I spent the day out of the office with Little Isis, who had the day off in observance of MLK Jr.’s Birthday. We had a hilarious day together. We went to the library and then shopping so that he could buy a fish. In our new house, Little Isis has his own bachelor pad on a different floor and he’s been saying that he’s lonely and needed a fish. He saved his allowance and today acquired Zeta the Betta. He was very proud of his punny name choice.
As is common among kids his age, he then spent the next several hours learning in the hallowed halls of YouTube University. Since concluding his studies, he’s been trying to explain to me that you can “get your fish to come” and is generally perturbed that this makes me giggle like an adolescent.
Speaking of non sequiturs, it really chaps my ass when I find myself in the middle of discussions over whether it’s ok to write with a pseudonym on the internet. Some how I got tagged into some Twitter discussion this afternoon that included a discussion of whether pseud opinions are relevant to a particular topic. This bitch has 99 problems, but those trolls ain’t one. I don’t lose a lot of sleep worrying about whether my opinion is trustworthy or relevant.
But, the general topic I was tagged into was still interesting. Ish. Ok, not really, but I got called to the yard, so…
Some dude at Caltech sent his postdoc the following letter:
The predictable discussion ensued about whether it is appropriate to ask for more than a 40 hour work week from trainees, although I rolled my eyes a little and needed a cocktail over the fact we’re discussing a letter from 1996.
Now, this letter is a little a wacky and I have been a long time advocate of “work-life balance” or whatever the heck that means, but I also don’t believe that our jobs can be done in 40 hours. Many of the lab tasks that are learned in the my field require repetition. Sometimes experiments have to be tended to in off hours. There has to be time for reading the literature and intellectual discussions. The question was then posed as to whether my training life was still “fun”.
Yeah,my life was pretty fun. I ate a lot of buffalo wings and drank a lot of beer. We had some rad parties. I hopped a fence and ended up swimming in a fountain. I fried oreos and sat in a dunk tank and helped throw a grown ass woman a quinceanera. I made out with a chick to get her to help me take @I_is_for_Indian home after our shenanigans got out of control. You might say I had too much fun.
But, I have frequently spent weekend morning hours catching up on my field and I can’t remember a time as a trainee where I consistently worked equal to or less than 40 hours. Many times now, dinner discussions turn to experiments or grants or papers. Those sneaky hours, where science infiltrates our daily lives, become work hours. The blessing is that I find this all intellectually gratifying. My kids get my undivided attention when we are together, and I regularly reschedule my day to accommodate them, but science is a harsh mistress and she gets many of my hours and much of my mental energies.
Jobs for young faculty members certainly cannot be done in 40 hours , at least not in the current funding environment. As I recently explained to a teenager with an interest in science careers, my job is 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% service. My time devoted to service and teaching don’t really change, but as grants become harder to come by, the only way to get grants is to write more grants and the only way to write more grants is to work more. Even when you get to the point where you can reuse grant material, you still have to submit them. My dean doesn’t care how many hours I’m working, she just wants results. That’s how most professional careers work, though, and I suspect that I have always been harder on myself than others were on me.
I’ll grant that there are some folks out there who push their trainees unrealistically hard and make obscene demands, but I also wonder how much of this conversation is because of self-imposed expectations that are then attributed to “PI expectations.” This post on a recent Harvard job search is informative and worth a read. Apparently there is a large self-selection because of what trainees think the expectations are, and it’s simply not reality.
I don’t know where all of this pressure comes from – whether its external or internal, but I’ll keep working until the job is done.