Question: I hear from my professors that if I can't find them in their offices - they're doing research.

What does that mean, and how does that help me?

Answer: They really are doing research.

Professors at four-year colleges must divide their time among teaching, research and service. Let me explain: Teaching is when they show up in class.

Professors typically teach three or four courses per semester. That adds up to nine to 12 hours per week spent in class, because most courses are three hours per week. Of course, they have to spend several hours per week getting ready for each class, grading papers, preparing midterm and final exams, and so on.

One day the 5-year-old son of my neighbor told his mom that I was unemployed because he saw me at home during the day. I was preparing for class. Honestly!

Research is where professors spend about 40 percent to 50 percent of their time writing books, designing experiments and finding solutions to society's problems.

Did you ever wonder who wrote your textbook? A professor may have spent two years writing it.

Did you ever wonder how we know that certain types of drugs are more effective than others? A professor in a medical school designed an experiment to answer that question so millions of people could benefit.

Did you ever wonder how we know that a certain federal program may be more effective in reducing poverty than other programs? Again, a university professor found a scientific answer. All these professors were engaged in research.

Professors also spend a good deal of time on service. They serve on campus committees for enrollment, student discipline, curriculum and even parking. So the next time you get 12 tickets on campus and your car is towed, you can appeal to a committee, which includes professors.

Faculty members also join professional associations, which help them to learn from their colleagues at other schools. For example, a history professor may learn from another one how to teach a certain topic better - or how to deal with students who doze off in class.

All of these activities add up to significantly more than 40 hours per week. Most professors work countless hours because they love their profession. I know a business professor who refuses to be paid for his extra work on Sundays and late at night. He keeps telling me, "I am having too much fun to get paid!"

Send your questions and stories to Dean Ali Malekzadeh at Please include your name and hometo wn. Ali Malekzadeh is a former administrator and faculty member at Arizona State University. He is the dean of the business college at Xavier University in Cincinnati.