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I finished my post-doc and am now faculty of computer science in India. My university was established just 5-6 years ago, and I was hired 7 months ago. My teaching workload is very high: two classes of 70 students each, no TAs. I am always either in the Head of the department's room or in the class. I am honest about this thing; I am not complaining.

My research area is theoretical computer science, but it seems that I will not be able to continue my research due to my workload. In my university, there is no motivation for research (no funding, and it does not matter to the university), but I am interested on my own accord. My contract is vague (just says "teaching and research activities").

Please suggest me some solution that allow me to do research at the same university.

Clarifications:

  • The real problem is that I have to prepare the teaching slides and preparations at home, time which I could have used for research. I try to wake up early to do research, but half of my time goes in preparing slides and teaching. I try to work on holidays for two-three hours.
  • I spend so much time in the department head's office because the head needs to sign forms for students. I have to wait 2-3 hours per day, along with the other faculty members, until he is ready to meet with me. Yes, this is inefficient, but trying to improve this would probably be seen as disrespectful.
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    Did you talk about the problem to anyone in charge there that could help you, guide you, or solve the problem? Oct 13, 2022 at 21:12
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    If other faculty members are waiting at the same time, can't one person wait and notify everybody? Oct 14, 2022 at 9:21
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    It is unimaginable to me that you are spending 15 hours/week just waiting to see your department chair. You might consider another question to ask about this specifically; even taking into account the subtleties of Indian culture, it seems like there has to be a way around this.
    – cag51
    Oct 14, 2022 at 13:08
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    @MitchellvanZuylen Or, y'know, have the department head notify people when he is around, eliminating everybody's need to wait for them. Or put whatever needs to be signed into a designated letter box. Or eliminate the need for the department head to sign off on classroom papers (??) entirely. Like, this entire situation is so far removed from how I expect a university to work that I really don't know what to say about it.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 14, 2022 at 13:52
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    @rma -- Can you confirm whether you have the option to work while waiting?
    – cag51
    Oct 14, 2022 at 14:00

7 Answers 7

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In a comment you said "I have to wait sometimes 2 hours some time 3 hours". Assuming you don't have to prepare for the meeting during this time, you could use this time for some or all of the following:

1. You could bring hardcopies of papers or books with you to read over during this time.

2. You could bring with you a paper you've been asked to referee, and work on that.

3. If you can have a laptop computer with you, then you could spend the time looking over papers or books or preprints related to your research that you have downloaded to your laptop.

4. If you can have with you a laptop computer with internet access, then you could spend the time scanning over online journal table-of-contents pages and paper abstracts, or looking though sites such as arxiv, for publications that you might want to look at in more detail at a later time.

5. If you can have with you a laptop computer with internet access, then you could spend the time downloading papers relevant to your research, rather than doing this possibly lengthy (depending on the internet speed you have) drudgery time-sink work at other times, times that would be better spent on research-related tasks that require uninterrupted periods of time.

6. You can also take care of teaching tasks such as lesson planning, writing lecture notes, grading student papers, and/or updating daily student attendance records. The last is probably not something you have to do, but I included because it is intended to be suggestive of any of the many mindless but time-consuming tasks that you probably need to take care of. This would free up time for research that you would be spending on this stuff at other times.

At least some of these are things that people do when a lot of their time is spent travelling by train or subway or plane, and this is certainly not new. For example, the author of this review of Hime's 1894 book The Outlines of Quaternions begins by mentioning he (pronoun almost certainly correct) became acquainted with quaternions around 1862 during one of his many and frequent steamship trips made from Holyhead to Kingstown [a 64 mile trip across the Irish sea to Kingstown (southeast portion of Dublin), lasting approximately 5 hours between 6 PM and midnight].

For what it's worth, I did #4 a lot for years in a non-academic job I use to have (laid off a few years ago, but not for that or any other performance reason), and during the past few hours I've been doing #5 (math journal volumes at google-books) while taking care of contract work I now have (editing math items for a couple of high stakes graduate school admissions tests).

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    +1 Laptop would have been my suggestion, but you did a better presentation that I would have.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 14, 2022 at 12:06
  • Thanks Dave L Renfro
    – Rma
    Oct 15, 2022 at 8:46
  • I should mention that #5 is no longer much of a problem these days, downloading articles is basically instantaneous even with quite slow Internet.
    – Tom
    Oct 15, 2022 at 22:00
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    @Tom: I agree, and after this appeared I realized that I might have put too much emphasis on #5 by including it separately. In my defense, I was actually doing it at the time, but with more time-consuming volumes of a certain math publication from the 19th to early 20th centuries (downloading from google books; something I've done off and on for many years), so #5 was a bit on my mind at the time. And even if the download time is only 30 seconds or so, when you have over 100 to do . . . Oct 16, 2022 at 9:36
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    Actually, it seems that most of the files for the volumes of the periodical I mentioned are not all that large. However, there have been others (e.g. scientific society proceedings) in which the volumes were routinely over 300 MB, and a month or two ago there was one in which two of the volumes were each a little over 1 GB (one of those two took nearly 90 minutes, but local internet speed was a bit slow when I was downloading it). Oct 16, 2022 at 9:48
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Let's rephrase your problem:

  1. I am being paid to unload boxes for 8 hours a day
  2. I would like to play soccer, but all my time is dedicated either to family, sleep, or work unloading boxes
  3. How can I play soccer more than a few hours a week?

Renegotiate your contract, change the job, or cut sleep/family/personal time to accommodate your other desires. There is no other way.

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    "Get better at unloading boxes" should also work.
    – Allure
    Oct 13, 2022 at 6:18
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    @Allure: I suppose "Get worse at unloading boxes" is another (untenable) possibility, where "getting worse" means doing the job less thoroughly so that it takes less time, although to be fair, it's hard to see how to put this into practice for unloading boxes (which I actually did during Summer 1978 at a university bookstore). Oct 13, 2022 at 10:15
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    It doesn't seem to be the case for OP, but to extend the metaphor, sometimes, the same organisation that employs someone to unload boxes for 8 (or more) hours a day also expects them to win top-flight soccer matches for reward and progression purposes. Oct 13, 2022 at 19:27
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    That's not a very good analogy. A marginally better one would be "I was hired by my local football club to play soccer. But, the job also involves a lot of unboxing. In theory my primary role is soccer (because football club!); however, my boss cares more about the boxes. Turns out boxes come with a lot of timecruft like cataloguing, and sitting in the club manager's office for hours to report on boxes. At the very least I don't want to lose my football skills. Does anyone have any tricks to speed up cataloguing/unboxing". I don't think "Quit football or stop sleeping." is a good answer. Oct 14, 2022 at 7:00
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    @TasosPapastylianou, that's not the case here I'm afraid. The university of the OP is a mostly teaching university. So he was hired to mainly unbox, while "lured" by a promise to be part of a soccer team and the prestige and freedom that goes with it. As I've explained in my answer.
    – Dilworth
    Oct 14, 2022 at 16:34
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There are already a few ideas how you can use your waiting time more effectively, but what I don't understand is why you have to wait for your department chair at all. If you and your colleagues all spend hours daily waiting around, it's quite frankly in the clear best interest of everybody, including the department chair, to reconsider the processes in play. Simple, obvious ideas include:

  • Having the department chair (or their secretary) notify everybody when he comes in to get your stuff signed.
  • Establishing a post box where you put stuff that needs to be signed.
  • The department chair making rounds when they come in to sign everybody's papers.
  • Or getting rid of signing all that stuff in the first place. I don't know what specifically you need to get signed all the time, but if it happens daily it is certainly too micro-managey and your university should seriously consider why it does not trust faculty to do their daily job without the approval of somebody higher up. I understand that cultures vary, but everybody (including the department head) would profit tremendously from a more empowered faculty. As you say you are still a very young university, so there should still be hope to re-consider your general way of working.

That all being said, it is not clear that doing these things would actually give you more time to do research. You say that the university does not care about research at all, so there is a distinct possibility that at some point all of this waiting-around time is eliminated, but now you are expected to teach 3 courses rather than 2. At this point it's back to aaaaa's answer - if your university does not value research, you will never be able to convince them to give you time to do it.

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    I rather doubt that OP, as a junior teaching faculty, has the ability to implement these reforms, as obvious and needed as they might be. Still, +1 from me for the last paragraph, which is a very good point.
    – cag51
    Oct 15, 2022 at 2:22
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    @cag51 Not directly implement, but I have to believe that there is a way to convince leadership that teachers spending a significant amount of their paid work time waiting around is good for nobody. This being a very young university maybe that's still growing pains, and people are open for suggestions? Maybe the department head simply isn't aware how much time gets burned waiting for them? If they are aware and are still unwilling to change anything at all, it might honestly be time to move on for OP, because that sounds toxic as hell.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 15, 2022 at 4:54
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This is a very common problem nowadays, unfortunately. Academics struggling to get positions take up mostly teaching posts, lured by mostly-teaching institutions that advocate their posts as standard academic positions having potential for "research".

In my estimation you have about four options:

  • Work extremely hard to make time for research. Make yourself extremely effective. And work yourself 24/7. This way you'd get some research done, but this is not a sustainable work habit.

  • Work very hard as above, while minimizing and in fact neglecting your teaching job so that you squeeze more time for research. This is not sustainable, but after two to three years you'd establish a good research to be able to move to a better university.

  • Try moving now to another more research oriented university.

  • Try to renegotiate your workload (not really possible by your description though).

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  • After 2 or 3 years, you might if you are lucky have good enough research to move to a more research-focused university Oct 13, 2022 at 18:43
  • I know this situation seems bleak, but it is possible to do research in these conditions. Karen Uhlenbeck mentioned that she wrote some of her best papers when she was teaching two courses per semester.
    – Tom
    Oct 15, 2022 at 22:01
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Preparing slides is a daunting task. However, you get better with time and hopefully you will teach the same courses next year, so, breath in breath out, you will have some time to do research in one year or so.

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    Here they change course each year.
    – Rma
    Oct 13, 2022 at 9:12
  • It's not a big change all the time, isn't it? So, basically after one-two cycles you should have your slide stack that requires only minimal changes. Oct 13, 2022 at 13:48
  • @Rma But how many possible courses are there for you to rotate through? Eventually you should be repeating classes some, no?
    – Kimball
    Oct 15, 2022 at 1:38
  • Was going to offer a similar suggestion, next quarter / semester / year, you can update and re-use the slides. If you teach a new class, you could try to appoach the professor who taught it before you and ask to swap slides or course material. With 70 students in the class, you're presumably teaching introductory or mid-level CS, not a seminar on bleeding edge topics. Surely you can review existing slides on slideshare or other online sources. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be great. (or at least, good). And congrats on landing a teaching position! Oct 15, 2022 at 2:06
  • @ Kimball 30 b.tech course I can get any one of them.
    – Rma
    Oct 15, 2022 at 8:34
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I can feel your frustration. But as others have alreasy mentioned, you get the hang of things after some time. In my case it took me the first 1-2 years to work faster and more efficiently when i started my new role.

However, before you get to the grips of things you may need to work during evenings and weekends. Universities with high teaching loads do make it difficult for academics to research, but if you want to improve your cv and perhaps move onto your next job this may be the only solution.

Or if possible, talk to your hod about this issue, and whether you could spend your time more efficiently? (I.e. visiting hods room on specific days of the week rather than everyday?)

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  • I hope summers are available for research. Oct 14, 2022 at 14:37
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    Summer are basically designing documents related to the course curriculum. There are 8 holidays in a year including winter and summer.
    – Rma
    Oct 15, 2022 at 8:35
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I know that the question is serious, but sometimes a bit of humor is fine...

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    ... review the 3 papers of my first 3 PhDs ...
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 16, 2022 at 0:06
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    ...go to international conferences Oct 16, 2022 at 3:34

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