Monday, July 12, 2010

Being There, Postdoctoral Edition

How much do you work? More than you want to? As much as you want to? Whatever your answer, do you get to decide or do you feel you have no choice, either because someone else is determining how much you work or because you are trying to meet certain expectations of productivity for your career stage and trajectory?

We could discuss whether professors work too much (to get tenure, to get promoted) or too little (for the amount they are paid, especially once tenured), or even whether graduate students work too much (according to them) or too little (according to their advisers). Those topics have been discussed here before.

But what about postdocs? Although some postdocs are funded by fellowships, many postdocs are supervised by and accountable to the professor (PI) who is paying their salary from a grant. There is likely to be a written contract setting out the salary for a year or more of the postdoctoral position, but other important things, like expectations of working hours/day and productivity, vary considerably from professor to professor.

There is, in theory, a framework that specifies the amount that graduate students work, and there is an administrative structure that oversees the education and training of graduate students. Whether or not those hours are reasonable (too much/too little) or enforced is another topic. Nevertheless, students are the responsibility not only of individual advisers but also of departments and other administrative units that deal with aspects of graduate education. There are graduate program advisers, deans, and so on.

It is more rare for there to be an administrative structure that oversees a university's postdoctoral researchers. Such things do exist; some universities do indeed have an Office of Postdoctoral Education or Affairs or Services or whatever. In some cases these are just 'resource centers' and in others they have some oversight role in the hiring practices and supervising of postdoctoral researchers.

Ideally, the postdoc and supervising professor(s) will discuss issues such as expectations and working hours and so on, perhaps even before the postdoc is hired. Does anyone want to guess as to how often these conversations occur in advance? In most cases? Rarely? I think my best guess would be closer to 'rarely' than 'often'.

So what do you do, then, if you are a postdoc and your faculty supervisor tells you, for example, that you must work at least n hours every day (including weekends), and n is a rather large number (say, 11-12 or so)? What if those hours are specified -- e.g. "Be in the lab/office every day from 8 AM to 8 PM or 9 AM to 8 PM" (or whatever suits the faculty supervisor best)?

This post is in response to an e-mail describing exactly such a scenario.

Maybe specified hours are OK with you and you were going to work those hours and more anyway. But what if you feel that you are getting a lot of work done but you want/need to leave the office at, say, 6 PM every day? Whether or not the postdoc is risking their future career by working less than their PI's preferences depends a lot on the attitude and philosophy of the professor.

I personally don't care what specific hours my postdocs work as long as they get some interesting and useful work done and are obviously making progress with their research. I would like to talk to them and otherwise communicate with them regularly, but they certainly don't have to work the exact same hours that I do.

Years ago, I had one postdoc who was an extreme morning person. I am an extreme nocturnal person. It was often the case that we overlapped for an hour or so in the middle of the night, just as I was finishing up working for the day and the postdoc was starting the day. This was very convenient and efficient when we were working on something together.

And as for how many hours someone should work: that varies depending on the working style and efficiency of each individual. Some people can get as much done in 8 hours as others can in 12 or more. It makes more sense to me to agree on some (reasonable) expectations as to what needs to get done by when. These are topics for continual discussion and reconsideration as a research project progresses in its typical non-linear fashion.

If you feel you are being forced to work unreasonable hours, in number or at specific times, I don't have any good advice except to gauge the flexibility/sanity level of the professor specifying these hours. Perhaps once you have established yourself as a good and hard worker, you can have a chat about a more flexible schedule. If you can continue to do excellent research and be available for communication (in person or electronically) for an acceptable number of hours each day, a reasonable person would let you work out your own schedule.

If the supervising faculty is inflexible, this is useful information to pass along to others contemplating working with this person, not as an undermining criticism, necessarily, but as information you may wish that you had had prior to accepting your position. And then, most likely, you probably need to just work those hours, do a great job, get a great job, and become an excellent mentor to your own postdocs and grad students, allowing them more flexibility than you were given.

Question: Have any of you readers made use of a university Office of Postdoctoral Stuff to deal with work-related issues such as working hours?

40 comments:

Curious said...

Is postdoc a recognised position in US institutions? At my (non-US) uni, there's no official postdoc designation. Positions vary on research only vs teaching and research, continuing vs fixed term and salary scale. The typical `postdoc' position is probably research-only, fixed term and bottom salary level, but there is variation in all three aspects so the difference is one of degree. As such, the overseeing office is HR, the same as for all faculty.

David Stern said...

In Australia and in the UK too (as I understand, I was a post doc there but a long time ago) a postdoc is a regular faculty member (academic level A where full profs are E) and the same conditions apply as to other faculty members. I can't see a supervisor demanding that the postdoc actually be on campus more than 35 hours a week or whatever. They still could give them an unreasonable work load in terms of tasks to complete or expectations of course. The latest enterprise agreement at my university actually specifies that academic staff should be able to work on self-directed research for 2 days a week minimum. Don't know how that will work with postdocs. Anyway, those are my understandings.

James Annan said...

At a total of 3 labs and one university in two countries (UK and Japan) all staff at all grades (including postdoc) basically have standard working hours of around 37h made explicit in their contracts. We are judged on results rather than our presence. At least that's the theory, here in Japan it often seems that we are not judged at all.

Anyone who told me to work 12h days would get told to take a running jump. Of course I understand that experiments sometimes require extreme overtime, but not as a matter of course. In fact our salaries here account for up to 15h overtime per month and we are strongly discouraged from doing more.

The reputation for crazy working hours and minimal holiday is one thing that really puts me off the idea of working in the USA.

Anonymous said...

In the country where I work there are laws governing how many hours a person can be required to work, and universities also have guidelines over how rigid the required hours can be. By law anyone with young children has a right to flexible hours, for instance, but in most cases specific hours cannot be required for research tasks (teaching is another matter). At my university nobody can be required by contract to work more than 40 hours in a week, although of course it is often necessary to get things done.

Since I am fairly sure most countries and universities have laws and regulations to protect employees, I suspect these situations happen when postdocs are somehow not considered "employed". Does anyone know anything about this? Otherwise wouldn't labour laws apply, and the university should have HR offices that could protect postdocs from strict and unreasonable hours?

mixlamalice said...

"I personally don't care what specific hours my postdocs work as long as they get some interesting and useful work done and are obviously making progress with their research."

That was also my advisor's point of view when I was in the US.
Actually, this is still the case in my new post-doc in France.

I probably could have worked more (I was working more as a grad student in France), but I didn't really loved what post-doc meant (it was more the status and the fact that you had to spend long hours looking for what was next rather than my advisor/lab/research subject).
Still, I managed to get things done: I was not the best post-doc one can dream of, but I got 2 first author papers in decent journals in a little less than two years, which is probably a little better than average in my field.
I am still not overworking where I am now: I have been there for 3 months and I finally got a position so I know I'll be leaving in two months. I feel I won't change the science world in less than 6 months...


"And as for how many hours someone should work: that varies depending on the working style and efficiency of each individual. Some people can get as much done in 8 hours as others can in 12 or more. It makes more sense to me to agree on some (reasonable) expectations as to what needs to get done by when."

I believe you're absolutely right, even though it's hard to convince people of that in my home country (France). For example; a lot of people tend to stay really long hours in the lab, but they take two hours for lunch and a couple of long coffee breaks during the day. I prefer to keep my days short (even when I work hard), but then, when you leave before 6, people think you've done nothing even though you were working while they were sipping their coffee for 1 hour...
It seems to me that in the US, people look more at what you've accomplished than at the time it took you to do it. I liked that.

Anonymous said...

No such office ever existed anywhere that I worked. I worked crazy hours, on the basis that if I didn't get a permanent job (which seemed very likely given competition in my field) then at least I could never feel that it was my fault for having slacked off.

Anonymous said...

As a third year grad student, I work at most 1 hour per day and no more than 5 hours per week. I figure if my program is not going to pay me a decent wage, then I won't give them decent hours.

Anonymous said...

I (postdoc) work as much as I want. My ability to choose my work hours is helped by being on fellowship. When I first came to the lab my adviser (a new prof at the time) paid me and specified I should be there when she is (9-5), though she has since forgotten she said that. It does help a lot to be around when she is though, since everything goes faster when we talk through ideas. However, there are often other things that have to be done during business hours so my work hours can be somewhat random. My own opinion is that I should work more, but my productivity is pretty reasonable over the course of a year.

I wish there was a postdoc office here. Since I'm not paid by the university I am not eligible for group-plan health insurance (the fellowship comes with money for insurance - I'm not expecting the university to pay). Luckily I'm getting married soon and will be on spouse's insurance. I spent a lot of hours talking to some really clueless office-staff about this and could have used a postdoc office who could tell the university how nice it would be to let those of us working on campus, producing pubs with the university's name, buy into insurance.

Aisling said...

@ Curious: "Postdoctoral Fellow" is most certainly a recognized position at my US Big Research Institution. The "official" working hours for the post-docs are 40 hrs a week. Annual leave is at the discretion of the PI - the "recommended" amount to be negotiated with the PI is 10 days plus federal holidays (i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas and so on). Sick leave is also at the discretion of the PI.
In reality, I'd be surprised if any postdoc here actually works 40 hours a week - it's usually a lot more, although my lab and field (computer science) is probably one with the "lightest" schedule. I have no problem working as long as it takes to meet a deadline or make headway on a new project. However, I find it very difficult to survive on 10 days annual leave. I'm from a European country where the standard annual leave is about 25 days + additional comp time (and Bank Holidays) - I never actually used all of that time when I lived back home, but first of all, I find it nice to have the option to take longer leave, and second of all that would be especially useful when one lives so far away from family that you can't just go and visit for the week-end.

Trabor said...

Our postdoc office seems primarily concerned with deciding who is eligible to be a postdoc, what their titles can be, and what they can (or can't) be paid. I would never think to ask them to mediate with a postdoc. The chair in our department, however, has gotten involved in some disputes between trainees and PIs and it has worked out reasonably well. The two problems with this: the chair is hardly unbiased (always siding with the PI, at least, so far) and of course this would never work if the chair's trainees had a dispute with him. Now that I think of it, anyone with a dispute with our chair just disappears....

lersub said...

Thanks for devoting a post to postdocs. I often feel like we are lost somewhere in the middle, in between faculty and students. Part of this is probably because we are so transient...

Anyway, I'm off topic.

At my massive research university, I know of no Office of Postdoctoral Anything, but you have me curious so I am going to investigate.

As for working hours, fortunately I have an advisor who treats all of the group members like adults. We are free to come and go as we please, so long as we are making sufficient progress in the lab. (I have applied for fellowships but I am paid from his/her grants.) I asked if I could take a vacation and s/he looked at me like I had 10 heads, then said, "I don't care what you do." I consider myself to be pretty lucky to have such a reasonable advisor.

That being said, if I had a postdoc advisor who told me that I had to work 9 am to 9 pm daily, I'd probably do it. In graduate school I was 'raised' to do what the boss told me to do (hence the reason why, as a postdoc, I asked if I could take a vacation).

I think that postdocs (and postdoc candidates) should be able to talk to their (potential) advisors about what expectations will have to be met. I asked tons of questions on my interview, mostly because I wanted to make sure that we were going to mesh well. Questions along the lines of 'What role do postdocs have in your lab?' are definitely not unreasonable and naturally lead into, 'What type of schedule would you expect a postdoc to keep?'

And to answer the questions posed at the beginning of the post, I work as much as I have to in order to move my research along, which is usually 10 to 12 to 14 (or more) hours a day. I like to take weekends 'off' when I can, but most of the time there is something that must be done. I don't have a problem with these hours because I like what I do, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. (Sometimes, however, I do feel like I don't work hard enough, but that is because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a 'good postdoc' (whatever that is).)

Anonymous said...

Daycares in my area close at 6 pm and typically charge parents $1 per minute that they are late. I leave at 5:30 pm and that's non-negotiable.

I occasionally come in on weekends while my spouse watches our children. But if we both needed to do that on a regular basis-- well, we'd have to be making a heck of a lot more than postdoc salaries to afford all those extra hours of childcare.

Anonymous said...

We've all heard of horror stories and really unreasonable situations, but I'm curious to know how often that happens. Poll perhaps? Ideally one that differentiates between U.S. and others.

Applied Physics Prof said...

Ideally, all students and postdocs would behave as adults and would work conscientiously as much as they need to be productive. In reality, as a PI I found that if I tell people to work whenever they want as long as they get work done, 60% of people (students for the most part) will just not work nearly enough and will progress too slowly.

So I believe there should be some guidelines as to how many hours is minimal. I am at the office 8:30-5:30 and work from home nights and sometime on weekends, depending on how much work there is. My group members are instructed that they should try to be at the office, all of them, for most of the 9-5 slot, so I can easily meet with them, and to ensure that all of them interact with each other (these interactions are as important as any part of the graduate experience).

I have a postdoc fellow right now, who has a difficult commuting situation (his family lives 3 hours away). So he is at the Uni 3 days a week, working long hours on those days, and the rest with his family. Being away from family is hard on him, but I have a duty to him to ensure his record looks very strong when he is done, to the rest of my group to get the benefit of his presence, and to our collaborators with whom he has a great rapport and who are all here, so I cannot have him totally telecommute -- he would simply be too detached that way. Regarding FSP's question, I don't think there is an office that takes care of postdocs per se at my university.

Regarding vacation, I know international students want to go home for longer stretches of time; I request that these long absences (3 weeks or more) be over the winter break, when everything shuts down around here anyway. Summers are our most productive time, so I dislike people taking long strethces of vacation, but a week at a time or a couple of extended weekends are perfectly fine. In general, I am OK as long as I know in advance when they would be gone, there are no impending deadlines, and they are otherwise progressing well.

Micro Dr. O said...

I've never had, as a grad student or postdoc, a set schedule; I've always been able to come and go as I please. But my mentors have always expected (and received) a certain level of productivity out of me, making this arrangement possible. I personally don't understand the idea of setting 12 hour days for your postdoc, or even setting specific times for them to be in the lab, so long as you see them most days and know what they're up to. This seems completely counterproductive for both the postdoc and PI, especially if they're forcing the postdoc to work outside of their comfort zone.

Also, we do have a postdoc office, but their powers regarding how many hours a postdoc works are fairly limited.

Anonymous said...

I have a post-doc at a government lab and it is great. I work about 40-45 hours/week and, while we had an initial discussion of what my general hours would be, it's been totally flexible. It has made balancing my work and home life (with a toddler) really satisfying. I'm a big believer in progress as the metric over hours worked. But then, I seem to accomplish more in 8 hours than I do in 12, and publish more than most.

almost done said...

I am just beginning the process of looking for a post doc and I'm wondering how I go about asking the hours I'm expected to put in. And, how honest is the advisor going to be?
I'm a mom and unwilling to give up my evenings with my daughter (with the obvious exception of an experiment that needs to be done). As such, I'm only willing to work so many hours/day (I'm a morning person and by getting in early I usually put in about 10 hrs/day currently as a grad student).
Also, in an interview should I bring up the fact that I'm a mom, or is that better left unsaid?

EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy said...

Particle physics in the US here.

I've been a "Postdoctoral Associate" and a "Postdoctoral Fellow" according university administrations. I've also met people who were "Research Associates" and "Temporary, Full-time Research Professors".

In any case, yes the university recognizes that we exist, but they mostly seem to loath the fact of us. They don't quite know what we do or how to handle us.

My bosses have expected results from me, not hours; and have been forgiving of the occasional time demands I have at home. Since graduating, I have made a point to not work more than ~50 hours a week except in emergencies and to take some time off after emergencies demand a long week or two. And I have received no complaints. I have received respect for my abilities and a bit of guidance.

On the whole I enjoy being a post-doc, but am ready to move forward.

Anonymous said...

I know this doesn't seem to relate to me but I treat my post-grad as a job since I'm paid quite well to do it. My current supervisor (there was a shake-up in the supervision team so...I'm just waiting for confirmation of the switch of a second supervisor, who's actually pretty busy, which suits me quite well) don't really care what hours I do as long as work gets done. I'm one of those OCD type workers where if there is a puzzle I have to solve it or I get ill from thinking about it (I'm not kidding here! I almost ended up in hospital once...all because I couldn't solve a puzzle!) As such, I have to be highly efficient and tries to finish whatever I'm working on as soon as possible. Tasks that require the least amount of time gets prioritised with the longest interspersed in between and when that long task gets completed, I wait 3-days to a week before I start another long task. This helps to keep me sane and at least approachable. As you may imagine I get through work at a really fast pace. I know this puts pressure on everyone else and to be honest I don't expect it back.

So I guess I'm pretty lucky that out of 9 supervisors I've had in the past only one of them demanded that I work fixed hours whereas everyone else just left me be, occassionally reminding me that I haven't seen them for a while.

Anonymous said...

The reputation for crazy working hours and minimal holiday is one thing that really puts me off the idea of working in the USA.

Do US Professors abuse their postdocs........?????

lersub said...

I left a few things out of my last comment:

1. I'm in the US,

and 2. I have no children and my significant other is also a postdoc at my institution.

@Applied Physics Prof, if I were ever to become a professor, I would probably adopt 'rules' similar to yours. Although it is nice that we are treated as adults, some do take advantage of this situation (in my opinion). In graduate school I had strict 9-6 working hours, enforced by my advisor, which I found to be actually very beneficial in terms of interacting with my group members. As you mentioned, this interaction is much less significant when everyone has a different schedule.

Anonymous said...

We have a newly formed postdoc affairs office that is part of the grad school. It was mainly formed to regulate pay, hours, time as a postdoc (etc) because some labs were being unreasonable. The policies haven't really affected me because I'm in a good lab group.

My contract says 40 hours, but there isn't a time card to fill out. The reality is as long as I come in early/stay late when needed for the experiment's sake I can take off early when I need to be somewhere else. On average I probably still put in over 40 hours, but since I know I can leave early when I need to I don't mind.

My mentor is cool about this, but my office is away from the lab and I feel like the office staff keeps tabs on us. Of course, they're not here when I get in at 6:00am to know how long I am working.

chall said...

As a post doc in the US I technically had a 40h qork week, i.e. that was my salary and the hours calculated. In reality, coming in all days of the week and working with mouse experiments with set time points = 60h minimum....

Coming in a 8.30 am and leaving 6.30 pm with little lunch break and then at least 4 hs Sat and 4 h Sun.... I was quite surprised my first month when I got in on a weekend and everyone in the lab was there (apart from the tech!). My PI was fair with taking leave, although it needed a good planning with end of experiments and being ready to start the next day when you came back.

Maternity leave did not exist however... and sick leave.... well, if you were truly an invested post doc, surely you wouldn't be sick?!

In general, anyonw who claimed "working only 40hs a week" would be told that you wouldn't be a successful postdoc/pi

lersub said...

@Anon 1:07,

No, we are not abused. I work as much as I do because I want to.

What is the point of taking off holidays anyway? Science doesn't stop for special days that honor Columbus or past presidents' birthdays. Besides, holidays are the best days to get work done because there is no one around to bother me.

yemar said...

As a research postdoc in social sciences at a major US Research University, I am hired through the Medical School (home of the Office of Postdoc Stuff) and classified as a "non-matriculated student." The "student" status confuses the heck out of just about everyone, but it allows people doing their residency in the hospital to get in-school deferments for their student loans. On the other hand, if I had a teaching postdoc, I would be classified as "staff" and have a completely (better) benefits package with more sick days, vacation days, retirement plan, etc. As a "non-matriculated student," I get 5 sick days, 10 major holidays, and I'm not allowed to be away from campus for more than 5 days without a note from my faculty sponsor. I am expected to put in no fewer than 40 hours per week. When the economy tanked, they insisted that I teach with no additional pay or release from research obligations. It has been a 3 year deal with no change in salary, although the insurance premium has increased.

Anonymous said...

To all of you that work on weekends, holidays and nights. There is a word for you: losers. Get some friends and family, have a BBQ, go to the bar, go outside and go jogging.

It is possible to get all of your work done in the day. Just ask yourself what you waste time on during the day. It could be useless seminars, useless group meeting or surfing the web.

Your job as a grad student/postdoc/prof is not that important that you need to put all of this time in.

Anonymous said...

First-time poster. Great blog.

I am currently a post-doc at an R1 MRU, after a shorter post-doc at another R1. I've never made use of the post-doc offices, which seem to resemble social clubs more than proper university offices. More importantly, interaction with those "offices" hasn't been necessary. Not because I discussed my responsibilities at length with my advisors (which both parties admittedly neglected), but because I sought advisors who valued discovery and productivity more than hours.

However, through a quirk of of post-doc status, I actually do have to fill out a weekly electronic time card at my current position, and am required to enter 8 hours per non-holiday weekday, obviously regardless of actual hours worked.

I'd echo Applied Physics Prof's and Micro Dr. O's perspectives on productive interactions between post-docs and advisors. Mandating hours is missing the point. Fieldwork is a great equalizer in this regard. When you're out in the wilderness, you all work as long as possible each day.

Finally, the post-doc's status at the university is highly variable. Whichever status (faculty or staff or post-student) that will benefit the university more in any given situation is that which is applied. Consistency would be nice.

FemaleSciPostdoc said...

I'm a physical sciences postdoc in the US who is self funded (I'm the PI on the proposal I wrote to NSF which funds my postdoctoral research). I have a variety of "postdoctoral mentors" who help me with career navigation and research progress and I participate in a research lab where I help mentor several grad students. I put in 40-50 hrs/wk and take 1-2 weeks of vacation/yr. I have a toddler at home so when I am not in the lab/office I am completely offline.

There was never a discussion with my primary mentor about how much I would work, but I think that is because I am self-funded. I work a lot fewer hours now than when I was a grad student at an R1 school putting in 70+ hours/week so this is heavenly.

The way I see it is that I am now a professional and my career is in my own hands. I have decided that I probably do not want a job at an R1 (grad school was enough thankyouverymuch), so am happy with the progress I make working more reasonable hours. Had I not been self funded, I would have had great reservations being a postdoc for someone who required me to work >50 hrs/wk.

Anonymous said...

I'm a postdoc, and I do theory, so there are no lab experiments to be tied down to. I don't have a supervisor, either, but am one of 10 or so postdocs hired by a "center" at a major east-coast university. I work with whichever other local postdocs or profs I want to. It's basically the ideal job: I work long hours, but only because I want to, and frequently work from home, where I find that I'm more productive when I'm at the "getting results" stage of projects rather than the "brainstorming ideas" stage, where talking to other people helps more. The one downside, of course, is that the job ends in the near future and then my odds of getting another job will depend on what kind of results I've gotten while I'm here...

Anonymous said...

What faculty say they expect in an interview, what they think they expect, and what they actually expect can each be different things. My group seemed perfectly acceptable on the interview, but when I got here, I had to draw some serious lines between what was and was not acceptable for one of my supervisors to ask. He complained to one of the grad students (not to me) that I came in at 10 and left at six. Nevermind that I was going home and working 2-3 hours. But the real problem was not the hours expected of me. He treated me like his personal assistant instead of like skilled labor and he peppered me with insulting comments all day long. He gave me strict instructions for menial tasks and then monitored my work for compliance (with pointless aspects, like whether or not I used the same aliases on my laptop as he told me to.) It was really, really bad - not because of the hours, but because of the verbal abuse and boring, redundant tasks devoid of any intellectual challenge. I don't think he meant ill - he just is highly socially dysfunctional, probably mentally ill, and an extremely unhappy man.

Still, save yourself before helping others. I rebelled, complained to the more reasonable boss, and basically said I'd quit if things didn't improve. It had gotten bad enough that I didn't care if I lost my decade of training - as long as I got out of that situation. No job is worth being driven into a mental institution. Plus if I spent all of my post doc learning to be an obedient, mindless robot, I wouldn't be employable at the end of it. I haven't really forgiven the faculty who put me in this situation - the witnesses and the enablers. I don't know if I can. If a particular faculty member has a parade of students and post docs (over several years) who all independently say he did crazy, inappropriate things on multiple occasions and these accounts are backed up by collaborators and co-workers of this faculty member, doesn't that indicate a problem? I don't get why this man was repeatedly able to dismiss his underlings as simply being poorly qualified. The only thing that saved me from this fate was an Ivy pedigree.

Abuse drives qualified people out of the field. We're not left with the most qualified but those most able to withstand abuse. There are tons of excellent faculty out there who are great mentors - but there are sadistic supervisors too. And in my field, which requires multiple post docs, the odds of getting to a faculty position without at least one boarish, nasty, abusive supervisor are almost nil.

Don't other faculty have some responsibility? Both moral and professional?

Thinkerbell said...

Currently a postdoc in the US. I've been blessed with a grad advisor who was very flexible regarding my work hours. That being said, if everyone would just come and go as they please, I think that would be very bad for the interaction among peers.

I like the fact that I am flexible. I work too much, but at least I am doing it to myself.

Also, I think the we-work-so-much attitude in the US is in part due to 1) everyone is far away from other friends and family, so your labmates turn into your friends so work and social start to mix and
2) not working efficiently at all (i.e. many hours surfing) and with less support (i.e. core facilities, techs) than on other continents so you have to put in more hours to do stuff that otherwise would get done differently or by others.

I hope I myself will become a PI who can rely on his personnel to be self-motivated. The minute I have to turn into a police officer, something is wrong.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I personally don't care what specific hours my postdocs work as long as they get some interesting and useful work done and are obviously making progress with their research.

This is my approach as well. Creating an inspiring and fun scientific environment is the only way to get creative people to work hard fruitfully. Forcing hours is fucking pointless.

Anonymous said...

1) Any biologist knows first hand from fruit fly genetics that there are "night people" and "day people". Forcing a night person to work 9-5 is a waste of everyone's time and energy. Academic environments, of all places, should allow scientists the flexibility to work when they are the most energized and inspired.

2) Everyone stop reading this webpage and get back to your experiments!

biological post doc in the US said...

Anon 7/12/2010 06:00:00 PM

It's easy and fairly obvious you don't work with animals (time points over time) or any kind of cells growing that you can't control but wait until they are "done".

It'd be lovely not to work on weekends but then the animals need checking every day, even every 4-8-12 hours and then what do you do?! ^^

And this not even counting simply stuff as "sharing machines" and then needing to use them for 8 hs straight. Not always possible within a work day.

just saying.

Bashir said...

I received no guidelines with regard to hours worked per week. We did talk generally about career goals, publishing expectations, and what percent of my time would be on various projects.

My hours are not monitored, but my progress certainly is.

Anonymous said...

In my postdoc interviews I found it more helpful to ask the group members what hours were expected of them than to ask the PI. They were generally very forthcoming, and by asking different people separately I could confirm that they were consistent.

Anonymous said...

I am a US postdoc. My postdoc adviser and I never talked about expected hours that I work. But, on my interview I did stress that I like to take vacations. I take 2-3 weeks of vacation a year and don't ask for permission. I tend to work 40-50 hours a week at work. I work hard, am very independent and productive. My adviser treats me more like a colleague than a trainee. I am on a fellowship and have taken advantage of that by sometime working remotely so that I can work and visit with family too.

Anonymous said...

I have recently completed a 2 year postdoc at a research institute in the US. It is seriously a research institute, with only grads, post-docs and profs - no undergraduates. My graduate supervisor let us set our own schedules, and looked for results only. And when I went to him with some results, he was available, supportive, and provided useful feedback. I generally worked 9 hours a day or so, from maybe 7 or 8am to 5 or 6pm. Weekends were absolutely not expected - my supervisor had a family, and expected us to take time for our own pursuits and families as well. It was a healthy, balanced situation.

My experience as a post-doc was completely different. 60-70 hour weeks were expected. Weekends were expected. Vacations were for the weak. My supervisor chose to listen to some group members and not others (this division went along gender lines - I was on the unfavorable side of that line). I came out of the experience traumatized, feeling that I was worthless - something my post-doc supervisor definitely seemed to agree with. And yet, I landed a good industry job where I do interesting work which is valued and taken seriously by my supervisors.

I think that post-docs are underpaid, undervalued, and tend to slip through the cracks. It said on my paycheck that I worked 40 hours per week. There are no checks and balances in the system.

As bad as things were in our group, they were even worse in the lab next to us. Their supervisor would yell at them, verbally abuse them, and call them when they were home sick with the flu and demand that they come into work. This kind of bad behavior caused me to rethink my initial career path (academics). It was pervasive at my university. I would never, ever recommend that someone attend this university, as a post-doc or a grad student. I am not a weak person, and I feel that I was lucky to get out of that situation without needing therapy. Typical US post-doctoral experience? I hope not. But it was mine, unfortunately. Be careful. And when you interview with a lab, definitely ask the group members questions about their quality of life. Verbally and non-verbally, they will tell you everything you need to know.

thehumanscientist said...

We have a postdoc office and I think good support/resources for postdocs compared to other institutions. However, checking the website now, I don't see any indication that they would intervene and advocate for a postdoc who was being put under unreasonable pressure by their PI. (I happen to know of just such a lab at our institution, where the PI has been known to say things like 'you think working 12 hours a day is enough?').

Compared to that, I feel like I have it pretty good, as my PI is reasonable, flexible and (rightly, in my opinion) values productivity over hours spent within the four walls of our building. Nonetheless, I think there is a culture of excessive working hours among postdocs, where if you are not spending most of your life in the lab and exhausted most of the time, you're just not doing it right. I think this is ridiculous: did we really get PhDs just to work like automatons? Shouldn't we be rewarded for our creativity rather than our drudgery? At the same time, I am affected by it and often find myself feeling guilty and inadequate because I *only* work about 50 hours a week...

EcoGeoFemme said...

My institution has an excellent Postdoc Office. They are visible, schedule all sort of networking and professional development events for postdocs, and available to deal with issues if we have them.

I probably work an average of 45-50 hours. Some weeks more, some less. I used to have a strict 40 hour policy (due to carpooling) but that is relaxed now. I find I'm much less efficient as a result.