Friday, April 03, 2009

Work less to save jobs?

So last night I watched the end of ER, and thought about how young I was when it first started and I wanted to go to med school.

That show was one of the reasons I decided not to go to med school. It was also one of the things that fed my fear of ever being pregnant (the famous Love's Labor Lost episode).

Really, a landmark of my growing-up time, although I had never really watched it religiously every week since the early days.

And then the news was on, and I watched some of that because the Daily Show wasn't funny.

Surprisingly, the news was funny. Are they seriously talking about cutting our work-week to 35 hours and having month-long vacations in the US? Was this a day-after-April-fool's joke? We're becoming France?

Things have gone kinda crazy in this country. It would certainly help to have (more) national vacation days. This seemed unbelievably radical, something only a young White House could come up with.

Especially if the month-off thing were actually recognized in science!



At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ER is one of those shows where I'd see a commercial about the week's upcoming show and say to myself "that show is still on?" Like you, I "grew up" with ER (was in college when it started). I remember in my early grad school days we had lab on Friday mornings and we'd always talk about the previous night's episode. Stopped watching the show in the early 2000s. It is sad as the end of this show also in a way is the end of the "water cooler" show that everyone talks about the next day. Although I suppose Lost and 24 are still holding down the fort.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Early Retirement Extreme said...

Well, I'm doing my part. After 5 years as a postdoc I just left science yesterday, which means that now there are only 249 postdocs competing for each faculty position instead of 250.

I submit that anyone reasonably intelligent can learn to tweak the system and live quite well on very little (say, half of minimum wage). PhDs should be particularly good at this having never had the time or money to develop a taste for shiny trinkets and baubles while generally being able to entertain themselves without spending money (think library rather than jet skis).

Hence, for the foreseeable future, I'm going to use my "LaTeX skills" working half an hour a day fixing up research papers for publication. The rest of the time I'm going to spend on research, only I'm not going to have a boss, I'm not going to have any publication/presentation pressure or fear of not having a job next year if I hadn't added a sufficient quantity of papers and talks to the CV last year, etc.

It took a long time letting go of the idea of a traditional science career (which seems to be much more about the career than the science --- and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you'll escape postdoc hell), but doing so is/was quite liberating. One thing that helped was to consider that even though I was considered a world expert in my subfield, there was probably less than 50 people reading my papers and more realistically less than 5 people reading more than the abstract and the conclusion. Conversely, I have more than a thousand people reading my blog daily (shameless plug). So which was more useful to society? The papers or the blog? In my case it was the blog.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger butterflywings said...

I want to be in France...they have the right idea, that work is a tedious interruption of life.

Am nearly there, with my shameful 36 hour week and 25 days annual leave. British civil service. Has some perks :-)

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Phagenista said...

French scientists don't have a perfect deal (low pay), but pretty darn close. They work less, they live more and they are still internationally reknown forces to be reckoned with. The closest place to scientist heaven I've ever seen is Montpellier...

In the unlikely event we could put legal limits on American work culture... it could go a long way to attracting a wider variety of people to careers in science. Otherwise, there will always be a race to work more hours... for less money.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 10:51,

I gave up on 24 a few seasons ago. Too predictable and formulaic. Never got into Lost. Something about stupid predicaments and characters I couldn't care less about. Also, I haven't worked in a lab with people who actually talk to each other like that in a few years. Most of the postdocs in my current lab don't watch tv at all (and might not own one).


Good for you. How you continue your research without a lab leads me to assume you don't need any (or much, anyway) expensive equipment to do so. Count yourself lucky. No doubt more people read my blog than my research papers. Whether it's more of a contribution to society is going to depend on how my papers fare in the test of time.


I wonder, though, if we cut everyone's pay all of a sudden like they're proposing to do, if that might lead people to realize they like having every other Friday off (or whatever)? And there has finally been some publicity for all the research showing how important rest & relaxation are for creativity.

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the work week length seems like a moot point to the worker bees of the sciences. even if the work week were legally shortened, i have very little hope that, as a 'worker's protection' like so many other laws, it would actually extend to postdocs (or any grad student). I understood that it's really up to your individual placement whether maternity leave (or crazy thought here, paternity leave) is guaranteed for postdocs, and I have never heard of any provision for grad students.... Grad students certainly don't receive COBRA once they reach 'success' and defend. How about postdocs?

At 12:29 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 12:17,

We had COBRA where I went to grad school, and we have it as postdocs. However, it's so extremely expensive, nobody can sustain paying for it for more than a couple of months, since none of us have any savings to speak of.

Obviously a shorter work week would probably not make much difference to most scientists, but I was thinking about the general culture in the US. We are definitely of the mindset that working more means getting more done, and I don't really believe that's always the case.

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm, that's really interesting how you had COBRA as a grad student. my lovely alma mater made a big deal about how we were distinct from employees, and thus had no right to COBRA. this is also why we had no right to a real HR liaison and why our health insurance was crappier than that of the employees (of the medical center that we are a part of)... i just thought it was this way for all students, but maybe it is state-specific or just my school! yeah, i understand how COBRA is way too expensive anyway, but something gets up my ire about the deliberate distinction between grad students and'real' employees (but mostly to our disadvantage....) it was always presented with this attitude that our lives were so much easier than an employee and thus we should be thankful for whatever they gave us. i think even postdocs make out a bit better where i went to school, but i have no firsthand. trying to let go of the bitterness, since it is no longer applicable to me at least, but i don't hesitate to let prospective students know... anyway, i did read again after i posted and saw your comment, wouldn't it be nice if this applied to the science world..somehow slipped my notice the first readthru..

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

One thing I've always known about myself is that if I make myself work long and hard with no breaks from everything, I get less done, am less motivated, and (most importantly) am less happy.

This is why I, as a first-semester Ph.D. student in Geology, and competing in collegiate cycling for my first year ever.

Screw working seven days a week. That's not what life is about. I don't care how many of my advisors do it, that's not where I want to end up.

At 11:57 PM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

There's not much point plugging your blog if you don't give the address or a link.
I'm curious to hear about how you can make ends meet by half an hour of LaTeXing each day...sounds too good to be true!

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose that having a 35 hour work week may make some people happy, but scienece being as competitive and cut-throat as it is, don't be surprised if you get left behind....and in science getting left behind can mean losing your job

At 5:10 AM, Anonymous Dionne said...

When I started my PhD, my supervisor told me that if I worked a 35 hour week, I would complete in 3 years. Yeah right!

My new motto is earn more.. work less! I'm involved in a project where I aim to learn how to do just that. Feel free to check it out.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Danielle said...


Just found your blog through a friend who reads and is finishing her PhD.

I was a post-doc on a T32 training grant and it "became known" through the grapevine, that if you were on a T32 you were entitled to 60 days of parental leave - I don't know that pay status. Ours was paid. I also heard through the grapevine that the staff was specifically discouraged from telling us about it. But some of them felt like telling us about it was doing the right thing, so to speak.

Here is the quickest link I found by doing a google search

Look at the advice section, 5 lines down. There are caveats.

That said, I didn't use it. But there was definitely an increase in pregnancies when word got around.

Oh, and that said, also applies to Ruth Kirschstein NRSA pre-doc training grant awards.

30 days paid, 30 days unpaid (but who can afford 30 days unpaid, I ask)

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Danielle said...

BTW: I do have a blog

I just re-changed my blogger "account" to reflect that. But it wouldn't have shown up on my last comment.

Oh, and for context, I'm an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biology at a small liberal arts school in Minnesota.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home