More to the job than professing

By Zachary Brictson

Not everyone is able to see what professors do outside the classroom and how they must balance between a variety of responsibilities that go well beyond the chalkboard.

“We do a lot of hidden work that you don’t see, but it’s essential to keeping the profession running,” said history professor Heide Fehrenbach.

The three main aspects of the profession are a balance between teaching, researching and professional service, said John Bentley, assistant chair of the foreign language department and Japanese professor.

“There’s a lot more involved in being a professor, it’s not that cut and dry,” he said.

For the research side of the job, Bentley said it often involves writing and reviewing manuscripts, seeking publications, making letters of recommendation and applying for grants.

Winifred Creamer, an anthropology professor, said when she’s free from course work, she often dedicates entire days to research.

Two months out of the year, she’s doing field research in Peru.

While it’s a lot of work, Creamer said she enjoys her studies and is passionate about the field.

When Bentley, Creamer and Fehrenbach aren’t researching, they must make an effort to be on a number of the school’s committees.

“It’s a whole lot of committee work,” Fehrenbach said.

Bentley said his committee service is currently outweighing his research, explaining that the work load between the aspects of being a professor can fluctuate throughout each semester.

Fehrenbach and Creamer also make an effort to serve the school on committees, as both said it’s measured in the annual evaluation of professors.

Included in these yearly assessments are the student evaluations, with current semester’s being completed just recently.

“Student evaluations are very important,” Bentley said, explaining that professors are also audited at other times of the year as well.

The three professors said the student evaluations sometimes prove to be difficult in larger class sizes, which always have a small portion of negative reviews.

Bentley said it’s easier to connect with students in smaller classrooms.

While the evaluations play a part in professor evaluations, Fehrenbach said it’s the comment section that is most helpful to her personally.

“I draw on that to improve courses.”

The course work itself is a very active portion of a professor’s job, although it can vary between departments.

“Teaching is always important as that’s one of the reasons we exist,” Bentley said.

Creamer said that much of the semester’s course work involves planning for the next semester.

She said being a professor involves finding appropriate texts for classes, preparing assignments, powerpoints, notes and exams, as well as advising students and grading.

Fehrenbach said the history department’s course work is especially demanding since much of students’ work consists of essay writing.

Balancing between research and coursework can raise questions over where a professor’s priorities lie.

“Teaching and research have an equal level of importance at NIU,” Creamer said, who believes it can vary between schools.

Although research and committee work take up a large amount of time, the three professors said they take teaching very seriously.

“When I’m on campus I really throw myself into teaching and do the best job that I can,” Creamer said.

Fehrenbach also said that whether it’s research or teaching, she’s enthusiastic about what she does.

“Research sometimes closely intersects with teaching,” said Fehrenbach, who tries to keep her courses up to date and interesting with newly researched material.

Bentley said he takes his position personally.

“Students are the most important part of the job,” he said.