Quick thoughts on working hours

There’s quite the discussion on Twitter right now about how many hours scientists should be working.

The most outspoken people seem to be equating long hours in the lab with slave labor. And of course, he who shan’t be named somehow managed to turn the conversation into one about race and diversity.

I think it goes without saying — but with the internet you can’t assume much — the PI shouldn’t be telling you how many hours you need to work. I’ve always been anti-authority, so if someone tells me I have to do something I’ll just want to do the opposite.

Scientists are not paid well, their jobs are not secure, and their future job prospects are not great. As a result, it would be borderline criminal if a job mandated 60 to 80 hour work weeks. But most jobs don’t. That is one of the few benefits of working in science, we get to make our own hours.

So how many hours should you work? You should work as many hours as you want, or are limited to because of family or other obligations.

I’ve worked in 9 different labs, and my desire to work has greatly fluctuated. I’ve been in a lab where I wanted to work as much as possible, putting in 15 hour days, or even 30+ hour shifts when we got precious time at the beamline. I’ve also worked in labs where I tried to work as little as possible, trying to sneak in late and sneak out as soon as possible.

Some projects are extremely time consuming, and a 9–5 work day just isn’t feasible, no matter how efficient you are. You can’t control time, and if experiments have to run for a certain length, or data points need to be collected, you will be working odd hours.

Other projects are mentally draining, and it is more efficient if you are well-rested rather than sleep-deprived.

Science is a team sport, and if you find yourself on a team you believe in, working on a problem you find interesting and important, you will want to be a dependable and productive team member, and should naturally want to finish whatever tasks are at hand.

If you don’t then maybe you aren’t working on the right project, or working in the right lab, and should leave. I did.