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Faculty To Grad Students: Go Work 80-Hour Weeks! 454

New submitter Ian Paul Freeley writes "Controversy has erupted after a departmental email from faculty to astrophysics graduate students was leaked. Key tips for success in grad school include: 'However, if you informally canvass the faculty (those people for whose jobs you came here to train), most will tell you that they worked 80-100 hours/week in graduate school. No one told us to work those hours, but we enjoyed what we were doing enough to want to do so...If you find yourself thinking about astronomy and wanting to work on your research most of your waking hours, then academic research may in fact be the best career choice for you.' Reactions from astronomy blogs has ranged from disappointment to concern for the mental health of the students. It also seems that such a culture, coupled with the poor job prospects for academics, is continuing to drive talent away from the field. This has been recognized as a problem for over 15 years in the astronomy community, but little seems to have changed. Any tips for those of us looking to instigate culture change and promote healthy work-life balance?"
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Faculty To Grad Students: Go Work 80-Hour Weeks!

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  • strike (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @04:35PM (#41673581)
    Don't pay your tuition, organize, demand change, (kids at my university went on hunger strikes). Not advocating this but sometimes that's the only way the Regents actually notice this bs.
  • It's true (Score:4, Interesting)

    by adenied ( 120700 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @04:39PM (#41673641)

    My wife is finishing grad school with a PhD and getting the hell out of Dodge. She's already found a job related to science/academia in her field that pays more and has better benefits than anything she could expect as a post-doc or assistant professor. It's a stable job where she can see clear career advancement over the coming years. This as opposed to an academic career where she wouldn't have much say in what part of the country she ended up and would have to work like crazy (publish or perish is so true) in an attempt to maybe get tenure 15+ years down the road.

    Not to mention that more than a few of her advisers and colleagues have been having serious funding issues. She's in a field where lots of funding comes from the NIH and they're cutting back like crazy. It's not a very good climate right now.

  • Witnessed this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @04:46PM (#41673723)
    I did some consulting for a company years ago. Some of their top employees worked 4 day weeks as a reward for function points delivered and bugs not delivered. One guy generated enough that he could have worked 2 day weeks (but didn't) and still held the top position on the leaderboard (ranked weekly). The top 3 employees were not gaming the system they were just really good; their total points were a huge multiple of the bottom 20 employees. Then the company brought on a new manager (a lawyer) who said this simply couldn't stand. He eliminated the days off and the top 5 employees all quit right after lunch. I left a few months later when they were getting slower and slower paying my invoices and then poof they were gone. This was after the previous year of 20 million in revenue generating around 6 million in profits. Those top guys had started a new company doing this crazy new thing (iPhone app development) got bought out for about 5 to 7 mil a tiny bit less than a year later.

    What I did involved coming in at random times of the day. I can remember was that the worst employees were the ones sweating the long hours. Then after the lawyer came in those same guys were singled out for their dedication and hard work.

    Oh the lawyer unsuccessfully tried suing them after their success.
  • I can attest... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MetalliQaZ ( 539913 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @04:48PM (#41673775)

    I was not a grad student in astrophysics, I was Electrical/Computer Systems Engineering, but I can attest that those hours DO have a detrimental effect on the mental health of the grad students. It happened to me. My work schedule was basically around the clock seven days a week. I was under a lot of pressure from school/work (same thing for me in those days) and from general lack of money. I was in a bad mood most of the time and my relationships soured. I began to feel isolated. I wasn't sleeping. My health started to suffer in a few areas, culminating in a hospital stay when I got mono and tried to work through it. Finally I had a run-in with the police that almost escalated to an arrest. I did still have to go to court for excessive traffic tickets. I had a mental breakdown. The next week my adviser came in and told me to write up my thesis and get out of there. It was a dark time.

    Anyway, that letter coming from the school is very, very disappointing. I feel sorry for the students in that program that must now bear that extra pressure.

  • Simple steps (Score:4, Interesting)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:23PM (#41674235)

    Any tips for those of us looking to instigate culture change and promote healthy work-life balance?

    You won't change the system from the outside. Therefore you must subvert it:

    1. Accept the advice: work 110 hours a week for four or more years.
    2. Publish more papers than you use in the toilets.
    3. Graduate with a PhD that will get you a killer postdoc
    4. Now that you have a postdoc, work 120 hours a week and publish even more papers. Study the methods of your PI so that someday you can supplant him!
    5. Find your next postdoc. Crank it up to 130 hours a week.
    6. Aha! You get a tenure-track appointment. And you're only 42 years old!
    7. In order to make tenure, you need your grad students and postdocs to generate trainloads of papers. You, of course, must spend your time on applying for grants.
    8. Crank up the schedule to 140 hours a week. And don't let those slacker grad students and postdocs get away with only 80 hours a week, because that would sabotage your plan to subvert the system.
    9. You made tenure! And before your 50th birthday, too, if only by a few months.
    10. Associate professors don't have enough power, though, to subvert the system. Crank up the hours to 150 a week. And don't let your grad students, postdocs, or collaborators get away with anything.
    11. Full Professor! Now you are finally in position to accomplish your true objective!
    12. Write a memo to those aspiring to follow in your footsteps, explaining how the secret to success is to never slack off by working only 100 hours a week.

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