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I would like to avoid working ridiculously long hours.

  1. Aug 29, 2012 #1
    I would like to avoid working ridiculously long hours throughout the time up to when I hit retirement age. I don't mind working hard, and this article paints a picture that I accept, but one that I would like to avoid. I would also like to remain a physics major and use that degree for intellectual pursuits. How can I avoid the 60-70 hour work week? I could see doing 70 hour weeks here and there, but constantly?


    I would like to use my physics major to do work that is intellectually stimulating to a decent degree. I find an interest in more fundamental physics. In fact, my way of thinking is what lead me to physics. I've got a bit of an obsessive compulsive and habitual drive to see everything in the most fundamental way possible, as precisely as possible. It's the conceptual aspect of physics that I love, but I feel like I might shoot myself in the foot with this way of thinking because I won't find satisfaction without getting to the deepest, most fundamental information I can possibly find, which is basically all non-academic physics. I say non-academic because academia appears to have massive loads of work being piled on from all directions.

    But anything else feels like an aside. It's like a itch. I don't know if I'd say passion. It's more like a compulsion. It's the only reason I'm still doing this.

    I sort of broadly visualize the study physics as a pine tree growing upside down, into the ground, with all sorts of branches of information and subjects reaching for more information. I'm interested in the tip, even though there are all sorts of other unknowns all over the place.

    But I don't want to end up sacrificing everything else to get there.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2012 #2
    Cut your living expenses and just work part time. Lots of people do it. People work long hard hours because they want to have career success and an opulent standard of living, or they just enjoy it and its not a chore for them. Others dont care about that so they dont work full time. The choice is up to you.
  4. Aug 29, 2012 #3
    Unfortunately, if you want to do research in fundamental physics, or any kind of scientific research really, there's no way around it-you have to put in long hours. There aren't even enough jobs available for the people who DO want to work 60+ hours a week, and no matter how smart you are, you won't be able to keep up with them working only 30.

    If you're in the US there are very few good jobs that don't require at LEAST 40 hours a week. Most of the part-time jobs are just retail shift work, which is both mind-numbing and pays terribly (and no benefits). I would suggest learning programming and looking for freelance work, although that's certainly no picnic. Another possibility might be to learn French and emigrate to France, where the standard work week is only 35 hours.
  5. Aug 29, 2012 #4
    40 a week is fine. 60 is pushing it for consistent work, but I don't think I'd mind the occasional 60 hour week here and there as things fluctuate wherever I end up working.

    60-70 a week consistently every week for most of the year for 30-45 years just sounds terrible.

    I'd look past the part time comment. I still want full time, and I don't mind if I work a pretty decent amount through the week. But I still want some off time.

    Sadly though, the competitiveness of academia causing the environment to kind of suck is probably going to keep me out of it. Everyone talks about how we need more scientists, and focus on education. That's not the problem. It's the public funding to scientific research that's lacking for academia.

    I see professors at my school working their asses off trying to just get funding to do research.

    I guess in an ideal world I'd be a lot more likely to study fundamental physics. I'm probably going to avoid academic physics, since the "glamor" of it doesn't really appeal to me. I don't really believe in "glory" and "glamor." They're emergent concepts that served to help keep talented individuals alive in the stone age. They're meaningless to me.
  6. Aug 29, 2012 #5
    Get to work at 8am and leave promptly at 5pm.

    Problem solved.
  7. Aug 29, 2012 #6

    Deadlines are the antithesis of that idea.

    I think I realized that my relevant question should be "if not academia, where?"

    I still have an interest in technological developments as well. I'm not sure if I'd want to go corporate or government.
  8. Aug 29, 2012 #7


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    I suggest you get out of physics and go into unionized jobs.

  9. Aug 29, 2012 #8
    Can't tell if serious, or just being snide.

    50 hours a week is too short for the entire range of jobs you can get with a physics major?
  10. Aug 29, 2012 #9

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    Kind of. Most deadlines are artificial, most aren't really met. They're resolved by fiat. Sure, there are times when deadlines are real and people do have to work longer hours. Having employees work long hours does work for a short time. Perpetually? No. It's a false economy.

    Suppose one person works a 40 hour work, and really does work a 40 hour, while another supposedly works a 60+ hour week. Neither makes their deadlines because making those deadlines is an impossible, sisyphean task. Who's going to be punished?

    Before punishing the slacker who works a mere 40 hour week, let's look at that person's work week. That person doesn't pay bills online during work hours. There's no running off to drop off the laundry, no mindless web surfing, and there are minimal chats with co-workers about children/pets/sports teams, etc. Most importantly, there is minimal rework because the job was done right the first time around. Now look at the work week of that 60+ hour workaholic. Bills are paid online during work hours, laundry is dropped off during working hours (laundries are closed outside of that 60+ hour week). There's a peek here at PF, a peek there at a sports site, a peek there at the weather. There are endless chats and games with coworkers to refresh the mind. Most importantly, there is endless rework because those 60+ hour weeks makes one stupid and careless.

    A hundred years ago, manufacturers initially resisted union efforts to mandate a 40 hour week. That resistance quickly faded away when those companies found that a 40 hour week resulted in improved productivity, improved quality, and increased profits. Unfortunately, we technical workers are for the most part exempt employees, and for the most part our employers never learned those lessons.

    The good news is that there are a small number of technical employers that did learn those 100 hundred year old lessons and who look upon perpetual 60 hour weeks as a sign of trouble.
  11. Aug 29, 2012 #10
    Sounds similar to the current state corporate America, with respect to the operations in the workplace.
  12. Aug 29, 2012 #11


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    I'm serious. If you care about only working a set amount of hours per week, then you should find an office job. You certainly can't do physics research work, and certainly not experimental work.

  13. Aug 30, 2012 #12


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    What are your views regarding the point raised in the Wired magazine article, in that scientists often do not maintain a good work-life balance? (the article specifically discusses the plight of scientists working in academia, so I don't know what are the general work conditions for those working in industrial research)

    Would you not agree that perhaps scientists should insist that a better work-life balance be made available? Or do you simply accept that 70-80 hours per week every week is just a fact of life?
  14. Aug 30, 2012 #13


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    I accept neither!

    The thing here is that our work schedule can often be unpredictable. I've had almost "regular" work week one week, and utterly crazy schedule the next. Why? Because I'm an experimentalist. When we are in the middle of a run, Mother Nature calls the shot! When she's ready to reveal her secrets, you just do not walk away from it just because it is 5:00 pm and you've already put in 8 hours of work that day! You put in as long of work hours as you need, because it is a part of your passion to learn and discover!

    The topic and the OP talked about not wanting to work ridiculously long hours. As physicists (and as most scientists), there are often times when we DO work long hours, and often, over the weekends, when the time and need arise! Ruling that out means that one isn't cut out to do such jobs. I certainly would not hire someone who insists on only working some set hours each day, and I don't know anyone who would in doing physics research work.

    And oh, I have a very healthy social life. I entertain friends at home very often, have dinner parties, go to Walt Disney World 2-4 times a year, and have a large circle of extended family.

  15. Aug 30, 2012 #14
    I remember when I was looking for work in the private science sector back in 2008ish that I found a few jobs that sounded like they had reasonable work hours.

    They also sounded incredibly dull and had low wages. If that's your bag then maybe they're still out there. Good luck. . .
  16. Aug 30, 2012 #15
    As an electrical engineer I work 40 hour weeks occasionally, 60 hour weeks most of the time, and 70-80 hour weeks occasionally. I do not see this as being especially strenuous and many of my colleagues work similar hours. I enjoy my job. I do not have kids, but many of my colleagues do, and work similar hours to me. Say you wake up at 6, get to work by 7, leave at 7, have dinner at 7:30, after 8pm or so you have free time to do whatever you want. if you go to bed at 10 or 11, that is 2-3 hours of free time a weekday. If you keep up this schedule Monday thru Friday that is a 60 hour work week that leaves the entire weekend free. Or if you work on Saturday, you can work from, say, 8am to 6pm 6 days a week and that is 60 hours a week. That does not seem excessive to me.
  17. Aug 30, 2012 #16
    If you want to get ahead, you have to put in the work. It is possible to put in the work and get nowhere. It is possible that you might stumble across something very lucrative and interesting and make a killing.

    But if you're like most of us, you work because you love doing what you do.

    I work 50 hour weeks typically, with bursts of extra time when I'm on call, when bad weather brings up nasty situations, and so forth.

    I also have a family, hobbies, and a farm. My grass doesn't always get mowed when it needs it, my house is a perpetual project, and I have lots of interesting projects sitting on my work bench waiting for the time to tinker.

    Yet I still find time to drink beer with friends, time to go on a date with my wife, time to teach my kids shooting sports, ham radio, computer things, music lessons, and to take them to their interests such as yoyo clubs (my daughter is VERY good with a yoyo).

    There is no easy street here. But there are lots of fun things to do...
  18. Aug 30, 2012 #17
    What exactly was the low wage and dull work....pretty subjective...

    As we know, many find coding boring and dull lol
  19. Aug 31, 2012 #18
    <45k a year was where I pegged low wage. Dull is working at the same PVD station for forty hours a week.

    Don't get me wrong, it was probably more exciting than grad school, but I'd still throw myself out the window.
  20. Aug 31, 2012 #19


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    Depends on where you want to be in the future. I put in probably 60+ hours a week in my last job (on-site), but I gave my home phone and email contacts to all of my best clients, so I was never really "off the clock". I am medically disabled, and have so for years, but my wife and I are set up for retirement.

    Sometimes you have to up with long hours or unpredictable hours to set yourself up. At a very young age, I worked hellish hours as the superintendent of the project constructing a large apartment complex. My wife was supportive (a MUST), and we came out of it with a nice nest-egg.

    I went into that project as a soil-tester/material-tester working for the architects . After I found so many problems, the architects fired me and the main contractors hired me. I got fired on a Friday, and when I went to say good-bye, he told me to come back on Monday. I was clerk of the works that morning, and after that I had brutal hours (largely self-imposed) and ended up closing up a huge housing project. Check-listing an apartment complex is not fun - just never let the boss suck you into a salaried position.
  21. Sep 1, 2012 #20
    Sounds fine to me, actually. It also sounds typical of American scientists, according to that article. Chinese scientists tended to work the same hours a week, but go home earlier, but not have time on the weekend.

    Especially if the work environment is rewarding, which is why I am choosing physics. I kind of figured that strenuous hours were going to be a bit of a self implemented thing: that is, you kind of just do it compulsively out of a desire to complete whatever project you've been working on.
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