A study by CareerCast.com caught our attention recently. The career information website issued its annual lists of the 10 Least Stressful and 10 Most Stressful Jobs of 2014. CareerCast proclaimed that “tenured university professor” is the No. 4 Least Stressful Job and “librarian” is No. 8 on its low-stress meter.
To compile these rankings, CareerCast focused on 11 job demands that it considers likely to increase stress, such as job growth potential; amount of travel involved; competitiveness within the organization; physical exertion; hazards and environmental conditions; and risk to one’s own life or to the lives of others. What CareerCast didn’t do was interview or survey the people who hold these positions. Instead, it examined figures from such places as the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and trade groups.
We decided to interview tenured professors and academic librarians at UCSB to get the real scoop on stress. What we found is that these careers, like any others, do have their challenges and stressors. However, professors and librarians we interviewed said they enjoy the intellectual stimulation; freedom to pursue research; schedule flexibility; and diversity of duties that come with working at one of the world’s top-tier research institutions.
Here’s what we learned from our UCSB colleagues, followed by CareerCast.com’s lists of 10 Most Stressful and 10 Least Stressful Jobs of 2014.
Eileen Boris, Hull Professor and Chair, Department of Feminist Studies
“Getting a tenured job is among the most stressful, as is receiving tenure! The UC system with its constant merit review, however, keeps the pressure on if you want to get a salary raise.
“I often find myself working 24/7 because of all the responsibilities that come with full professor status. That, too, can be stressful.
“But knowing that I have ‘security of employment’ allows me to explore new areas of research and experiment in pedagogy.”
Jane Faulkner, Outreach and Academic Collaboration, UCSB Library
“Well, shoot, given the definition of ‘stressful’ (and I'm a librarian; I looked it up), how could I disagree with this? My average day doesn't involve high-stakes situations or life-threatening dangers, and even the demanding parts of the job aren't that bad.
“Yes, we have to deal with budget cuts and lack of space and demanding patrons and all that, but honestly, I see those as challenges rather than stressors.
“I have always thought that being an academic librarian is a marvelous job. I like being surrounded every day by smart people who are eager to learn.”
Glenn Beltz, Professor and Associate Dean, Mechanical Engineering
“I was concerned about the very idea of ranking careers on a stress spectrum. Such an exercise suggests stress in various types of careers can even be defined and measured, and is a consistent experience over many people pursuing said career.
“It is probably fair to say that most careers have certain stressful elements, and how people deal with such stressors can be varied. Also, my concern with a list of ‘least stressful’ jobs, and that ‘tenured university professor’ appears on it, suggests in some way that it is a ‘cushy’ job. I would argue that it's not a cushy job at all. It is a very challenging and demanding career to be in, and for an overwhelming majority of my hardworking and smart colleagues at UCSB and elsewhere, it is a very rewarding pursuit.
“The things I like best about my job are that the human interaction element is huge, and that no two days are exactly alike. In a given day, I get to talk to students, other professors, professional staff, administrators and everyone else who plays some part in our campus community. If I'm not teaching, I am addressing some issue, which might range from determining who is going to teach what class next quarter to preparing our programs to be reviewed by outside accrediting agencies.
“It's sometimes stressful, and oftentimes requires some diplomacy or negotiation skills, but it’s rarely something that makes me want to go screaming down that hall or quit my job. To the contrary, I think it's a great job and I'd do it all over again if we could rewind the clock a couple of decades.”
John Majewski, Professor, Department of History, and Associate Dean, Humanities and Fine Arts
"Rather than think about ‘low’ stress or ‘high’ stress, perhaps we should think about different types of stress.
"I'm blessed to be in a profession where I have excellent job security, a middle-class salary, great colleagues and flexibility with my time. On the other hand, many tenured faculty I know feel stretched thin by all of the commitments to research, service and teaching, and budget cuts to staff and services adds to the stress. It’s also important to keep in mind that there is a certain public element to academic life that can be inherently stressful — the fear of a bad lecture or a subpar conference paper haunts us all. And getting to a tenured position is incredibly stressful, especially considering the rotten job market that many fields have faced over the years.
"So while I feel very lucky to be at a place such as UCSB, stress is part of the life of every academic."
Rebecca Metzger, Outreach and Academic Collaboration, UCSB Library
“I was interested to see that ‘newspaper reporter’ landed on the top 10 most stressful jobs while ‘librarian’ landed on the 10 least stressful. In many ways, these are comparable industries and jobs. CareerCast.com says that newspapers are ‘cutting back on staff,’ ‘requiring … longer hours at lower pay’ and that reporters are now required to be ‘masters of new online technologies’ in a job with a ‘high public profile.’ The exact same words could be used to describe libraries and librarians!
"Librarianship is a rapidly changing profession. Anyone who selects a career as a librarian today must be adaptable, able to learn new technologies quickly and teach others how to navigate an increasingly digital and overwhelming information environment.
In a day on the job as an academic librarian, one might: help a student at the reference desk conduct research and construct a bibliography; introduce a visiting speaker at an event; troubleshoot online access problems for remote patrons; update the website; make decisions about buying collections within a limited budget; and teach courses on conducting library research. Libraries are increasingly busy places and busy places can get stressful!
"But I enjoy the activity and diversity of my job and the passion that my colleagues bring to it, even if it is stressful sometimes.”
Kip Fulbeck, Professor, Department of Art
“I'd venture whoever did this ranking doesn't have a clue. The stress level, at least for me, is pretty significant. Granted, there is dead wood at every campus who take advantage of the tenure system to coast and boast and for them maybe the job is stress-free, but for the rest of us who not only have to do our jobs but also make up for these lightweights, it can be really, really tough.
"This is one of the only jobs I know where there is no punishment for being a [jerk], for demanding to only be on campus one day a week or teach only at certain hours, or for treating staff, students or junior faculty rudely.
"Less competitiveness within the organization? What planet are you from? My job is physically as well as intellectually and emotionally demanding.
"OK. What do I like most? Once I jettisoned the prima donnas, I've been able to surround myself with a vibrant, stimulating and creative group of faculty, staff and students. Being among driven artists is a privilege. It makes me push my own work and also challenges me to keep developing myself as a teacher.
"I love the freedom to produce my own work, to push against conventional boundaries and separations, and to change education for the better.”
Eric R.A.N. Smith, Professor, Political Science
"Being a professor is a wonderful career because of the flexibility it offers. You can do a lot of work at home (and avoid commuting and traffic jams). You can choose your own research topics. If you get burned out in one area, you can move to another. I know someone who specialized in urban politics and then slowly moved into studying African politics. I started off researching and teaching public opinion and elections; now I study and teach mostly environmental politics and policy. That intellectual journey keeps people fresh and excited about what they are doing.
"It’s simple. You can do what you like. That’s why it’s not stressful.
"Being a professor can be a family-friendly job if you want. I admit that you have to put in a lot of hours, but you can work out a schedule that fits around your family. I volunteered in my daughters’ classrooms; I was active in the PTA; I coached their soccer teams from AYSO through high school.
"OK, I also sat in front of my computer a lot of nights. Who cares? It paid off for all of us. That is why it is a wonderful career."
Whitney Winn, Teen Services Librarian at King County Library System, formerly Director of Career and Professional Development, UCSB Graduate Division
"I'm not sure I would call being a librarian a low-stress job. Of course, there are many different types of librarian positions and work environments, but working in a public library can be quite demanding and fast-paced. At any moment, you need to be ready to respond to the public's needs, whether that's helping a 10-year-old find a good book to read, getting someone set up with their first email address, or just figuring out why the printer isn't working.
"You also have to be able to switch modes quickly because in any day you might have to put on an event for a group of teenagers, meet with community leaders outside of the library, order new books for the library, and put together plans and publicity for an upcoming event.
"But the varied nature of the work is one of the reasons I love this job, so it's not (always) stressful for me."
CareerCast.com’s Most Stressful Jobs of 2014
» 1. Enlisted military personnel
» 2. Military general
» 3. Firefighter
» 4. Airline pilot
» 5. Event coordinator
» 6. Public relations executive
» 7. Senior corporate executive
» 8. Newspaper reporter
» 9. Police officer
» 10. Taxi driver
CareerCast.com’s Least Stressful Jobs of 2014
» 1. Audiologist
» 2. Hairstylist
» 3. Jeweler
» 4. Tenured university professor
» 5. Seamstress or tailor
» 6. Dietitian
» 7. Medical records technician
» 8. Librarian
» 9. Multimedia artist
» 10. Drill press operator