Thursday, April 17, 2008

Longing for Professionalism

There are days - coming more and more frequently - when I long for the business world and its supposed emphasis on deadlines and punctuality.

We have a regular colloquium on Mondays; the graduate student presenting this week was so late the organizer called her to find out if she was arriving. I have a Tuesday-Thursday class to which the professor is always five to ten minutes late, and then keeps us five to ten minutes after the official end of class (it's not clear whether this is to make up for the late start or because he's generally incapable of keeping track of time). The audience to a meeting doesn't show up until several minutes after the official start time (unless there is free food, in which case they chat around the food table until several minutes after the official start time.

This week has been worst than most. First there was my interview with the director of my university's graduate teacher program, a formality for hiring me as the lead graduate teacher for my department next year. My appointment was at 1; I dressed in business casual for the occasion and arrived at 12:55. The director wasn't there. She had gone to pick up her car from the mechanic over her lunch break, and was expected back momentarily. Around 1:20 the administrative assistant called her; she would be another 15 minutes. It's not that the meeting was late, which is somewhat understandable. It's that she was able to answer her phone right away, and remembered she had a meeting, but hadn't bothered to call when she knew she wouldn't be on time.

Then there was our lab meeting. My advisor's son behaved true to toddler form, ran into something head-first, and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches. Again, a perfectly understandable reason for throwing off a schedule. She informed our lab coordinator that she would be late, with instructions on what could be handled before she got there. We handled all of that, and then sat around for 15 minutes chatting about nothing waiting to see if she would show up. Eventually the lab coordinator borrowed a cell phone to check messages and discovered that a voicemail had been left to just videotape the meeting. This is one of those situations where no one is really at fault: the advisor could have tried calling someone else after not having the call (placed after the meeting had begun) answered, the coordinator could have brought her cell phone to the meeting, one of us could have encouraged checking messages earlier.

Why is it too much to ask that if people say something will happen at noon, it happens at noon? When I do have an event scheduled, I show up on time or five minutes early. No one else in academia appears to offer the same courtesy. I know I impair my own productivity often enough by surfing the web instead of writing a paper, but at least that's on me: my fault, my responsibility to correct. If I have to spend five to twenty minutes sitting around waiting because someone else didn't have the courtesy to arrive on time or at least inform me that they would be late, that's on them. That's time I can't spend on what needs doing.

I appreciate the flexibility of an academic's schedule; I show up to work at 10 or 11 many days of the week, though usually after working until midnight the night before. I would happily exchange it, however, for a 9 to 5 job where I at least am told if something won't happen on schedule.

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