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You grad students should work 80-100 hours per week, and enjoy it.

  1. Oct 12, 2012 #1
    I've seen this letter circulating some astrophys blogs recently. Maybe some of you have seen it as well.


    Essentially, a R1 astrophys department tells its grad students that working less than 60 hours per week is inexcusable, and most should do 80-100.

    For those of you who have gone through astrophys grad schooling, is this true? was that the norm? And, more importantly, were you happy for the chance to do it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2012 #2
    I love these kinds of letters. Only in academia do you find absurdity like this. Their arguments for working 100 hours weeks really hold no water when the job market for many faculty positions is completely awful. What's the point of killing yourself if you have a slim chance of getting a job?

    This is what happens when the academic bubble starts to burst. Funding is limited because the government keeps cutting money so PIs are pressured to squeeze more and more out of their students. Labs constantly graduate more students than there are positions available in academia, which creates severe over saturation. Why should the students be motivated though? Is it the $24k per year salary they enjoy? Or the grim job prospects?
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2012
  4. Oct 12, 2012 #3
    Did you find this on Astrobetter? On there, is also linked that older letter of a CalTech chem prof, addressed to a postdoc. Essentially, by not working weekends and evenings (and also by asking for vacation), the postdoc wasn't working at the required level. The prof also says that he gets at least one postdoc app each day, so he doesn't need the current guy.
  5. Oct 12, 2012 #4
    I'm not in physics; I'm in math. I'm a first year student. So take this with a grain of salt. I get to my office at about 7am every morining. I have my own classes Tuesday and Thursday at 8 and I teach Monday and Wednesday at 8. I spent the first hour doing whatever I think I need to do. I leave around 530 each day. Depending on the day, I'll go to my classes (about 9hrs per week) hold office hours, and study. So thats about 53 hours AT school. When I get home, I probably spend about 2 hours during the week. So this is about 63 hours. Then maybe a total of 15-20 hours on the weekend, so this is about 80 hours or so. However, my time during the week isnt ALL work. We talk and have fun - but most of the time, the discussions are math related, but not all of the time. So, 80 hours seems like it might be right, but 100 sounds insane.
  6. Oct 12, 2012 #5


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    When I was a grad student, I think I probably worked about 40 hours a week most weeks. Some weeks I'd work more, e.g., if I had an experiment running. My research record was strong enough to get a postdoc at a leading lab.
  7. Oct 12, 2012 #6
    I did high energy theory in graduate school, and yes, I worked 80 hours a week. Some weeks it was fun, and some weeks it was depressing and I lamented the loss of all the hobbies I once had.

    Where I think the letter goes wrong (and gives awful advice) is this idea that working harder will give you a leg up in the academic market- EVERYONE works hard because everyone is trying to work harder/be more produtive than average, and there aren't enough jobs to go around. The 5-10% of people who DO get to stay in science are very hard workers, but so are most of the 90% who leave.
  8. Oct 12, 2012 #7

    George Jones

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  9. Oct 12, 2012 #8
    It seems like theres a split between opinions, one saying that this ballpark is reasonable estimate of hours put in for someone trying to make it in the academic world, and another opinion that says, thats totally unreasonable and we are all a bunch of suckers for outcompeting each other into an early grave.

    Could it be that science is just too competitive, to an unhealthy degree, these days? Or maybe the 'background premise' of grad school should not be 'you must do x y and z to become a scientist, there is no middle ground'

    edit; yes I did originally see this on Astrobetter, but its now also on Cosmic Variance
  10. Oct 12, 2012 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    Is there any evidence that this is real?
  11. Oct 12, 2012 #10
    Most graduate students I know work 50-60 hours a week - though quantifying how many works one works in this type of position is not as simple as it sounds.
  12. Oct 12, 2012 #11
    There were definitely some weeks where I worked sixteen-hour days Monday-Friday and then studied all weekend, probably approaching that 100 hour mark.

    But I did not do it consistently, and probably did not even do 80 hour weeks consistently either. I think to expect someone to do so is simply expecting them to forego their mental and physical health for the sake of the program. It's unrealistic and unsafe.
  13. Oct 12, 2012 #12
    More data doesn't mean better data. Having a good PI that knows how to guide you and tell you that you're going to hit a dead end is much better. Anyone that has a PI who tells them to work 100 hours a week should head for the door.

    Almost no one in my lab works over 40-50 hours a week. I mean I've put in 60-70 hours a week if I HAVE to because of the timing of experiments, but our lab is very laid back and my PI is awesome. That doesn't stop my PI though from bringing in tons of money and publishing in top notch journals. It's all about the quality and not quantity. You can do 1 million hours of experiments on subjects that no one is going to care about, but if you spend 100th less time pursuing topics and ideas that are novel and interesting, it might not take as much data to publish it.
  14. Oct 13, 2012 #13
    Is there even much of a benefit to working much more than 40 hours a week of mentally hard work. I thought most studies show that when you decrease the working day more gets done in 'creative' jobs.

    Edit: I'm having a hard time finding any english language studies to support my point. I'm finding plenty of norwegian though.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2012
  15. Oct 13, 2012 #14
    you assume that grad student research work is creative. has it occurred to you that some labs might be run more like factories or even work farms?
  16. Oct 13, 2012 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    I ask again - is there any evidence that this is real? It is certainly atypical for these kinds of communications.

    • It's far, far longer than most. "a long letter is usually better than several shorter ones" is a joke, right? It's also a complete jumble of thoughts.
    • It has eleven members on this committee. Typically department committees are much smaller: 3-5.
    • Its date of creation is allegedly around September 25th. That means that the committee has had zero to four weeks to do its job. At most institutions, they would still be messing with doodle polls.
    • No place has a "faculty hiring committee". They have search committees, one per search.
  17. Oct 22, 2012 #16
    Yes it is real. It came from UofA Astronomy. I have talked with several people near to this department who have confirmed the email. Although, not sure if the committee in the email all signed off on it.
  18. Oct 22, 2012 #17
    Got any evidence that it is real or do we need to take your worth for it?
  19. Oct 22, 2012 #18
    Since I'm so busy working those 80-100 hours :), I'll simply copy this from the Astronomers group on FB...

  20. Oct 22, 2012 #19


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    I'm sure the curl and div students are more efficient, they need to work only 40 hours per week, just like normal people. :biggrin:
  21. Oct 22, 2012 #20
    Edited - nevermind, you gave us some good hints, thanks ;)
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