2016 End-of-the-Year Wrap-Up

Professors–particularly professors who are contingent (non-permanent and adjunct faculty). permanent but not tenured, and tenure-track but not tenured–are regularly asked to perform acts of self-assessment, filling out performance evaluations, maintaining an updated CV, and responding to our supervisors’ assessment of our work in official performance reviews (contrary to popular belief that would have you imagining that professors never have to prove their worth or defend their work, but just sit in their Ivory Towers doing whatever they like and keeping their jobs forever…. a deeply annoying false impression that nonetheless continues to be held as truth in some anti-intellectual circles.)

Here’s the thing, though–those performance evaluations and CVs and annual reviews provide at best a snapshot of the glittering highlights of a given academic year, sort of like Facebook’s “year-in-review” function. They do little to show the actual work of the professor, especially professors in reading- and writing- intensive positions, like most humanities professors. I have therefore taken to compiling my own end-of-year performance review, which takes into consideration not only what I accomplished,  but also what it took to get there, as a corrective to the idea that being a professor is somehow an “easier” job than most (and to remind myself that I have actually accomplished a huge amount, regardless of how little it shows up in some formal assessment practices, and that the utter exhaustion I feel is completely justified).

I find that often, there is a huge difference between what the public sees and what actually goes on, and this discrepancy is largely translated into a question of perception versus reality concerning what professors do. Hopefully, posts like this one will help lift the veil a bit and provide those who are remotely interested in the subject with a chance to understand the true amount of work that goes into the “life of the mind.” Bear in mind–what follows is coming from a first-year Assistant Professor with fewer administrative tasks than other professors tend to have; professors who also serve as department chairs, program directors, editors for book series, and similar have even larger workloads.

Without further ado, then, here’s the rundown of my professional life, everything from January 1, 2016 to now:

What is listed on my CV for 2016:

Completed and defended dissertation; earned PhD in English and a Master’s certificate in women and gender studies.

Took up position as Assistant Professor of English and Medieval Literature.

Publications: 4 book reviews; completed and submitted book manuscript; completed and had accepted for publication 2 articles; completed and had revise-and-resubmit requests for 2 further articles; completed full drafts of 3 further articles beyond that.

Courses taught: 1 section Intro to Narrative (36 students), 1 section College Writing I (20 students), 1 section Research and Argumentation (16 students), World Lit I (24 students), Brit Lit I (2 sections, 43 students) and History of the English Language (8 students). Total number of students: 147, spread across 7 classes.

Grants & Fellowhips applied for and won: James L. Paxton travel grant, English department travel grant, Graduate student association travel grant, Bernard dissertation fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship.

Other awards: graduate alumni award from my MA-granting institution recognizing my impact as a junior scholar in my field, particularly my work in supporting and engaging student research and professional development.

Conference activity: 3 presentations, 2 organized-and-chaired sessions, and a graduate student mentoring exchange.

Invited talks: a lecture on the Global Arthurian tradition, a brown-bag talk on aspects of my dissertation, and a seminar on the job market.

Editorial work: Senior editor, Hortulus Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies; Board member, The Heroic Age; consultant for a digital project on medieval princesses.

Committee/Task Force/ service work: member, Diversity, Inclusion and Equity task force; mentor, adjunct observation program; president, Graduate Student Association (Jan-May).

Professional service: elected to a Modern Language Association executive committee and the advisory board for the Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship.

What it takes to get those items onto the CV:

Basic course prep and student assessment:

Course syllabi written: 7 (plus 5 “sample syllabi” created for the job market–so really, 12), at between 2-5 hours each for creation and finalizing.Going with the lower number, that’s 24 hours.

Course lectures prepared: 75. Between 1-5 hours to prepare each of these. Going with the lowest number, that’s at minimum 75 hours.

Course sessions taught: 223, at between 50 minutes and 1.5 hours each.

Student Essays assessed: Writing courses–roughdrafts, 216; final drafts, 108. Other courses combined: 310. Total number of student essays commented upon and assessed between January and December: 634. Let’s generously assess this at about 20 minutes per essay. That is 211 hours just reading and assessing student essays.

Student final group projects assessed: 20, about 1.5 hours each to compile individual narratives and write my summative evaluations, 20 hours at minimum.

Student weekly discussion boards assessed: 78, about 1 hour for each, 78 hours.

Reading quizzes written and assessed: 68, about 1 hour each, 68 hours.

Final examinations written and assessed: 6, about 3 hours each, 18 hours.

Final writing portfolios scored: 20, about 30 minutes each, 10 hours.

Total basic course prep and assessment: 494 hours, or 20, 24-hour days’ worth of time, conservatively estimated, plus the actual class sessions individually taught and office hours held, plus answering student emails. (not included in this estimate).

But wait…. there’s more.

Texts read for classes taught:

College Writing I and Research and Argumentation:


The Bedford Reader

The Little Seagull Handbook

From Inquiry to Academic Writing

Articles and essays

David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University”

Sherman Alexie, “Superman and Me”

Anne Lamott, “Shitty First Drafts”

Stephen King,”What Writing Is”

James Porter, “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community”

James Paul Gee, “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics”

Kelsey Diaz, “Seven Ways High School Prepares You For Failure”

Joseph Harris, “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing”

Douglas Hesse, “Who Owns Writing?”

Introduction to Narrative

Abigail Browning and Melissa Ridley Elmes, Lenses: Perspectives on Literature

Roy Liuzza, trans. Beowulf

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Bram Stoker, Dracula

Stephanie Meyer, Twilight

John Byrne & Mike Mignola, Hellboy, Volume 9: The Wild Hunt

Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: “Monster Culture: Seven Theses”

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur (excerpts)

“Arthur and Gorlagon”

Marie de France, “Bisclavret”

The Holy Bible: Exodus chapters 1-5

World Literature I

(From the Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volumes A, B, and C):

Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern creation myths, (A pp. 23-51)
The Hebrew Bible, (A pp. 158-167; 191-192)
The New Testament (B pp. 18-32)
The Qu’ran (B pp. 74-97)
Ibn Ishaq (B pp. 100-106)
Confucius’s Analects (A pp. 1330-1344
Daodejing (A pp. 1344-1354)
Baghavad-Gita (A pp. 1282-1301)
Homer’s Iliad (A pp. 222-230; 256-273; 273-331)
Abolquasem Ferdowsi (B pp. 182-206)
Song of Roland (B pp. 219-284)
Bertrand de Born, “In Praise of War” (B p. 310)
The Odyssey, books 1, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Travel and Conquest narratives (A pp. 909-949)
The Aeneid, Books I-III and XI
Ramayana (A pp. 1170-1234)
The Inferno, (B pp. 342-415; 426-440; 460-464; 478-482; 496-511)
Marco Polo, Travels (B pp. 809-819)
Ibn Battuta (B pp. 820-827)
John Mandeville (B pp. 828-836)
Europe and the New World (C pp. 517-589)
The Stela of Taimhotep (A pp. 92-94)
“The Ruin” (B pp. 321-322)
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, (B pp. 1087, 1091, 1092, 1094)
Egyptian love poems (A pp. 76-80)
Sappho (A pp. 635-643)
Medieval love lyrics (B pp. 320-328; 337-339; 341-342; 344-346; 349-351; 354-358)
Akam poems (B pp. 859-868); 2 of the women poets (B pp. 947-948); Bhavabhuti (B pp. 952-953)
Renaissance love lyrics (C pp. 168-179)

British Literature I

(From the Broadview Anthology of British Literature, Middle Ages through the Eighteenth Century):

“Caedmon’s Hymn”
Exeter Book Elegies, pp. 51-57
“The Dream of the Rood”, pp. 58-61
Beowulf, pp. 62-106
“Lanval,” pp. 111-126
Middle English lyrics, pp. 127-134
“Sir Orfeo,” pp. 147-158
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, pp. 159-224
“Bricru’s Feast” pp. 225-227
Geoffrey Chaucer, “The General Prologue,” pp. 233-251
Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” pp. 298-319
Julian of Norwich, pp. 349-364
Margery Kempe, pp. 366-380
Malory, Le Morte Darthur (excerpts)
Sonnets (Petrarch, # 190; Du Bellay, #113; Ronsard, “When You Are Very Old…”; Shakespeare, “R&J Act I Sc. 5”; John Donne, #10; Lady Mary Wroth, # 1)
Sonnet cycles: Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene Book One, pp. 566-629
Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”
Walter Raleigh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” and “A Vision Upon this Conceit of the Fairy Queen”
Robert Herrick, “To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time”
Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
Aemelia Lanyer, “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” and “The Description of Cooke-Ham”
Ben Jonson, “To Penshurst”
John Milton, Paradise Lost Book 1, pp. 920-931; Book 4, pp. 951-963
John Dryden, “Absalom and Achitophel,” pp. 1041-1055
Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, pp. 1106-1142
Anne Finch, pp. 1247-1253
Lady Mary Worley Montagu, pp. 1423-1429
Alexander Pope, “The Rape of the Lock” pp. 1386-1398 and “Eloisa to Abelard,” pp. 1401-1405
Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” pp. 1517-1519

History of the English Language


The Origins and Development of the English Language
A Companion to the History of the English Language

Articles and essays

Ronald Wardhaugh, Introduction to Sociolinguistics ch. 14, “Disadvantage”
Dennis Barron, “Ebonics and the Politics of English”
Geoffrey Pullum, “African American Vernacular English Is Not Standard English With Mistakes.”
Ronald Wardhaugh, Introduction to Sociolinguistics ch. 13, “Gender”
Robin Lakoff, “Talking Like a Lady”
Lynda Mugglestone, “Ladylike Accents and the Feminine Propriety of Speech”
Kelley Ross, “Against the Theory of ‘Sexist Language.’”

As you can see, there is a lot of work going on that never gets seen by those who are not in academia–hours, and hours, and hours of reading, thinking, writing, and revising in order to stand in front of a class as experts in our subject area. The more unstudied and off-the-cuff a professor’s lectures might seem, the more work it took to get to the point where it didn’t look like work at all. You don’t just magically become an expert once the PhD is conferred–you have to keep researching, reading, and revisiting ideas and texts. Maybe “not all professors”–but this professor, at least, re-reads everything she assigns to her students, every term. Even if we conservatively estimate the above at about 2 minutes of reading per page, that’s approximately 160 hours of reading–the equivalent of 6, 24-hour periods of time–just to prepare for classes, and exclusive of any extra reading or research I do to prepare lectures and discussions.

Thus far, then, in addition to the physical time spent in classrooms and office hours and other service-related duties like responding to emails, keeping records like attendance and grades, committee meetings, and student advising, we now have added an estimated 654 hours of work–that is, 27, 24-hour periods’ worth of reading, course prep, and assessment–into the mix. That averages to 3, 8-hour workdays per 24-hour period accounted for, or the equivalent of over two months’ worth of regulation 40-hour work-weeks–but, remember, this work of reading, prep, and assessment is all crammed into the same period in which we are actively teaching.

But wait, there’s more…….. because as professors, we are also expected to publish original research and new interpretations of the texts we work with. If you look at my writing and publications record for 2016 listed above, you will see four book reviews (4 books between 200-500 pages in length read and then written about) and also 7 articles either completed or in revision. For each of those articles, a certain number of books and articles had to be read. Here’s that breakdown:

Article 1: 22 books, 9 articles and essays

Article 2: 18 books; 15 articles and essays; 2 unpublished dissertations; 1 conference paper

Article 3: 10 books, 9 articles and essays, 1 unpublished dissertation

Article 4: 20 books, 16 articles and essays

Article 5: 10 books, 13 articles and essays

Article 6: 6 books, 1 article

Article 7: 16 books, 4 articles and essays

Let’s average 2 minutes to read each page, and average 200 pages per book and 15 pages per article/essay, understanding that this is a lowball overall estimate. Let’s also remove 10 books and 10 articles to avoid possible overlap between projects. We can even take out entirely the dissertations and conference papers consulted. Here’s what’s left: 42,510  minutes, or 708 hours, or 29, 24-hour periods. If each of those 29 days is broken into 3, 8-hour days, we are left with 67 days, or a total of just over 9 full weeks of work, about 2.5 months’ worth. THERE is your “summer off.”

But, we’re not done yet… because there’s the little problem of writing, itself. If we conservatively estimate each article at 20 pages,  I wrote 140 pages of academic prose for these 7 articles. Averaging 10 minutes per written page (and that’s being generous, some pages come much faster and some, agonizingly slower) that’s 1400 minutes, or just a hair short of a full 24-hour period, or 3, 8-hour days. Estimate then another two of these writing periods per article for revisions, and you’re at 4200 minutes, or 70 hours. Time flies when you’re writing and revising…..!

Add in the 3 conference papers I researched, wrote, and presented, for another 15 hours by the calculations I did for the articles. That’s a total of 85 hours’ worth of drafting and revising (again, a conservative estimate).

There are two more writing elements to toss into the mix–I also completed my dissertation, and completed editing a full, book-length manuscript.

My dissertation weighed in at 337 pages. To be fair, I completed the full draft and most revisions prior to 2017, so I am not including any of that work in the time estimates. What I will include here is 2 minutes per page for editing (which again is generous from my end, because some pages took much, much longer than that), five hours for prep and defense, and 8 hours for formatting and submission. That’s a total of 24 hours, or 3, 8-hour workdays, just on edits, defense, formatting, and submission of the dissertation.

The manuscript I co-edited is a behemoth–a collection of essays clocking in at 678 pages. Again, if we estimate on average 2 minutes of editing per page, and consider that we went through this manuscript at least twice to comment and offer suggestions for revisions for each individual essay, we are looking at a minimum of 2,712 minutes, or 45 hours, devoted to just the editing (and one of my co-editors took on the truly Herculean task of compiling and formatting these essays; I cannot even imagine how many hours that took her, but I have offered to make up for it by indexing the whole book once it’s finalized…..)

So, then–in addition to my regularly-scheduled teaching, office hours, advising, administrative tasks, task force and committee work, and conference activity beyond writing papers, I contributed at minimum an extra 1,542 hours’ worth of productivity to my 2016 work year.


1.) I love my job and it’s a good thing that’s so, because I spent the vast majority of my waking hours engaged in it throughout 2016.

2.) It is completely fine for me to veg out for the final days of 2016, because I’ve earned those days of rest.

3.) My family deserve brownies tonight for putting up with all of this time-consuming work.


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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