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Nature publishes ridiculous editorial on researcher working hours

  1. Sep 6, 2011 #1
    Has anybody seen http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v477/n7362/full/477005b.html"? I can't believe that a journal like nature is condoning the idea that unreasonable working hours for researchers are ok because that's just how things are going.

    What are some others' opinions on this article?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2011 #2
    This is exactly why I will try as best as humanly possible to stay away from academia circles at all costs when I'm done. Academia is exploitative at many levels and pushes individuals to work ridiculous hours for low pay during the prime earning years of their lives, and many times it simply doesn't pay off as researches keep moving from university to university as assistant profs, never finding tenure. Why would anyone put allllll of those hours slaving away for low wages in order to build up the resume of someone else? Why not use all those hours you are working to open up your own company, be your own boss, and take your own vacation?
  4. Sep 7, 2011 #3


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    Because we like our jobs?
    Seriously, one have to be pretty daft to work in academia if ones goal was to make a lot of money and/or have lots of free time. Many of us could relatively easily find another job is we wanted to (and many do).

  5. Sep 7, 2011 #4


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    I think you hit the nail on the head. Everyone always talks about how working long hours is slave labour, etc... But what if you actually enjoy your job?

    I do, however, agree with taking a vacation, and with a work/life balance, but there are certainly academics who love their job, and enjoy doing research in their 'free time'.
  6. Sep 7, 2011 #5
    Economic times are not the best for employment opportunity. I've been pulling 70-80 hours a week for months, and can't manage to negotiate less. Others are unemployed for the same reason; employees and the unemployed have less favorable negotiable positions with employers than they have in the recent past. Two days off for Labor Day *was* a vacation for me.

    It's not just academia, boys and girls. Have you heard of the economy?

    Let's all give a cheer for the roaring late 90's and early 2000's, when "old business models were broken" and a thing of ancient history, according to one CEO. "Happy days are here again. There's a blue bird on my shoulder...”

    Seriously. This is a repeat of a recurrent story, where a breakthrough in commerce (trains, the telegraph, telephones then the internet) has lead to boom times with flush money following expectations driven to frenzy, followed by bust.

    The last time, in the 1930's they decided to let bad businesses fail. This time they decided the decisions in the 30's were wrong. Instead, they would prop-up businesses that had made bad decisions by making business loans affordable, by printing new money. And they did. They couldn't push it out of the helicopters fast enough upon the awaiting crowds.

    The price of loans went down as intended, and businesses in trouble could afford cheap financing of debt. (As a side effect, the cheap money caused a housing mortgage loan market boom that could not be sustained, so busted.) This flush money strategy did not work in the 90's any more then the opposite tough-love strategy worked in the 30's. Why? Because government cannot repair, by legislation, bad investment driven by greed, pissing away in a single decade the infrastructure built in a generation. Only human blood, sweat and labor has this potential. The busy bodies in government, driven by do-something-about-it pressures, make it more costly, as they invent stupid schemes to placate criticism of lack of action on their part.

    The next proposed fix for this bad fix will be made by the same gentlemen, worse than the cause and twice as cancerous, doing exactly the opposite of what is required. They will make the current units of monetary exchange--unredeemable checks from the Federal Reserve Bank (bank notes) having no gold or silver value, obsolete, and they will sell us on the idea of digital money, and we, the masses, will believe it and buy into it.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2011
  7. Sep 7, 2011 #6
    Your goofy rant is outdated.
  8. Sep 7, 2011 #7
    Some of this is certainly a function of what field you are working in. The "slave-driver" lab head in the article is an academic neurosurgeon who does wet lab research on brain tumors. I've never heard of an academic neurosurgeon who does additional lab research working anything less than 100 hours a week. This may actually be a necessary thing for this type of work.

    Other scientists, particularly in industry, work far less hours. I don't necessarily see a problem of some scientists working >100 hours a week. I do believe it is a problem, and should be illegal, if these scientists are exploited for others gain. I think it is more a problem of resource distribution and giving credit to the proper people. If the scientists working >100 hours a week are making pennies on the dollar while the principal investigator gets to be the first author on the papers and gets the lion's share of the credit, this is a major problem and is extremely unethical. However, if they are being paid appropriately and get the majority of the credit for the work, then I don't see a problem with them working so many hours necessarily -- at it may simply be a requirement for working on certain things (like academic neurosurgery + tumor research).
  9. Sep 7, 2011 #8
    Liking your job is great- but the low wages and long hours will make it hard to raise a family, settle down, etc. The problem is that the uncertainty, the hours, the wages, it all drives good people away from science. Science isn't immune to the problems of labor markets- there are lots of great scientists who leave the field because they don't want to uproot their family every few years, they want to be able to provide better for their children, etc.

    Also, don't overestimate your ability to "easily" find another job. After you have a few postdocs under your belt, it can be really hard to transition into industry. I myself have found the transition to be incredibly hard (I tend bar), and I know several other phds would describe themselves as underemployed. The truth is that there aren't people lining up to hand phds jobs, you have to develop a skill set beyond what your phd will give you- but academia requires you to be laser focused on research.
  10. Sep 7, 2011 #9
    I see industry job ads requiring a phd with postdoc experience. I think it depends on what you do your postdoc in. Perhaps it's only a problem if you stay narrowly focused when doing your postdoc in the same field you did your phd in? Do you think someone with a physics phd would get better results if they did their postdoc in a high tech field useful in industry? Something like biotech, electrical/computer engineering, semiconductors, etc.
  11. Sep 7, 2011 #10
    Yeah, and I like to run too, but I'm not going to run so much that it starts to have negative health effects (comparable to the guy who was working the lab that admitted to having a terrible diet that was having health consequences).
  12. Sep 7, 2011 #11
    Then you are screwed, because you are terrified of losing it. At some point "enjoyment" becomes "addiction" and "addictions" are very unhealthy. When you do something addictive for the first time, it's quite enjoyable, but after do it for several decades, it becomes unsustainable.

    Now you can deal with the problem by always having a "fresh batch" of people that haven't gone from enjoyment to addiction, but at that point you end up having to lie to people about what the future for them is going to be to keep the system going. That's not a good thing if you are doing a job whose goal is to find truth.
  13. Sep 7, 2011 #12
    It's actually not uncertain. Most people are screwed. If you look at the mathematics of the situation, most people will end up screwed. The reason people talk about "uncertainty" is that it makes denying the problem easier. If you think that the situation is "uncertain" then you can delay thinking about the consequences. If you think "I'm screwed" then you have to figure out what to do next.

    True. It's really quite painful and traumatic. A lot of the trauma happens to be psychological. If you've convinced yourself that you are working in the world's perfect job, then doing anything else is going to be a shock. There is a very fine line between "I love my job" and "I MUST love my job or else I'm a nasty person that will lose their job if they don't love it."

    In some ways, I was lucky because I jumped right after I got my Ph.D., and it was a good economy. One of the reasons I could jump is that my reasons for getting a Ph.D. were rather personal. I had to get my Ph.D. because my father wasn't able to. However, this was a good thing because once I got my Ph.D., I could "declare victory" and get off the treadmill.

    Also, I had extremely supportive advisers. One thing that did help a lot was that I didn't get the sense that my adviser (or anyone else) was disappointed that I had to leave. Also, the department was pretty supportive. All of the professors there realized that not all Ph.D.'s could get professorships so they did everything they could to make things easier for us.

    There's one professor in my department that keeps track of employment statistics so that everyone knew what the likely outcomes of getting the Ph.D. was going to be.

    One curious thing is that I don't. Part of it is that my peer group graduated in the late-1990's, early-2000's. Another might be that I had a department that was particularly helpful.

    Finally, a pretty large number of people that I know are foreign students, and if you've switched countries once in your life, it's not that hard to go where the grass is greener. The Chinese economy is booming right now, and the government is rolling out red carpets for Ph.D.'s. I know several people that have given up green cards and gone home. There is a truly *massive* brain drain going on here.

    There are, but there are strings attached.
  14. Sep 7, 2011 #13
    Almost by definition if you are doing a postdoc, it's something that isn't immediately useful in industry. If a company thought that there was something that was immediately useful and profitable, they'd hire Ph.D.'s directly so that they own whatever comes out.
  15. Sep 8, 2011 #14
    Here is a link to a book on the world of fashion modelling. A lot of it sounds like the world of physics.....


    Something that I find both interesting and amusing is this quote

  16. Sep 8, 2011 #15


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    Doesn't prestige do that to people in any industry though?
  17. Sep 8, 2011 #16
    No. In some industries (and in fact I think in most industries) prestige is directly proportional to the amount of money that you make.
  18. Sep 8, 2011 #17
    what do you mean?
  19. Sep 8, 2011 #18
    But there are postdocs IN industry. And there are job ads for phds with postdoc experience as a desired or even required qualification.

    And even if that weren't true, the postdoc does not need to be immediately useful in industry. Some experience is more useful than other experience for specific jobs/fields. A physics phd with 2 years systems biology postdoc experience is going to be a lot more likely to get hired in the growing biotech industry than a physics phd with a postdoc done at Fermilab.
  20. Sep 8, 2011 #19
    I hesitate to put words in someone else's mouth, but most money is digital already.
  21. Sep 8, 2011 #20
    Can you provide more details? Where are the job ads? E-mail addresses of people that have gone physics -> biology. If you know someone that has done this, can you get them to this forum or point us to the places where they hang out.

    The problem is that in order to create a jobs channel, you really need people that provide some detailed information about what the jobs are like. One big problem is that I don't personally know anyone who has gone from astrophysics -> biotech, so I don't **personally** know that it is possible. Something that helped a lot in jumping to finance is that I personally knew someone that did it, so you have the "if they can do it, I can do it" effect.

    The process in astrophysics is that all real post-doc ads are in the AAS jobs register. If it isn't in that list, don't bother, it's not a real job. Once you have a real job, you can very quickly figure out the job requirements, and estimate your likelihood of getting the post-doc. If you really have no chance of getting a post-doc then it's a seriously bad idea to apply. The trouble is that post-docs generally require letters of recommendation, and getting letters of recommendation from people for a job you know you are not going to get is going to get you into the doghouse quickly.

    There's also the problem is that astrophysics professors know what to say in recommendation letters for astrophysics post-docs, but really have no clue what to say for biotech.

    Now the rules of the game for biotech postdocs are likely to be very, very different from astrophysics, but that's why we need someone that has gone through the process explain exactly what the process is. To start off with, where do you look for ads?

    You are using terms that worry me. Do you know or are you guessing? That might sound like a rude question, and it probably is, but it matters a great deal. If you *know* of someone that has gone physics->biotech postdoc, then you really need to get them to start posting here. If you are guessing, then it gets harder, since it's not obvious that it can be done, and even if it can be done, it's not obvious how to do it. One thing that I've found is that lots of things are counter-intuitive.

    The reason I'm pushing you here a bit, is that I don't know of anyone in astrophysics that went into biotech. Maybe it happens a lot, or maybe there is a demand for physics Ph.D.'s that isn't being met, but the fact that I don't know about it happening means that there is a problem there that needs to be fixed.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2011
  22. Sep 8, 2011 #21
    Once you have a physics Ph.D. in field A, it is extremely, extremely difficult to get a postdoc in another field. If your dissertation topic is doing PPM simulations of type Ia supernova, you may find it a little difficult in getting a postdoc doing SPH simulations of type Ib supernova.
  23. Sep 8, 2011 #22

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    Baloney. (Sorry, but there's no better word for it) Yes, it's hard to move from experimental AMO to theoretical HEP. But I just lost out on a postdoc who decided she wanted to move from collider experiments to particle astrophysics, and another one withdrew from consideration because he didn't want to move from nuclear to HEP; he wanted to work on accelerators.
  24. Sep 8, 2011 #23
    OK. Let me replace physics Ph.D. with computational astrophysics Ph.D.

    The point I'm making here was that things are very, very different in different parts of physics so if you want to move, you really need someone that knows what the situation is in the field that you are moving to. In astrophysics, it's quite difficult to move between different fields. If your Ph.D. is in numerical relativity you are just not going to get a post-doc in star formation, because there will be a dozen people with better qualifications than yours for the position, and what's worse, the community is small enough so that everyone already knows everyone else.

    One good/bad thing about astrophysics is that it's a relatively small field in which everyone knows everyone else, and postdoc/faculty hiring is rather transparent....

    http://www.astrobetter.com/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Rumor Mill 2010-2011

    If things are different in the fields you are familiar with then that's fine. If it's easier to move between fields in biotech and accelerator physics that's wonderful, but you need to communicate that to people that work in astrophysics, because the rules are quite different there. If you went up to a professor in numerical relativity and asked him to write a recommendation letter for something in star formation, he likely won't do it because it would think that it is a waste of time, and if other fields are more flexible then this has to be made clear.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2011
  25. Sep 9, 2011 #24
    I remember reading on this forum a post by someone who got Ph.D in physics, did many years of different postdocs, including bioinformatics. Although he still could not find job in academia. I searched, this is a thread:


    If Dick reads us, he may give us more insight into switching fields.

    Personally, I know one mathematician, who after doing Ph.D in mathematics, did a postgraduate certificate in bioinformatics and got a postdoc in cancer research.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  26. Sep 9, 2011 #25
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