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Length of the Work Day

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Length of the Work Day

Postby David Taylor » Wed May 02, 2012 11:23 am

There are all sorts of studies out there discussing how and when workers' effectiveness and efficiency drop off after an extended length of time during the work day. Given that many of those in science work a number of hours in addition to the standard 40 hour work week, I was curious to get our forum community's thoughts.

At what point in the day do you believe job effectiveness trails off?

Are the long hours 'required' for a research career absolutely necessary, or are many scientists just inefficient? Is this inefficiency part of the scientific/lab culture?
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby R.J.G. » Wed May 02, 2012 11:56 am

Most are inefficient from what I've seen. In addition, there seems to be a masochist gene passing through scientists, keeping them in the lab. We had a post-doc who wanted to work nights, and would come in at 4 AM and stay until 9. She got nothing done. Nobody in the lab, before or since has spent that kind of time and all of them have been productive. It seems that many people don't understand that you are judged on results and productivity, regardless of the total hours worked. "Efficiency" is a foreign term to most.
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby M. Peabody » Wed May 02, 2012 1:03 pm

Academics are some of the most inefficient people I've ever seen. How much time is wasted on the internet, coffee break, lunch break, chatting with friends, etc? Its a wonder anything gets done at all.
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed May 02, 2012 1:13 pm

Even if I'm only putting in an eight-hour day, I still need to take a break at least once every 90 minutes or I start going stir-crazy. It's less of an issue if I'm doing something fairly repetitive and mindless, because then I'm not devoting as many brain cells to the task anyway.

I can also go 12-14 hours for a couple of days and still retain most of my effectiveness, but you can see the deterioration in my abilities if I have to go much beyond this.

I don't know that scientists are all that inefficient - I've seen some that are and others that are very organized and efficient. Academic scientists, though, generally also have teaching responsibilities. Since they were hired (in their minds) to do research, their teaching related stuff gets pushed into the evenings.

Another thing about scientists is that many - including most of the academic scientists - have a passion for their work that makes them feel like they are not working. My PhD advisor was this way.
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby Susan H. » Wed May 02, 2012 2:49 pm

From what I've seen, a lot of academics are inefficient and part of the problem is that professors expect their PhDs/postdocs to be there for long hours. This results in ridiculous behaviour of PhDs/postdocs coming in early, leaving their personal stuff to show that they've started early and and then escaping to do whatever non-science related. Only like this it' s possible to keep up with working hours from 9 am to 10 pm. And yes, I've seen this behaviour and was shocked. And I've also seen professors behaving that way, pretending that they are present non-stop. So everybody is fooling everybody. Sad to watch. I've never seen anything like that in industry.
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby P.S » Wed May 02, 2012 4:33 pm

This issue of working insane hours just to show that one is 'productive' seems to be a largely academic creation. I work in a research setting in a hospital, with a mix of MDs and PhDs in the lab. No one is averse to working long hours when needed, but we routinely work 8-9 hour days and produce good results. The key is to plan very well, and not waste time on endless coffee breaks, lunches, etc. My boss just needs to see us bring in results. He doesn't insist that we remain stuck to our chairs 12 hours a day.
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed May 02, 2012 11:25 pm

R.J.G. wrote:Most are inefficient from what I've seen. In addition, there seems to be a masochist gene passing through scientists, keeping them in the lab. We had a post-doc who wanted to work nights, and would come in at 4 AM and stay until 9. She got nothing done. Nobody in the lab, before or since has spent that kind of time and all of them have been productive. It seems that many people don't understand that you are judged on results and productivity, regardless of the total hours worked. "Efficiency" is a foreign term to most.


I don't think that this is relegated to the scientist. I think that in a lot of industries, you'd find a lot of different kinds of people who work the long hours. I regularly start work at 5:30 AM (in my pajamas) and don't quit until 7 or 7:30 PM. In the meanwhile, I break for meals and such, but the day is long and I am just not as productive as I would hope to be. I never get the list completed. On the other hand, I love to work, so perhaps there are people like me in the lab who just enjoy what they are doing.

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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby AGG » Thu May 03, 2012 2:53 am

Not forgetting, of course, that some people treat it as part of the power game - I've worked for someone who would regularly arive at 2pm, and regularly berate his group because he was last out of the lab in the evening... I wonder why that was?

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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby PT » Thu May 03, 2012 4:49 am

I'm not sure how much is inefficiency due to tea/fag/gossip breaks and how much due to lack of equipment/people. In one project I worked on, I was initially taking 6+ hrs to prepare some tissue. The protocol that the boss insisted I follow to the letter meant that one homogenisation step then required the equipment to be placed on ice for 20mins to cool down again before it could be used again. Of course, it didn't occur to the boss that it would take much less time if used in a cold room. Another time, I was regularly sitting down to eat lunch after 3pm because the dry ice I needed for another time consuming protocol used to arrive quite late in the morning. One of my friends used to regularly put in 12-16hr days purifying proteins - the first late night would mean she would be late in the next morning, which would then lead to another late night due to a long work day.

But, a lot of this is macho posturing, particularly within academia. My friend's long days could easily be reduced for her by either her boss starting off the next day's purification step (so that it was already running when she arrived) or by (shocking idea here) hiring another pair of hands. I know of other people who came up with protocols with long incubation steps so that they could get a break during the day (even if it was for something superfluous like eating). But, once they leave the lab, others are told to follow the protocol and it gets set in stone. You will do it this way, even if it takes you until 9pm because this is how it's always been done. (And, as far as some PIs are concerned, you being the lowly student/postdoc/whatever do not have a life outside of the lab).

Of course, there are lots of people willing to take part in the charade - I've worked under people who arrive early and claim to work. Most of the time, they sit there looking up non-work related stuff on the internet or having coffee in a secret hidey-hole, somewhere they can't be found easily. The bosses though love them because all they can see is someone (or their stuff) being there, appearing to work. Sad thing is, I've also been criticised for not being there at all hours, even though I had finished my work within normal (9-5) hours.
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Re: Length of the Work Day

Postby Michael J. » Thu May 03, 2012 6:59 am

I'm surprised that so many people here are jumping on the bandwagon that academics are lazy and inefficient. Both of my advisors stressed that results are more important than time.

I have noticed, however, that there is a group of individuals who work longer hours than the rest - even in our relaxed atmosphere. These individuals tend to be from other countries whose working conditions are different than our own. Some of these people produce more results. Some don't.

These individuals also have a harder time landing positions in the US compared to their American counterparts. They have to work harder if they want to stay.

Science also doesn't run on a factory floor. It's a profession for thinking men and women. An experiment run without adequate forethought is doomed and will result in junk data. I've had some of my best ideas chatting with friends, taking a shower, messing around on Facebook, etc. I can't imagine producing consistently good results if I endlessly toiled away at the bench without spending an equal amount of time to think about my projects...
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