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?
8 months ago