A quick question for the science graduate students: work hours.

The issue came up in my "Ethics in Science" class today, so I figured it was worth mounting a quick (and obviously unscientific) poll:

Feel free to discuss in the comments.

More like this

"50-60h, at minimum"

He'd like to see 8-7:30 M-F and 8-12 Saturday with a bit extra thrown in on Sunday for cell culture and reading papers @ home.
It doesn't happen, but that's what he'd like.

Both my wife and I have always treated grad school as a 9-5 job, and rejected the notion that it requires you to work weekends and evenings, or to eschew a life outside of school. At the same time, I can't say that I ever encountered any expectation on the part of my supervisor(s) to either keep minimum hours, or even to be present at all. If there was ever any pressure, it was either self-imposed or inspired by guilt from watching other students spend day and night in the lab.

"There are 3 eight hour shifts in a day. You should be working 2 of them. There are 7 days in a week. You should work seven."

By Project Green Cell (not verified) on 29 Apr 2010 #permalink

I have the best PI. She expects me to be an adult and get my shit done. there are no expectations to be in the lab for crazy amounts of time either. I realize she is rare.

Good poll! At my current (second) attempt at a PhD, my supervisor insists that everyone maintains "work-life balance". I don't have much of a life, but I do limit my time in the lab to about 40-45 hours per week. Partly this is also due to fieldwork; I'll be away for 6 weeks this summer, working 9-10 hours per day (at least), 7 days a week.

My previous attempt at a PhD, under a different supervisor at a different university, was characterized by overwork. I was spending up to 80 hours per week in the lab, and when one is working on a failing project (the brick wall bashes back) that level of effort for no return is extremely frustrating. I can tell you from direct experience it's the route to burnout.

By TheBrummell (not verified) on 29 Apr 2010 #permalink

In hindsight, this poll probably would have been better split into two polls:
1) How much time are you expected to be in the office/lab?
2) How much time do you actually spend in the office/lab?

And perhaps a third question:
3) What proportion of your time spent in the office/lab is actually productive?

I also hate these kind of polls. If you require students to work more than 40 hrs a week, you're an evil taskmaster. If you have them work 9-5 M-F, you are paying technicians too little money, but giving away the highest degree possible. Graduate school is not a job, or at least not just a job. These types of analyses have, in my opinion, the intrinsic idea that being a graduate student is comparable with selling books and stocking shelves at B&N.

For the record, Im in the no set amount of time, as long as shit's getting done type of PI. Im interested in what kind of science fits easily into the 9-5 M-F time frame. My technicians will come in on a weekend or work a long day if the experiment requires it.

since i finished grad school fairly recently, i'll answer... it varies by condition.

average week, about 50 hours.
i'm-on-a-roll week, 70 hours.
when i was major caretaker to spouse, as much as i could.
finally it's time to defend? oh crap!, 90 hours.
dissertation writing, working to some capacity nearly all waking hours. (but very short term and exhausting.)

V. infernalis -- Both you and your wife are in for a rude awakening (if you want a career in academic science).

If you want a 9-5 lifestyle, you can always work as a clerk at The Gap.

By Neuro-conservative (not verified) on 29 Apr 2010 #permalink

I keep track of my hours and in my first year of grad school I average 65 hours a week including holidays and sick time, with a range from 40 hours to 83 hours. A comfortable week for me is about 70 hours when I'm not sick or dealing with other major life issues. In our program we don't do research our first year, so I don't know what my advisor expects of me, but when I told my department head I was working 70 hours on average first semester he said that was about right.

I don't think it was ever discussed directly, but my PI expected us in the lab 50ish hours a week. Time spent teaching, grading papers, attending classes or seminars did not count towards those hours. There was no sick time and no vacation time, and the pay was abysmal.

Actually, most Gaps are open a lot more than 9-5. If you want a 9-5 lifestyle, you could work as a pharmacist, a nurse (with extra bonus dollars if your biologically optimal 9-5 is actually 9pm to 5am), a bank teller, K-12 school teacher, a microbiologist in a hospital or food industry, plenty of doctors that have their own practice, plenty of accountants types (e.g. "corporate finance"), some lawyer types (e.g. tax attorney), some computer programmers (stereotypical codemonkey e.g. IT security), many scientists affiliated with the government...
Seriously Neuro-conservative, the whole sneering at someone desiring work-life balance as simply wanting boring, low-paying, clerk work at corporate hellhole is really Stolkholm syndrome based. Not to mention counterproductive... "I LOVE my STRESS!!!! You will become BORING and UNFUFILLED if you have a job that is within your capacities and only takes 40h a week!!! You MUST compete with all the other PhD students and go exactly where they are going if you want to be a REAL SCIENTIST with a REAL CAREER"

My Graduate advisor:

"You should be in bed, in lab, or in transit."

becca @13 -- It is a shame that you view the choices as stress vs 40 hrs, or that balance requires lack of stress and no greater than 40 hours commitment to career.

What about passion for knowledge? What about staying up late or going into lab on Sunday because you just can't wait to see the results of that last run?

If you lack that sort of thirst, a career in science (or just about any career, as opposed to merely job) is not for you.

P.S. I know doctors, lawyers, and corporate finance people. Doctors, lawyers, and corporate finance people are friends of mine. And none of them work even close to 40 hour weeks.

P.P.S. If you think counting pills or cashing checks is a rewarding career, more power to you.

By Neuro-conservative (not verified) on 30 Apr 2010 #permalink

It seems to me there are two issues here: (1) time spent working on your own research, and (2) time spent doing a job for someone else, whether being a teaching assistant or a research assistant.

When I was a grad student, in my department these were clearly differentiated, and I wasn't aware in my lab of any expectation that a particular number of hours was supposed to be spent on MY research. Rather, it was a matter of overall progress. But this might be only because I didn't finish my Ph.D. and I might have encountered that later.

OTOH, there were clear expectations about the amount of time I spent as a TA. In theory it was half time; in practice, more like 30 hours per week, or "as much as it took to get the job done."

Our major source of envy was that it seemed to us, in a relatively "pure research" discipline, that all of our "research assistant" time was spent doing our professor's research. But the grad students in the more industry-supported departments spent 75-90% of their RA time working on their _own_ research rather than someone else's. We didn't think that was very fair.

I realize the line between the two isn't always that clear, though.

"- It is a shame that you view the choices as stress vs 40 hrs, or that balance requires lack of stress and no greater than 40 hours commitment to career."
I said no such thing. But I understand that there are people that do feel that way, and that it's not my place to judge them, or to tell them that their efforts should necessarily be aimed at encouraging shallow conspicuous consumerism driven corporate greed (The Gap, Seriously?). Particularly when a large percentage of such people have concerns (be they physical disabilities, family obligations, or just non-work-related personal endeavors) that prohibit staying up late or coming in on Sunday with the same naive carefree attitude you do.

"P.P.S. If you think counting pills or cashing checks is a rewarding career, more power to you."
As it happens, I'm not particularly sure I would, for myself. But I am not so foolish as to judge those who do. In fact, without several *very good* pharmacists and bank employees, some exceptionally stressful times in my life (e.g. illnesses, needing morning after-pills, and buying a car) could have been very ugly indeed. Instead, they were manageable BECAUSE of good pharmacists and bank employees. I value those people and their work. You don't have to, but it makes you a certifiable jerk.