Friday, April 13, 2007

Salary Expectations: Academia

Today I stumbled on some data about salary scales in academia. The average salary for full professors in general English lit fields clocks in at $73,673. For associate professors, that figure drops to $56,868, and for assistant professors, $47,405. We won't even talk about adjunct jobs, i.e., the job you do not want but might take anyway.

This money is enough money, in an objective sense. It is a lot of money. It is more money than most people make, and it can be augmented by lots of things. A professor at my undergrad institution is an ancillary author for one of my current company's textbooks; another is a food critic for the local alternative weekly (his reviews were pretty much like his teaching, which is to say, insufferable).

If I teach at a top-tier school, I might make six figures, but only after several lean years as a grad student and more not-quite-so-lean-but-don't-go-planning-any-grand-trips years moving up through the professorial ranks. It's hard to say how long that would take: tenure-track jobs are hard to come by.

One of the reasons salaries aren't higher in academia is that there isn't really competition--you get your PhD in English literature, you're pretty much stuck with academia as a field, you know? Tenure-track jobs get fewer and farther between, and I have to say, the prospect of hawking my intellectual wares at MLA conferences is an off-putting one. Nevertheless, the prospect of being a professor is a lovely one--I think often that how you feel about what you do is determined not by its mission statement, but by what you do all day, and what you do all day as a professor is read and think and talk to people. I'm good at those things, and I love them.

Suffice to say, I have made no firm decision about my future. Some days I want to go get an MBA and make a million dollars a year.


mOOm said...

Well English seems to be the field with the most oversupply vs. demand for professors and relatively lower salaries. Salaries are highest at good private doctoral schools (some of those places are also more expensive to live) but they are also much higher in some disciplines than others. Full Professors at my U. are paid $111k on average but we are a heavily science and engineering campus. The biggest downside to academia is it is highly unlikely that you can find a job in the place you'd actually like to live. Like in the same space where a spouse/partner can find a good job. And there are a lot of upsides to the work but there is also a lot of frustrating administration. And also when you are getting paid to do what you thought you would like to do. And expected to produce those papers and classes etc. it can feel very different.

Anyway, seems like you are pretty aware of some of the downsides.


Teaching is not as easy as it looks. But it is satisfying mentally and spiritually. Monetarily, that's another story.

Dude said...

You can take an English degree out into the real world and work your way into a good job. I make low six figures with an undergraduate English degree from a major state school and Masters in Public Administration.

But, unlike the blissfully unaware people with other majors, you will be haunted by Bartleby the Scrivener, the Para-Marxist critique of our society, and the suspicion that your boss's fine car is a phallic symbol.

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