’s a simple matter of fact. They’re also terrified of my intelligence, which hinders my progress. Pathetic.

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