Tag Archives: working

Do Scientists work too hard?

A recent article in Academe Online had some startling numbers that I had long suspected, but wasn’t able to back up with data until now.

Over half of scientists surveyed–regardless of gender–reported they work 50 hours a week or more.  This work-intensive lifestyle is one of the most frequent topics students (grad and undergrad) ask about when they see how haggard all their professors look.

I think this statement from the article is quite true:

Universities have developed over the past two hundred years to fit men’s lives, both as faculty members and as students. From the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, university professors were predominantly men—with stay-at-home wives who organized and cared for the household.

One of the reasons I jumped off the tenure track was that it was not a healthy choice for me, a person with a disability. I don’t, frankly, think it’s a healthy choice for very many people, aside from a few superstars who thrive on stress. An academic life can be wonderful…but too often it’s a toxic environment.

Too much work/too little time is a problem with academia, and also a problem for Americans in general, since Americans have little or no vacation time, compared to other developed countries.  The Academe Online article caught my eye because it  actually was about the role of housework in adding to the burdens of female scientists:

“female scientists do nearly twice as much housework as their male counterparts. Partnered women scientists at places like Stanford University do 54 percent of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry in their households; partnered men scientists do just 28 percent. This translates to more than ten hours a week for women— in addition to the nearly sixty hours a week they are already working as scientists—and to just five hours for men.”

This pretty much validates what I’ve been hearing from friends for many years. While some women have wonderful husbands that help with parenting and housework, most of them still do the heavy lifting around the house.

When you combine this information with the recent National Academies publicationGender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty“, you realize just how important home/house work can be.

In every science field they measured, the proportion of female applicants for tenure-track jobs was significantly less than the number of women completing PhDs in that field. Women received 45 percent of the Ph.D.s in biology awarded from 1999 to 2003, but they accounted for only 26 percent of applicants to tenure-track positions.  Same story in Chemistry –36% of PhDs earned,  18% of applicants for tenure-track positions.

In every field, women were underrepresented among candidates for tenure relative to the number of female assistant professors.  In chemistry, for example, women made up 22% of assistant professors, but only 15% of the faculty being considered for tenure.

I hear–often–from grad students “I don’t want to work in academia because I want to have a life/family/kids.”  I hear it from both men and women.

What does it mean for Academia that some of our best and brightest see it as a machine that grinds up lives and spits out bitter, tenured dead wood?