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January 07, 2013 11:25 AM I have the least stressful job in America (duh)

By Andrew Gelman

I agree with Susan Adams that being a professor, at least the tenured variety, is one of the least stressful jobs in America. Really, how many jobs are there where you make a good salary, you can never be fired, you only really have to work a few hours a week, you get summers off, and you can take off almost whenever you want to be with your kids? And, did I mention the part about “you can never be fired”? If you work for the government it’s unlikely you’ll get fired, but you still are expected to show up to work every day (unless you’re a congressmember, of course).

In theory, the job-for-life thing doesn’t have to mean much: in lieu of firing the tenured faculty, the university could just make our lives miserable by lowering salaries, increasing the workload of teaching, grading, and advising, cramming us ten to an office, etc. But so far I haven’t seen this happening.

For untenured faculty, it’s another story, and Adams doesn’t seem to get the distinction at all. (She added an addendum to her article but still didn’t seem to get the point that life is a lot more stressful for professors that aren’t tenured (or who work at institutions that might go out of business).) And, yes, I realize that my job at Columbia is particularly easy, but even the more run-of-the-mill tenured prof gigs seem less stressful than the equivalent straight jobs.

Apparently some people got on Adams’s case for her professor-bashing but I think she’s basically right (and I don’t see it as anti-prof to point out that we have low-stress jobs, any more than it’s anti-exec to point out that business executives get paid a lot to do what they do).

The thing that Adams’s critics are missing, I think, is that she’s a journalist—-and journalism is the ultimate unstable job. Sure, she talks tough:

ABOUT ME: Since Forbes hired me [Adams] in 1995 to write a legal column, I’ve taken advantage of the great freedom the magazine grants its staff, to pursue stories about everything from books to billionaires. I’ve chased South Africa’s first black billionaire through a Cape Town shopping mall while admirers flocked around him, climbed inside the hidden chamber in the home of an antiquarian arms and armor dealer atop San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, and sipped Chateau Latour with one of Picasso’s grandsons in the Venice art museum of French tycoon François Pinault.

But you know and I know that she knows that print is dead and online doesn’t pay the bills and, as a journalist, she’ll basically be playing musical chairs for the rest of her career. So, to her, yeah, the job of a tenured professor is enviable.

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to get this job. Still, I want to do more on Stan. Having a cushy job is great, but it’s just a means to an end (as, sadly, this guy didn’t realize until after his retirement.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.