A Walk Through The Parking Lot

The school I’m at now is a much more humble university than the previous two schools I was at.

Before I was at state schools with professors that had big multi-million dollar research grants. The graduate students and post-docs didn’t make a lot ($0-$40k tops), but a professor could easily make between $75-$150k+ depending on the field and their reputation.

My school now is mainly a lot of people who enjoy the low key academic culture. But along with that culture smaller salaries are the norm. Most professors at my University will probably only see $75k at the top of their salary range, maybe. At an average of 4% raises per year it would take at least ten years to get to that point. And even then, a raise is not a promise at a school like this were so much is dependent on meeting the student enrollment that year.

I became acutely aware of this as I walked through the faculty parking lot today. I noticed a lot of cars that were in the same shape as mine. At least 10 years old, most with some sort of cosmetic damage, none of them any sort of luxury cars. We’re talking domestic sub compacts for the majority of vehicles.

And I wonder – is the lack of flash in the parking lot a sign of the income difference itself or could it also be a reflection of the culture at this University?

The general “vibe” here is that no one worries too much about material things, but instead on how we treat people. There is a non-judgmental sense that is spread around campus. That doesn’t mean that no one worries or is judgmental, but people actively try to not be.

So this makes me wonder: Does a lack of peer pressure mean more people will live within their means? Or is the parking lot merely a reflection of salary?

I tend to think that the peer influence plays a part. We all want to keep up with the Jones’. But if Mr. Jones drives a 2001 Mercury Tracer – does it even matter that we’re keeping up?

Or perhaps it is salary, everyone here may just be acutely aware of how little they have compared to their counterparts at larger universities and instead opt to stay out of debt and build savings so that they can retire comfortably.

For me, it is a relief to know that my coworkers cars look like just as big of crap piles as mine. A parking lot full of BMWs and Benzs would make me feel inadequate. But my beat up 2002 Focus fits right in.

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2 Responses to A Walk Through The Parking Lot

  1. psychsarah says:

    That’s an interesting observation…at the university where I attended grad school, our profs made good money (most worked at the university and then had other clinical roles also) but most drove clunkers. I put it down to getting used to being poor graduate students and not being able to fathom that they now had real jobs that paid them accordingly. Old habits die hard.

  2. Serenity says:

    I teach at a community college, so driving the 10-year old car makes me feel like one of the club, actually. But IMHO, I think the material things might be more of a concern when it comes to how your students judge you. It’s not keeping up with the Joneses – it’s keeping above the Joneses’ kids! If it’s not the car you drive, it’s how you dress, whether you carry papers around in a briefcase or shoulder-bag, or how nice of an office you have … if you have an office. It’s interesting to think about the implications when most of my students are driving much nicer cars than I do…

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