Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

A few things American academics should know

I sometimes get annoyed at Americans who seem to think that the rest of the world is modeled after them. Here are some things many American academics seem to take for granted:

  • Professors are paid for 9 months, the rest of their salary comes from eventual research grants. At least in Canada, this is false. As a professor, I am employed for 12 months a year. I can take a second job as long as most of my time is dedicated to the University. I do not know a single Canadian professor who gets an extra salary directly out of a Canadian research grant. Thus, in Canada, getting large research grants does not necessarily translate into a higher salary.
  • There are few top schools, and many lesser schools, that is, universities are distributed according to a power law. In Canada, there are some more prestigious schools (Waterloo, UBC, McGill, Toronto…). Yet, there is often little difference in tuition or admission rates between universities. There are salary differences between professors, but not always in the direction you would think: many smaller Universities offer better salaries and working conditions. In my province (Quebec), working conditions for University professors are almost the same throughout: the teaching load is standardized. Thus, a professor at a smaller University has no excuse not to spend less time on research than someone at a larger University. Yet, I hear that in smaller American colleges, the teaching load of professors can be substantially higher: there is no direct equivalent in Quebec. In this spirit, you might be surprised to learn that the Canadian school with the most important research licensing portfolio is a school you probably never heard about (Sherbrooke University). Yes, you could say that Canada is a little bit more socialist than the USA as far as education is concerned: Canadian governments try to make sure that all Universities (and thus, their students) have somewhat equal chances. Of course, even in Canada, if you plan on an academic career, you should probably attend a larger school, if only to have more choices. But it is not uncommon in Canada to find top researchers at smaller schools.
  • All Universities teach calculus at the elementary level. At least in my Canadian province (Quebec), most University degrees last only three years, the last three years of an American degree. Community colleges—not universities!—offer the equivalent of the first year of an American University education. Thus, University-worthy topics in the USA are often of “community college” level for us.