The right attitude

ScienceWoman has exactly the right idea on combining academia with the profession of being a human being. I was amused at the part of her manifesto that says she’ll draw the line at a moderate work-week of 50-60 hours — it’s a good goal, but it’s strange how it’s simply taken for granted that academics will put in those 10+ hour workdays.


  1. George says

    Not just academics, a 50-60 workweek is on the easy end of the typical scale that I see. The 80-100 hrs per week is where it is rare – oft claimed, but in reality rare.

    Of course, there are those that work 60+ hrs per week and for the life of me I can not figure out what they did….

  2. Joe says

    I work in the video games industry as an artist… 10 to 12 hour days are the norm there too.
    My wife is a scientist (immunologist), and the hours she pretty much the same.
    There’s long periods of time where we see eachother twice in the day… Bed time, and when we wake up.

  3. Nathaniel says

    No wonder I keep suffering from depression.

    I’m spending the majority of waking hours (heck, my sleeping hours too) worrying about getting a tenure-track job, just so I can then not see my child and worry about tenure.

    I appreciate Kin and George telling me that quitting academia will not reduce my hours.

    God, I’m sick of this. Can someone please just tell me if I pass or fail so I can get on with the next bit of living?

    —Nathaniel, Postdoc hell

  4. jeffk says

    Just the other day my boss asked me why I didn’t work weekends. I told him that because I hadn’t passed our graduate qualifying exam yet, I could be kicked out with nothing to show for it. I’ll work 60 hour weeks when I have job security, thanks.

  5. Nathaniel says

    Jeffk: If I were still capable of laughing, I would laugh at your post.

    If your career follows a typical science arc, you won’t have any job security for at least 10 years: 3 years of graduate work, 4 years of postdoctoral work, and 3 years of tenure-track. That’s assuming you’re brilliant and in a growth field.

    But I mean this sincerely: Good luck. We all need it.

  6. kim says

    And much of the world’s people work hard, physically, from dawn to dusk, for barely enough to survive.

  7. kim says

    Think what unencumbered carbon could do for them. I knew I could get fossil fuel in here somehow.

    Seriously folks, it’s your carbon footprint that gives you leisure. Are you feeling guilty yet?

  8. says

    “…3 years of tenure-track.”

    Hell, that’s assuming there will still be such a thing as tenure… or maybe that’s a bit pessimistic.

    Truth is, the idea of “job security” is fast becoming history. Short contracts seem to be quite common in industry as well as academia. Although, whether that is as bad as it seems is not clear.

    Bottom line is, I love my work, and when I do put in a 10-11 hour day, it’s usually because my wife isn’t around in the evening to drag me out of the lab by the feet.

    “Good luck. We all need it.”

    Word, brother.

  9. dcwp says

    I have a friend who is fond of saying that the great perk of academic work is being able to choose which 60 hours you work in most weeks. If only even that were true.

    And Joe – I hear you, but right now that sounds pretty good too. Our situation means that it is unrealistic for my wife and I to live in the same town, so we often only see each other once or twice per month.

    What really frustrates me is that this is taken as absolutely normal. Whenever friends of ours who are in endogamous academic relationships get jobs in the same city, or even close for that matter, everyone gushes about how *lucky* they are to have the chance to sleep in the same bed and see each other every day.

    But this is the life we live. In our field it’s 8 yrs grad work, 1-3 years unemployment/temping/postdoc, then the fight for tenure. Someone who works hard and doesn’t take time off can expect job security and being able to start saving for retirement by around 40.

    Quoth Marge Simpson: “Graduate Students aren’t bad people, they’ve just made terrible life choices.”

  10. says

    Wow. The American way of viewing one’s obligation to one’s work fascinates me. And for once I’m not being ironic or any such thing. I’m from Sweden, and here a 40 hour workweek is the norm. More than that, it’s the law. Sure you can work more, but that translates to expensive overtime for the employer. What’s more, no one really expects you to work much overtime unless absolutely necessary. Sure, many academics probably do put in a great deal more time, because they’re passionate about their work. But as I say, I don’t think there’s usually quite the feeling of obligation that you seem to have over there. I may be wrong, but it seems to be very different cultures. It’s interesting.

  11. Rey Fox says

    I’m glad someone from Europe finally said something. It’s like that Onion article said, we have a lousy leisure ethic in this country. :)

  12. notthedroids says

    Since she is hell-bent on a high-hours low-pay career, who exactly is going to take care of this woman’s child?

  13. George says


    Seems you want a guarantee before you commit, in academics me thinks the guarantee comes after your commitment, in industry it never comes.

    As long as you do it the way you want, that’s okay, but don’t complain if you don’t get where you want, unless its where you are – okay that’s awkward, but whatever..


    I did a 2-year MBA while working full time and with 4 kids, I feel your pain – but it was worth it for us all. I know there is only one thing to give up – sleep – I still suggest spending a small amount of time every day with the kid and wife – I think frequency was important to me on that matter. Good luck!

  14. Moses says

    The average work week for the self-employed is 65 hours.

    Posted by: kim | November 14, 2007 3:42 PM

    Sorry, but since I deal with the self-employed as part of my profession, I immediately smelt a foul stench. The table I just ready said 49 hours (Male, Incorporated, With Help) and an average of 44.6 hours (Male, incorporated or not, with or without help). The peak for SE women was 41.6 hours (unincorporated, no help).

    Oh, I know, these must be for Intelligently Designed self-employed.

    BTW, 65 hours is right, if you are talking about self-employed, male MILLIONAIRES. But that’s just a SMALL part of the self-employment pool, much of which are poor saps in the construction industry who go from working 60-hours to nothing, depending on the weather and other factors.

  15. A says

    jeffk: Good luck.
    – {Insert story here that in graduate school/postdoc/tenure takes even longer; I thought that tenure review is after ~5 years, and often 2 postdoc appointments at 3 years each are required before you get tenure-track job; it helps, if at that time, you are still young [<30], and considered absolutely brilliant.)
    – Well, consider that it is not your adviser/boss’ fault; he is under great pressure by his funding agency to show an enormous amount of work to get his grant renewed. And his colleagues/competitors have all that cheap & talented graduate student and post-doc labor working 80 hours a week in their group. Research in the US universities and national laboratories would end without that cheap labor.–
    And if he loses his grant, which generates overhead for the university, his chairman or dean will talk to him, to take on a bigger teaching load, or consider moving elsewhere, even if he has tenure.
    – Consider the demographics of your field carefully. Even if you are among the brilliant deserving of an academic research career, if you come up for tenure (or just the next postdoc) just when funding in your subfield is just down a bit, brilliance and hard work alone are not enough.– If there is some industry, though, which uses talents such as yours, and offers better-paid alternatives to academia, the working conditions and salaries in academia are also better. (Such as in Computer Science in the late 1970ies/early 80ies, but not now.)
    If your boss can ask for 60+ hour work weeks, this indicates that either there is no alternative, or that he has a big enough supply of cheap graduate students/postdocs who are willing to do so.

  16. Lurchgs says


    as a Self employed individual (partner 50/50)… I tend to side with Kim. I don’t have any industry records or surveys, but I can certainly look at my payroll. Everybody puts in at least 50 hours a week.. my partner and I put in – on average – 74.

    and.. last I looked, I wasn’t a millionaire. Not even close

    I will say this, even with overtime, it’s cheaper than the overstaffing we see in so many organizations.

    yeah, one data point. but it’s MY data point.

  17. says

    Damn, you should all go on strike or quit. That’s absurd. 40 hours a week is even absurd. Jeez. There’s no way I’m trading in that much of my life just for money.

  18. anon says

    I hear this constantly from friends who are just regular elementary teachers. Their day starts at 7ish in the school, goes until 5ish and then they still have prep time and marking at home. Part of this is the expectation that they will phone back every single parent that calls about a concern, fill out forms for trips, do individual program plans…. and then decorate a themed classroom and change it up once a month. Add union meetings, staff meetings, district objective meetings, upgrading courses at university, sports teams, concerts and other extra curricular stuff……… and then my friends the nurses dis them because teachers should not get two months off a year.

    I beg to differ. No matter what age I think teaching and learning are a huge committment.

  19. Akshay says

    I’m a high school student and while I do admit to possessing a rampant case of senioritis, I can say confidently that time management is becoming an increasingly hairy ordeal.

  20. dogmeatib says

    I’m a high school educator, I believe that qualifies as some level of “academic?” My normal day is 6:30 to 4:30, teaching six classes in a block schedule, four different preps. I then go home and often end up grading papers, putting together lessons, rewriting existing lessons, etc. Add in a meeting or two, or one governing board meeting, and I easily put in 60 hours a week plus.

  21. Carlie says

    …And that’s why I’d like to scratch people’s eyes out when they make snide remarks about all of the “time off” we get as academics. Sure, it’s “time off”, except that that’s the only time we have to catch up on research and the like, and we were working 10-12 hour days so much of the time before that. I usually try to smile and ask them when was the last time they brought 3 hours’ worth of work home with them to do in the evening before going in the next day, or worked most of the weekend off. Count up the hours, and I’d bet the average teacher is ahead of the average office worker on total annual hours even with the “vacations”.

  22. says

    After having her first child, my current boss went to “part time”–she now works only 60 hours per week. Of course, my husband, who works at a private company, commonly puts in even longer hours.

  23. cm says

    First, I’d second A’s typographically garbled comment that it’s generally, at least in the sciences:
    * 5-7 years in Ph.D. program (avg 5.5 or 6)
    * 2-7 years as a postdoc (avg 4 or 5)
    * 0-4 years as a visiting professor
    * ~5 years until tenure evaluation.

    Second, for all of you who are working over 50 hours a week in any domain, that’s really nuts. Yes, you may be forced to by circumstance, but it is still nuts. These people who are putting in 75 hours–what is going on? That’s madness.

    Swedish Ted D, in the U.S. you also have to get paid overtime for over 40 hours a week, but this only applies if you are paid by the hour (which many people are). If it is a salaried job, usually the “more prestigious” work, all bets are off and you are expected to work like something’s wrong with you. You are expected to go the extra mile to impress bosses by putting in lots of “face time” (time when the boss sees you there). It’s degenerate.

  24. says

    Seriously folks, it’s your carbon footprint that gives you leisure. Are you feeling guilty yet?

    This is actually a serious point, so I’ll bite. I ride a bike and don’t eat meat. My carbon footprint is relatively small. I’ll bet I could afford to offset all the emissions I’m responsible for and still lead a pleasant life. If I were less lazy I might do more than just bet about it.

  25. Peter Ashby says

    Face time, yes. In my firstish postdoc (serial contracts, same place), the boss would periodically call me into his office and tell me I wasn’t putting in enough time. Which puzzled me as I was working 55-60 easy. Then it clicked. He saw me leave at 17:55 every day to pick the kids up, make dinner etc. What he didn’t see was me come back at 20:00 and put in 2 to 3 many nights of the week. He also wasn’t there at weekends. So, when I was back in the evenings I heard the boss come up from the bar (the institute had it’s own bar), I would make a point of making myself visible (my bench was not visible from the corridor. The little meetings stopped…

    Peter, whose postdoc ‘career’ has run into the sand. Partly because I was in a seriously minority interest field, partly because I was promised a proper job and passed up other opportunities but proper job evaporated and partly because the kids were in the last years of school (exams iow) and I couldn’t move them, again.

  26. Dunc says

    Good grief! 60 hours is a moderate work week? I work 30 hours, and consider that quite enough thank you.

    Seriously folks, it’s your carbon footprint that gives you leisure. Are you feeling guilty yet?

    Huh? Travelling less, earning less, and spending less increases my carbon footprint? How, exactly?

  27. Barn Owl says

    Re the carbon footprint issue-

    In the Oct 5 issue of Science, there was a News Focus article about “greening” annual meetings of scientific societies. Some societies offer monetary carbon offsets for air travel (which seems like a load of ungulate dung to many, including myself), others are reconsidering the locations or frequencies of meetings, some have looked into video conferencing, and others taken made small steps with recycling and diminishing waste. Some research grant study sections have switched to teleconferencing for review sessions too; I was pretty happy when two of the study sections I’m on adopted this method-it’s extremely disruptive to have to travel halfway across the country for a one-day meeting.

  28. Bill Dauphin says

    anon@19 and dogmeatib@22 re schoolteachers’ hours: Word! I’m a former teacher living in a town where have trouble passing our budget every year, largely because a small but vocal taxpayers’ group has convinced the rest of the voters that teachers are underworked and overpaid. (As an aside, it turns out to be a terrible idea to put municipal budgets up for public referendum, but that’s another thread.) People can be convinced of this because when they look at schools, they only see the students’ schedule: days that end between 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm, depending on grade level and school district; summers off; generous holiday breaks throughout the year; etc. They don’t see the time teachers spend on campus before and after classes, and in the evenings; they don’t see the vast number of hours spent at home doing lesson planning, paper grading, and parent communication; they don’t see the large number of hours spent during the summer on curriculum development and personal professional development. I’m mortally convinced that my daughter’s high school allegedly overpaid teachers put in more hours of actual work over a calendar year than I do at my white-collar office job… but they get paid 30-40% less than I am, and get inferior benefits to boot.

    Re the several people who’ve compared the U.S. work week to what others do around the world: While I’m sure it’s true that people who live in less-developed countries where labor-saving technology and infrastructure is lacking toil extremely hard, AFAIK we in the U.S. devote more hours to labor (and correspondingly fewer hours to leisure) than pretty much anyone else in the developed world. I think most humans are willing to work hard in the service of some valuable outcome; it is our peculiar cultural pathology to consider hard work itself a valuable outcome.

    Finally: I suppose I’m probably falling victim to grass-is-greener syndrome when I say this, but I think I’d prefer a 50-60 hour work week as an academic than the 45-50 hour week I put in at my current job: A certain percentage of an academic’s work is reading and writing on intellectually stimulating topics… stuff I’d be doing for pleasure if I weren’t so busy working! ;^)

  29. Lurchgs says

    [quote]Swedish Ted D, in the U.S. you also have to get paid overtime for over 40 hours a week, but this only applies if you are paid by the hour (which many people are). If it is a salaried job, usually the “more prestigious” work, all bets are off and you are expected to work like something’s wrong with you. You are expected to go the extra mile to impress bosses by putting in lots of “face time” (time when the boss sees you there). It’s degenerate. [/quote]

    Actually, as common as this belief is, it’s wrong. Salaried employees who work more than 40 hours a week are required to be compensated. The big difference is that the employer has the option – the employee can be compensated with additional pay, or he can be given “Comp time”. Comp time has to *at least* equal the amount of time over 40 hours the employee worked.

    Frequently, this is hidden and mis-managed as additional vacation time (if you are one of these salaried employees – keep careful track of your hours, your pay, and your comp time – especially vacation given over and above that of hourly employees)

    Of course, company *owners*, such as myself, are not subject to these restrictions. Nor are family members (I could hire my 8-year-old son and work him 16 hour days,if I wanted to – and not pay him a dime).

    As for my partner and myself, in particular, we work the hours because it’s FUN. We LIKE what we do. We accept lower than industry standard wages because A) it’s good for the company, B) we’re not greedy – and C) what we make is plenty to cover our needs. I’d love a Jaguar, but my 10-year-old Lincoln (bought used) does just fine. I pay my mortgage, put food on the table, and pay my bills – AND set aside money for the kids to attend college if they choose. But mostly because, we’d be doing this anyway, in some form or other.

    The same is pretty much true of our employees, also. We pay them well (better than ourselves, usually) and in return, we expect professionalism and hard work. Some get lured away by various promises, and some we’ve hired can’t hack accepting responsibility. And, of course, we eliminate non-performers. Everybody knows this, and knows that dead wood is cut adrift, so there’s no feeling of “I’m doing more than Joe Slob, but he’s getting paid more”

  30. Bill Dauphin says

    Swedish Ted D, in the U.S. you also have to get paid overtime for over 40 hours a week, but this only applies if you are paid by the hour (which many people are). If it is a salaried job, usually the “more prestigious” work, all bets are off and you are expected to work like something’s wrong with you. You are expected to go the extra mile to impress bosses by putting in lots of “face time” (time when the boss sees you there). It’s degenerate.

    Actually, as common as this belief is, it’s wrong. Salaried employees who work more than 40 hours a week are required to be compensated.

    Actually, that’s not quite so: Many salaried white-collar employees are exempt from overtime pay. The determination of “exempt” or “non-exempt” depends on a variety of factors, but in basic terms, if you’re a white-collar worker who makes an even marginally decent salary, you’re probably not legally entitled to overtime pay.

    OTOH, you’re quite correct that for all blue-collar workers and other non-exempt categories of labor, overtime compensation is required regardless of whether your pay is calculated on a salary or hourly basis.

  31. Jim Thomerson says

    I like, but do not completely believe, the idea that a professional person is one who is paid, not for the work they do, but so they can do work. There is a a related idea that professionals decide what their work is. This fits pretty well my concept of a university professor. So, if one is doing the work that one wants to do, time goes by pretty fast.

    So far as how we have treated our educational systems; we are reaping what we have not sown, to make up a new cliche. It is amazing how people think teachers (or professors) are paid while not on contract(summer vacation). You can go into administration, get a grant or summer contract, or work the produce section of the local grocery store.

  32. guthrie says

    Wait a minute- sleep is not something you can just “give up on”. With sleep deprivation comes more health problems, chances of crashing your car, and generally a shitty life. I’m so glad I am in Europe.

    Our ancestors struck, fought, and argued for a working week with enough hours to actually have a life outside work, and lots of people seem happy to give all that up for something that sounds suspiciously like slavery.

    Remember folks, the whole point of the division of labour and increased appliance of technology to production is so that you can do more with less and thus work less hours.