Dr. Mom raises an interesting point about the amount of time she spends working as a scientist:
I work about 40 hours a week every week. I rarely work at home.
It seems like most of my colleagues (women and men) work crazy 10, 12+ hour days. Often you hear people comparing the academic version of war stories almost as if it is a contest to see who has worked the longest day. But I have never been like that.
At my Midwestern R1U I am considered fairly successful [Mad Biologist: I’ll stipulate that she seems very successful]….
Dr. Mrs. Supersuccesful asked to talk to me and we discussed success and women at R1U. I thought here is someone I can finally share my secret 8 hour days with. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I got the weirdest look when I admitted that I don’t work crazy hours. (Which is why I never tell anyone.) Then later when discussing this with Awesome As. Dean, she said that I should speak out and let people know that 8 hour days are okay.
- Some people actually like doing sixty to seventy hours of science per week. There’s nothing wrong with that*: this is how they like to spend their time.
- Some scientists are at institutions were they do not receive a lot of ‘managerial’ support. If you’re at a place where the administration doesn’t help you write grants (on the admin side), requires lots of service activities, doesn’t provide the necessary teaching and research infrastructure, or has, in some other way, put you in a position to fail (or to be prone to failure; e.g., massive teaching loads and research expectations), you need to work really long hours. The noun you’re searching for is exploitation.
- Insufficient personnel. Often researchers try to do things that they’re not trained to do and will consequently waste time (and do those things poorly). That’s why it’s so critical to make sure that any position has the appropriate support staff–and the administration recognizes the need to support scientists. Having said that…
- Some scientists suck at time management. We’ve all seen (or suffered under) the PI who can’t manage his or her students. What makes you think they’re any better at managing themselves? Which leads to…
- There is a perverse incentive to not be efficient. As Dr. Mom notes, given the scientific cultural imperative of appearing to work hard (even if one is playing Tetris), having to stay late because you screwed something up isn’t punished. In fact, it’s rewarded–you’re putting in long, albeit stupid, hours. This doesn’t help change the culture.
- Business often does it differently. In the life sciences bidness, often, although it depends on the company, if you’re chronically working late (i.e., there isn’t a looming deadline), your time management is called into question. People wonder if you’re using your time well. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it’s worth noting.
Just to be clear, there are times when you have to work long hours–looming grant deadlines, something unexpectedly comes up, and so on. But there’s also a lot of bad behavior at various levels too.
So what are your experiences? How long do you work as a scientist, and why is that?
*Or maybe there is, but that’s a separate discussion.