I had to talk to the accountant about effort reporting for Project 1 and she asked “What % of your effort — not time — will you spend exclusively on this project during the effort reporting period?”
I thought back on my day, which was fairly typical for the summer, randomly guessed a number between 1 and 100, and spoke it as a question: 15?
She said: That’s a lot. Are you sure?
I said: 2? 7?
She asked: Which of those is correct?
I said: Neither. The correct answer is “I don’t know.”
She said: We need to use the correct number. OK, how much time will you spend on this project?
I asked: In hours?
She said: No, in % of your total time of 40 hours.
I said: But what if my total time is more than 40 hours? Can I just give you a % of whatever time I work? How about 4? 12?
And so on. We did not reach a number. I pleaded with her to tell me what number would seem like a good number and she refused because we might be audited and it would be bad if I worked more than what was listed and it would be bad if I worked less than what was listed. Every time I suggested a number, she rejected it because it was either somehow not an acceptable number (too low, too high) for mysterious accounting reasons or she wasn’t convinced it was accurate. I said that if she told me a good number, I would promise to work that amount, although I was of course lying because I’m going to work whatever amount is best for the project in the time I have available, and also I still don’t get the concept of time and effort being different but the same. She refused.
Ha! I feel dumber already, having read that brain-damage inducing explanation of the importance of bull$hit numbers. Any faculty member who’s gone through an annual evaluation will recognize the made-up nature of these attempts to evaluate effort distribution in our professional lives. The formula my department uses is 50% teaching, 35% research, and 15% service. But, really–those numbers bear little witness to the truth of our working lives, which vary sometimes semester-by-semester and month-by-month, even. The year I was both Grad Studies Chair and the Program Committee co-Chair of a major conference I sure was spending a hell of a lot more than 15% of my time on “service,” but all of that work could only be considered 15% of my workload.
Here’s something else I liked about FSP’s post. She precedes her crazzy conversation with the accountant with a very true-to-life description of her work day:
One day not so long ago I was working on Project 1 when a student working on Project 2 needed some help, so I helped him for a while, and then, after I briefly went back to Project 1, another student came by who had questions about Project 3, so I helped him, and then I got email from a co-author with the reviews of a manuscript related to Project 4 and we discussed the reviews and then I dove briefly back into that manuscript and thought about some things we might change and that reminded me that I need to deal with reviews for Project 5, so I worked on that for a while, and then I got an alert by email about a journal and so I did some journal-grazing and read-skimmed some papers relevant to Project 6 and then I went back to Project 1 for a while before being interrupted again.. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
How would you describe that work day? (It sure looks familiar to Historiann, who probably spends too much time responding to other people’s needsrather than shutting them out to get some damn writing done.) How much of FSP’s day was “teaching,” how much “research,” and how much of it was “service?” How is your “effort time” distributed, and does it bear any relationship to the reality of your work lives?
Sometimes I think it would just be easier to be like attorneys and record “billable hours.”