Here's part of "Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, second edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living" at


You can become a professor. Though professors get low pay, they enjoy short hours and long vacations (for summer, Christmas, and “spring break”). They can use their free time to soak up more cultural experiences or to moonlight as consultants or writers.

How many hours?

There’s the tale of the farmer who asked the professor how many hours of class he taught. The professor said “14 hours.” The farmer said, “Well, that’s a long day, but at least the work’s easy.” The farmer didn’t realize the professor meant 14 hours per week.

Being a professor is not a total joyride: you must spend lots of time grading papers, going to faculty meetings, preparing and researching your lectures, and doing other administrative crap. But compared to many other jobs, it’s a piece of cake. And you get lots of free benefits, such as medical plans, campus events, and other entertainment, such as the joy of laughing at your students.


If you’re a successful professor, you’ll be promoted to “dean” or “president,” which will make your life more miserable, since you’ll have to spend lots of time administering instead of “fooling around” (I mean “doing research”). “Administering” means “dealing with headaches and trying to embarrass people into donating money.”

Back in the 1960’s, when students were protesting for more freedom, the president of Stanford University gave this description of his job:

A university president has 3 responsibilities: to provide sex for the students, athletics for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.

Advice for students

What colleges teach is overpriced. Instead of paying many thousands of dollars per year to enroll, you can just go to a bookstore, buy the textbooks, and read them yourself, for a total cost of a few hundred dollars instead of thousands. But you won’t take that shortcut, because nobody will motivate you.
The main reason for going to college is social: to chat with other students and professors who’ll motivate you, argue with you, and encourage you to move yourself ahead.

The average professor spends just a small percentage of his day in front of a big class; he spends most of his day helping individuals or tiny groups. But most students spend most of their days in the big classes; just a few take the opportunity to chat with the professor one-to-one or in small groups. That’s why the typical student says “most of the classes I take are big” while the typical professor says “most of the classes I teach are small.” For example, at Dartmouth College I did statistics proving the average student spent most of his time in huge classes, while the average professor spent most of his time in tiny classes, leading to wildly different perceptions of what the “average” student-faculty ratio was.

In many colleges, students complain the professors are cold and unapproachable. On the other hand, the professors complain that not enough students come visit the professors during the professors’ office hours. When students fail, the students therefore blame the professors (for being unapproachable), while the professors blame the students (for not approaching).

If you’re a student, remember that you (or your parents) are spending lots of money on college: make sure you get your money’s worth! Ask the professors lots of questions (during class or privately), interact with your classmates too, take advantage of the many cultural events on campus, and do whatever else you can to make your experience more worthwhile than just reading textbooks you could have bought for a tenth of the price of a college education.

Cynical quotes

Groucho Marx said this in Horsefeathers:

Let’s tear down the dormitories!

The students can sleep where they’ve always slept: in the classroom.

W.H. Auden said:

A professor is a person who talks in someone else’s sleep.

Dave Barry gave this advice to students:

Memorize things, then write them down in little exam books, then forget them. If you fail to forget them, you become a professor and must stay in college the rest of your life.

To get good grades on your English papers, never say what anybody with common sense would say.

Anybody with common sense would say Moby Dick’s a big white whale, since book’s characters call it a big white whale many times. So in your paper, say Moby Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland. Your professor, who’s sick to death of reading papers and never liked Moby Dick anyway, will think you’re enormously creative. If you can regularly come up with lunatic interpretations of simple stories, major in English.