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How many hours a week do physicists work?

  1. Dec 15, 2015 #1
    My American boyfriend (Physics PhD + postdoc) has been working in Europe for 3 years, in research. The country where we live has a great work/life balance and he works on average 40 hour weeks.

    He's wondering if he were to move to the US what kind of hours he would be expected to work. Is everyone pretty much pushed to work long hours all the time?
    He is very professional and dedicated and understands the need for over time on certain projects, but he isn't too keen if that is the rule rather than the exception.

    Thanks for your input!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Professional physicists working in industry will work at a minimum of 40 hours per week with an expectation of 10% to 20% more as the job requires since they are exempt employees. It could go higher in the final stages of a major project too.
  4. Dec 15, 2015 #3


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    The answer could vary wildly depending on what kind of job it is.
  5. Dec 16, 2015 #4
    Thank you for your answers.
    My boyfriend has always told me that in America, you build a career after the 40 hours /week.
    He's being spoiled in Europe, but moving back is also very tempting.
  6. Dec 16, 2015 #5
    He would prefer to continue working in research. What are the prospects there?
  7. Dec 16, 2015 #6


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    Typically that's going to require long hours. Research jobs are hard to get, and many of the jobs do not come with any expectation that they will be permanent. (This applies to postdocs, adjunct faculty jobs, and junior faculty jobs at certain schools that traditionally almost never give tenure to junior faculty.) Because the competition is tough, the hours tend to be long. People are working hard to put out a lot of papers and distinguish themselves in their fields. It's often a lifestyle that is incompatible with starting a family unless one has a spouse who takes on all the child-rearing responsibilities.

    The only good news I can think of is that these jobs typically allow lots of vacation time, which is not the norm in the US. Typically the number of vacation days in the US is much less than in Europe.
  8. Dec 16, 2015 #7
    We're not going to start a family. It's really just a matter of having a personal life you know? He's a hard worker and here in the Netherlands he works longer than most coworkers, but he went to California for work for 3 weeks and the physicists there said that 1st you need to know "someone " to get a job and 2nd everyone seems to work very long hours which is expected in the US.
    And yes we get 5 weeks vacation time, and we're aware it's usually 1 or 2 weeks in America. So what you said is a plus.

    Is overtime paid?
  9. Dec 16, 2015 #8


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    I don't think that's accurate. A more accurate picture would be that he might come to the US, do a postdoc here, and while continuing to build a professional reputation through his publications, he starts to build up a social network as well. For example, he gives a talk at Berkeley, and then afterwards some people from the department take him to a bar and they have beer. The social network affects hiring, but people don't get locked out of it for no reason. There's no secret handshake, no school like Eton where you learn who's the right tailor. If anything, I think the need for an "in" with someone to get a job is *less* in academia than in other professions.

  10. Dec 18, 2015 #9
    I do not personally know any physicist working less than 40 hr/week. Some postdocs working for a professorship and professors working for tenure that I know work much longer, I would say > 50-60 hr/wk. Established professors seeking world fame probably work much longer hours..
  11. Dec 19, 2015 #10
    Thank you for all your answers. I do realise they are all from the perspective of academia work. He is more inclined to work in the private sector, like he has been here.
    Does anyone know how that would play out as far as hours go?
  12. Dec 19, 2015 #11
    Usually businesses require 40 hr a week with 2 weeks vacation a year. minimum Practically any full time job in the US requires this
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