Read as Peter Ubertaccio talks about his career as a Professor of Politics. You can find him at www.professorpolitics.com and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I am the Director of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society and an associate professor of political science at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. I am also a political blogger, political analyst, and public speaker.
How would you describe what you do?
I think about, speak about, write and teach about American politics. And I administer an undergraduate institution and chair an academic department at a great college in Massachusetts.
What does your work entail?
In my role as Director of the Martin Institute, I am responsible for programming events on civic life, public policy, and interdisciplinary issues such as Indigenous Peoples, Globalization, and the intersection of Environmental and Economic Development (each one has been a two-year theme of the Martin Institute). I also advise students who are interested in going to law school and assist students who want to create their own majors or minors.
In my role as a professor of politics, and the current Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies, I oversee a department of 6 faculty members and 150 students. I work with my colleagues on the curriculum of the department, advising our majors and minors as they plan their four years of study, and read as much as I can about my discipline and contemporary politics.
As a political blogger, analyst, and public speaker, I give interviews on American politics and political campaigns, and try to offer up analysis and explanation for political phenomena, public policies, and political actors. I also speak before citizen’s groups, civic groups, and high school students on topics ranging from religion in politics to the contours of the 2012 election.
What’s a typical work week like?
I start every day reading the news in as many sources as possible. As the day moves on I am typically meeting with students, teaching at least one class a semester (often more), attending any number of committee meetings, and trying to find time to write about my main interests: the American presidency, political parties, and Massachusetts Politics. I try to blog on these matters at least twice a week. I also take calls from journalists or provide in-studio analysis of political issues and electoral contests. I try to squeeze in a public talk once a month or so.
How did you get started?
I got started as a fairly typical undergraduate Politics major who discovered that I rather enjoyed readings and couldn’t get enough. I devoured books on American politics, took as many courses as I could on the subject, and decided that I wanted to make a career out of it. As an undergraduate in Washington, DC, I would read everything I could in the Washington Post and learned that I loved just thinking about politics and history. I had to take a semester off from college for financial reason in the Fall of 1991, just as the presidential campaign of 1992 was underway. I worked at AT&T in Basking Ridge, NJ and every day I devoured every work about the campaign in the New York Times. I missed my classes and learning from my professors and vowed I would never step away from the study of politics again. And I haven’t.
What do you like about what you do?
I get paid to do the thing I love the most: think, speak, and write about American politics. The main benefit, however, is interacting with students who love the subject matter as much as I do. I am happiest when I learn something new about political phenomena from my students.
What do you dislike?
Academic institutions move very slowly and are somewhat insulated from the outside world. That is what I dislike the most.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
I am considered an academic administrator so I am on a yearly contract. I am also a tenured member of the faculty so I have my feet in two different parts of academia. But the message is clear: no one goes into higher education for a commanding salary. Blogging is a not done for money either, but for pleasure.
How much money do politics professors make?
There is a good deal of variation: full professors at research institutions make, on average, just over $120,000. Faculty at these institutions are concerned primarily with research and teach fewer courses, if any, than faculty at liberal arts institutions, state colleges, or community colleges. A full professor at a community college earns, on average, about $75,000.
Faculty members are ranked from assistant professor to associate professors to full professors. Typically a professor earns tenure in about 6-7 years at an institution and is also promoted to associate professor. After a number of years of teaching and publishing (the amount of each depends on what type of institution you’re at), you may be promoted to full professor.
The average starting salary for an assistant professor at a private liberal arts college is about $60,000.
Some professor are considered adjunct: they do not have a full time position and teach courses at one or more institutions. They get paid by the course or by the credit and the pay is awful. They may make as low as $3,000 per class taught.
How much money did/do you make starting out as a professor?
I started out as an adjunct professor making $2500 (!) for my first course. Starting salaries at my first tenure track institution hovered below $45,000 at the time I started here.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become a political professor?
If you want to be a professor and work in higher education, you need a Ph.D. If you wish to write about politics, a good background in writing and astute analysis is essential and these skills can be gained from a rigorous undergraduate education. If you’re interested in political analysis and reporting, a background in politics with a minor in journalism can be quite useful.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Finding the time to stay on top of developments in my academic discipline and staying on top of developments in the world of actual politics while I’m also handling the administrative aspects of my job and teaching.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding part is the classroom interaction with students. Once inside that room, conversing about the things I most enjoy, I forget about the challenges.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Don’t rush into a PhD program. You should think very clearly what you want to do in politics before you decide to pursue a doctorate. There are many avenues for people interested in American government and politics: a PhD program is only one and may not be the best one for you.
How much time off do you get/take?
I take about 3 weeks of vacation a year. As a faculty member, you work intensely from late August to early December and again from mid January to mid May with summers to pursue grant opportunities, teach additional courses, and conduct your research. As an administrator, I am on a standard 12 month contract.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
The most common misconception about educators in general is that we have a lot of free time. What I have is flexible time but between grading, working with students outside of the classroom, professional development, research and writing, the days fill up pretty quickly.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I’d like to continue to do more political analysis. It brings me outside of academia and I am enjoying the politicians, consultants, and reporters I’ve met. It also gives me a new perspective on the politics I teach. Public speaking has always been fun for me and I enjoy meeting new people in places I haven’t been before so I’d like to do more of that as well.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
You meet the most extraordinary, fascinating, and brilliant people in both the academic and political worlds. If you are open to it, you can spend your life learning more than you ever thought possible.