A professor’s job…

July 3, 2010

What am I doing here? In a previous post I’ve explored the advantages of life as an academic, and I also questioned my personal vision.  You may think I am confused…  As promised I spent a lot of time thinking in this holiday period, not because I’m lost, but because I think we should continuously strive to better ourselves… and for that we need to know what “better” represent.

So what do professor’s do?

In his last lecture, Randy Pausch mentions (around 01:02:50 if you want to listen to it) an interaction with MK Haley when he arrived at Disney imagineering for his sabbatical. It roughly goes like this:

MK : I understand you joined the Alladin project? What can you do?
Randy: Well, I am a tenured professor of Computer Science…
MK: Well that’s very nice professor-boy, but that’s not what I’ve asked.  I asked what you can do?

Ahhh, here we are at that disconnect between academia and industry again… But I agree, professors need to be able to do something.  Few would question their knowledge, but what about skill? What can us professor-boy’s (and professor-girls!) deliver?  In Seth Godin post “Archetypes at Work -” When you are your best self at your job? The professor: solving interesting problems… Well, well, well…

So I should be solving interesting problems…

So is that research?

Of course yes, professors do research. But thinking about my personal life I do very little research, most of the research are done by my students.  What I do more with research students is that I teach (or try to at least) students to do research.  The more students you do that to and the less time you have for actual research!

So it occurs to me that as a professor I have a very straightforward deliverable: learning opportunities.

Professors provide learning opportunities!

People like looking at universities from the three legs of teaching, research and engagement.  This is too complex for me, I need to know what to “produce”.  But then again, standing back, looking at what I just said it occurs to me that providing learning opportunities cover teaching (clear I hope), research (the audience of the learning is different, but creating new knowledge is just a very specialised form of learning), and a fair amount of engagement activities can be seen as providing community-based learning opportunities…

In a future post I will explore the various forms of these learning opportunities that I provide…

What do you think? Do I miss the point if I say my primary job as professor is to provide learning opportunities. Leave your ideas in the comments.

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