"No academic institution... is particularly great for family."
January 28, 2015 5:41 PM   Subscribe

An associate professor of biology with two children speaks more negatively about the effects of balancing work and family on his career: “It's a disaster.” [1]
The majority of tenured full professors at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, who have the most power to hire and fire and set the workplace expectation of long hours, are men who have either a full-time spouse at home who handles all caregiving and home duties, or a spouse with a part-time or secondary career who takes primary responsibility for the home. [2]
A study released last November focused on male academic scientists finds [WaPo] that they still feel that sharing parenting — and in some cases, even other domestic responsibilities — is in conflict with their career, sometimes unresolvably. The study (PMC full text) suggests that male scientists are likely to have relationships where their own career is prioritized over their partner's, and even to forgo parenting altogether. It also finds that around one-third of male academic scientists are in more egalitarian relationships, but that these scientists tend to experience "increased work-family conflict."

It's not all bad news, as the authors note that newer models of masculinity allow for more egalitarian models of fatherhood, but the authors also point out that "the predominance of traditional men among the full professors in our study suggests that the ideal worker norm may continue to have lasting power and to provide extensive benefit to those who follow it."
posted by en forme de poire (75 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
“I never in my life made a tax return. I never in my life washed a pair of socks or cleaned a pair of shoes,” said one 67-year-old physics professor in a traditional marriage. When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”

That's a plan that will work for everyone.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 PM on January 28, 2015 [29 favorites]


Men in traditional marriages rising to power faster, becoming boss and setting the tone for workplace expectations is a phenomenon seen in other fields. In a series of studies of more than 700 married men, researchers at Harvard, New York University and the University of Utah found that men in traditional marriages tended to hold positions of power in business and other organizations.

That study found these bosses tended to think that workplaces with more women didn’t operate well, and more frequently denied female employees opportunities for promotion, considering them less qualified than men even when their resumes were identical.


I'm sure that I've benefited from exactly this phenomenon, sadly. It's tricky to spot in the moment, because those tend to be overtly meritocratic places and it's often only in retrospect that you see the ways those meritocracies are biased against women. (And academia, and even more so the sciences, is of course the ultimate claimed meritocracy, so it makes sense how it can play out.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:05 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Second verse, same as the first (written a scant 40 years previous): sing it with me!

My God, who wouldn't want a wife?
posted by foxfirefey at 6:06 PM on January 28, 2015 [26 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people? I don't have one, myself, but it seems okay to me if doing difficult, worthwhile work has a high price. If it doesn't, then the focus is pathological.
posted by michaelh at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


“I never in my life made a tax return. I never in my life washed a pair of socks or cleaned a pair of shoes,” said one 67-year-old physics professor in a traditional marriage. When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”

...Now taking applications for prospective spouse-persons in possession of a time machine. Maybe I might have a salvageable career! Except I'd still have to do the pregnancy part.
posted by pemberkins at 6:42 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


michaelh: "Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?"

It involves a lot of reading journal articles, late nights at the lab finishing your grant proposal / journal submission before the deadline, and traveling to conferences. And depending on the subject matter, extended field trips to your field research site. Moreover, you have maybe five years to produce substantial contributions to the field or you're fired by your tenure committee.
posted by pwnguin at 6:46 PM on January 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


These posts serve a solid purpose in making me feel less bad about being runner up for a tenure track job and working exactly 40 hours a week for the government. Keep them coming.
posted by pseudonick at 6:46 PM on January 28, 2015 [27 favorites]


The patriarchy hurts everyone.
posted by bleep at 6:50 PM on January 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

My mother worked 100-hour weeks for 6 years, then turned down the resulting tenure offer because she realized she wanted to actually talk to me at some point before I left for college.

One of my lab's professors told me once, with a facial expression that suggested he would probably murder someone if he could get an hour nap out of it: "Physicists have a work-life balance. It's just all on the work side." In the same conversation, he related that another professor in the lab had told him: "I love my flexibility in this job. I can work any 17 hours of the day I want."
posted by dorque at 6:51 PM on January 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


male academic scientists finds [WaPo] that they still feel that sharing parenting — and in some cases, even other domestic responsibilities — is in conflict with their career, sometimes unresolvably

At the moment, there are also people who are concerned thatan academic science career may be generally incompatible with the economics of parenting at all.

I'm fond of Phil Greenspun's examination of why men tend to survive that gauntlet anyway (longer reproductive windows and less perspective), though I don't at all doubt the power/privilege of having partner willing to support a career.
posted by weston at 6:52 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

My office is at a University and I am friends with a number of professors (male and female) who have young kids. The professors work a lot of hours and really have to make an effort to have family time, regardless of their gender. My mom was an elementary teacher and worked 10 or so hours a day, the professors work harder and have a lot more pressure to not just teach but get grants, develop innovative programs, etc.

Like psuedonick, I once had a chance for a university career and instead ended up in a 40 hour per week government job. I make about half as much as the professors I know but have a much more enjoyable work/life balance. I don't regret my choice.

And working in a government bureaucracy is much easier than a university bureaucracy.
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:00 PM on January 28, 2015


My mother and father both have Ph.D.s in the same field from the same university, but my father went on to have a scientific career while my mother was (for a while, at least) a housewife, watching me during the day and cooking dinner and what not (I don't know who did the taxes). To be fair, I don't think my mother actually *wanted* a scientific career by the time she graduated, but it no doubt helped my father greatly that he could work all day and into the evening knowing I was taken care of. Even if we imagine the gender roles flipped (successful female scientist + house-husband), as perhaps they're starting to be...a little...it's unpleasant to think that this kind of career requires a dedicated homemaker of some sort if there's going to be a marriage with children. But I think there might be some truth to that, so maybe we should just hope for 50% house-husbands at some point in the future.
posted by uosuaq at 7:01 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a tenure-track scientist with a 12-week-old baby. I've recently learned that work isn't the most important thing in my life. It turns out that, even if I'm ultimately denied tenure, I get to keep my little girl!
posted by rlk at 7:04 PM on January 28, 2015 [37 favorites]


Ugh. About 1/3 of that Greenspun article is really good. The other two thirds are offensive and deeply stupid. Oh well.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:09 PM on January 28, 2015


Let's not limit this discussion to the University. Attempting to balance family life (or any life) is just as difficult, if not more difficult, for every dedicated public education k-12 teacher.
posted by HuronBob at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

As an academic, I'd also really like to know the answer to this question! I go back and forth: on the one hand, I think some of this attitude is actually received wisdom and that it gets promulgated partly as social signaling, but on the other hand, a lot of the people around me really do orient their lives to this degree around their work, and with funding flatlining in science there's no escape from the fact that all of these people are potentially competing with you for the same few jobs.

My own advisor might be a good counter-example, since she is both quite successful in absolute terms and also a very present, involved parent; Radhika Nagpal also had a good article recently where she talked about setting hard limits on what she was willing to do for an academic career, and that had a happy ending in that despite being rigorous about firewalling time for parenting, she still ended up with tenure at Harvard. So there are a few higher-profile examples of people who have successfully negotiated this balance -- though even they haven't done it easily, or without fighting a constant battle to set and keep boundaries in place. But these examples still seem to be all too rare, and of course, we don't hear as much about the people who weren't able to square the circle and end up leaving academic science (or science, period). The linked article also talks extensively about how the men in egalitarian relationships seemed to be very aware of the opportunities they've had to give up at work in order to be better and more equal parents, to say nothing of the pressures on women.

But I think there might be some truth to that, so maybe we should just hope for 50% house-husbands at some point in the future.

I think one other potential route is to increase access to child care and things like both paternity and maternity leave. We had some collaborators from Norway in my thesis lab and I was struck by how many women and more specifically, mothers were in high-profile positions on the faculty. I was also just talking to a Swedish postdoc who was bemoaning the relatively high cost of child care here in the States compared to in Sweden. Having child care outside the family can take a lot of pressure off, but here it tends to cost one person's entire salary (in a 2-postdoc couple, anyway).

(Some universities are starting to experiment with policies like adding a year to the tenure clock of any new parents, though I've heard of that being exploited by men with more traditional relationships: a male tenured prof at my last institution apparently encouraged new faculty to "have kids strategically" to gain extra time on their clocks, not mentioning of course that new children are hardly net time savings if someone else isn't looking after them.)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:22 PM on January 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?
Yes. Yes, it does.

The question of whether or not it is worth it is something you'll hear a lot if you're an academic: it depends.
posted by k8lin at 7:24 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm starting to back up and ask bigger questions before delving into the detail of any given profession. Is it really that profession's fault that we don't have adequate supports for child care, health leave, education and family mental health? Maybe we should fix that first.

[or, what en forme de poire said]

I'm a full-time professional and a graduate student but not an academic, though I have a view into that life thanks to a fair number of academic friends, though they are almost all in the humanities. So that may well color my understanding. But part of what I perceive about academic work is that it expands to fill the space available. There is always something more you could be doing: another set of reviews, editing an anthology, convening a conference, mentoring, etc. etc. At some point this is about personal definitions of "success," especially for those whose jobs are secure. The perspectives of the "egalitarian" scientists who are consciously foregoing some opportunities so as to balance their careers with their partners lend some support to that idea.
posted by Miko at 7:26 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Radhika Nagpal also had a good article recently where she talked about setting hard limits on what she was willing to do for an academic career

Though I should maybe point out that one of the points she made was "50 [hours a week] would just have to be enough" -- the implication being that only 50 hours a week is a terrifyingly low amount of time to have for an academic career. And indeed, that whole section is about work she turned down in order to make that terrifyingly low figure enough. So, you know.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:27 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


At the same time, it's not that unusual for senior managers and C-level folks in other professional fields to put in at least 50 hours a week, taking a lot of it home. And it's problematic if you don't, because you'll fall behind.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


For sure, I don't think 50 is a particularly high amount of hours to work for someone in a profession like that. I was more reacting to the unstated implication that this would be considered a borderline or even dangerously low amount by her peers (and maybe by the people on her tenure committee?).
posted by en forme de poire at 7:33 PM on January 28, 2015


I just read the whole piece; it's very good, and encouraging. I would love to see more things like that.

and maybe by the people on her tenure committee?

Maybe. But I think this is a good point: the sacrifices that it's going to take both the academy and working academics to triumph over this ridiculous situation are real sacrifices. It might mean that some really great people dont get tenure, while some mediocre grinds with no life do. But in the end, that should self-correct to some degree, right? As those committee members gradually start to say "this give-your-whole-life criterion is no way to run this business, because we are losing some of most brilliant, most famous, most money-getting people on the single issue of work/life balance and we're ending up building second-tier departments because of it." It's not just the worker who loses, it's the university too.

Back to my other point, she says this:

It is also stunning how little thought society has given to raising kids with two working parents. People in my work community constantly schedule important work events on evenings and weekends, with no apology or offer of childcare. People in my city government think that affordable public education ages 5-12 until 3pm is sufficient, and the rest doesn’t need organized effort or collective funding. Yet somehow we declare victory with Title IX? Ridiculous.

I don't think we're going to get very far with evolving gender roles until we honest-to-god solve this. Our society is shit at supporting families well enough to liberate the adults' productivity as workers.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on January 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


HuronBob: Let's not limit this discussion to the University. Attempting to balance family life (or any life) is just as difficult, if not more difficult, for every dedicated public education k-12 teacher.

I know both teachers and professors, and no, it isn't. It's not even close.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:48 PM on January 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

As an academic, I'd also really like to know the answer to this question! I go back and forth: on the one hand, I think some of this attitude is actually received wisdom and that it gets promulgated partly as social signaling, but on the other hand, a lot of the people around me really do orient their lives to this degree around their work, and with funding flatlining in science there's no escape from the fact that all of these people are potentially competing with you for the same few jobs.


This exactly. Not only are you competing with them for jobs, but for funding, for awards, for speaking opportunities (and so recognition), etc. You're being judged for tenure by (primarily) those same people.

I hope that creativity, unusual approaches, etc. will make it work, but making up for that 'lost' time is so hard (and yes, once I'm done responding to this question I'm going back to working while my kids sleep).

Interestingly, I (male) have received flack from older male scientists for spending too much time with my kids, but no one has said such a thing to my (female) spouse. (this is not to imply in any way that I don't have a ton of privilege, the sexism in academic science is appalling).
posted by lab.beetle at 7:58 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I actually find the Nagpal article terrifying. Think about what a total badass you have to be to GET a faculty job at Harvard in computer science in the first place. This is the kind of person who has multiple publications in Science. Does that mean that you have to be that good* to be able to pull off an academic career and decent family life? What about the rest of us mere mortals?

*Some people have suggested it's about being "that lucky" rather than "that good" - I suspect it's a combination of the two, and I think the larger point still stands.
posted by synapse at 8:18 PM on January 28, 2015


As those committee members gradually start to say "this give-your-whole-life criterion is no way to run this business, because we are losing some of most brilliant, most famous, most money-getting people on the single issue of work/life balance and we're ending up building second-tier departments because of it." It's not just the worker who loses, it's the university too.

No one is making tenure decisions on the basis of hours worked. No one is even tracking hours worked. Being a famous, money-getting person (while also teaching and doing service work) is what requires the significant time commitment that interferes with work-life balance.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:27 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Does that mean that you have to be that good* to be able to pull off an academic career and decent family life? What about the rest of us mere mortals?

A lot of people try and fail at getting an academic career. By its nature, to succeed, you have to be willing to do things and make lifestyle choices that other people aren't.

It's not just the nature of the departments, it's the availability of funding-- funding only goes to a top sliver of grant applicants. To get that grant money (and thus publications and ultimately tenure), you have to apply for lots and lots of grants and write them better and faster than others.
posted by deanc at 8:30 PM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, three guys are having a discussion about whether it's better to have a wife or a girlfriend. The lawyer says "After dealing with so many nasty divorces in my practice, there's no way I'd ever get married, I'll stick to having a girlfriend". The businessman replied "Well, I consider my wife a big part of my success. Clients love the fact that I'm a family man, and my wife does a lot of charity work that brings attention to my business." The chemist says "I figured out that it's best to have both a wife and a girlfriend. When I'm not with my girlfriend, she assumes I'm with the family. And when I'm out late at night, my wife thinks I'm with the girlfriend. Meanwhile, I can be at the lab getting some work done."
posted by 445supermag at 8:42 PM on January 28, 2015 [33 favorites]


No one is making tenure decisions on the basis of hours worked.

Well sure, not literally, but you sort of glossed over the "academic service" bit: doesn't that often boil down to just spending a lot of additional hours serving on committees that are only incidentally related to the main missions of research and teaching?

Nagpal's article also talks about traveling specifically, which can be hugely time-consuming; I remember my old advisor traveling a ton during the lead up to her tenure decision, because part of the tenure letter process means making people aware of who you are, which means giving a lot of talks, which means a lot of international travel. ("Academic service" itself can also involve a lot of domestic and international travel if you end up, e.g., serving on grant review panels.) It's a logistical nightmare both for research itself and for things like parenting.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:57 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]



Nagpal's article also talks about traveling specifically, which can be hugely time-consuming; I remember my old advisor traveling a ton during the lead up to her tenure decision, because part of the tenure letter process means making people aware of who you are, which means giving a lot of talks, which means a lot of international travel.


The run-up to tenure is when smart people also preposition themselves for a job search in case of a negative decision, sometimes by actually going on the market and sometimes just by going to a lot of conferences and making sure lots of people know how awesome they are, just in case.

So, you know, more travel and extra unpaid hours, just the kind of thing a traditional wife is great for helping with.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:04 PM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh nonsense.

I am a parent who has been through the tenure track twice. I work hard but enjoy huge flexibility compared to nearly any other career. School holidays, some control over schedule, etc. This article seems to be about lab science professors at R1s, that is a tiny minority of the professoriate.
posted by LarryC at 9:37 PM on January 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

Any kind of science. You're funded say 40 hrs/week to do some projects. You HAVE to finish those projects on time to keep your reputation and relationship with the funders. You may have underbid them because a) you knew you wouldn't get the grant otherwise and b) no one gives scientists classes in logistics, project management or bookkeeping so you wing it for years until you figure it out on your own. So probably you lack the funding to write up your results, but all your futuretime is already allocated to other projects. No problem! Write up in the evenings. White papers don't ever get written till after the grants. Maybe you can come in early and do those.

Then you need to apply for more funding. All grant applications are due at the most inconvenient time possible. So you write them in a tent or right after you grade 700 finals. But no worries, your collaborators can help. When they get back from Bora Bora. Oh and they are terrible at budgets so they left that for you! No, their grad students can't help and their admin just had a baby. How much will it cost to test each sample? Who the fuck knows, it's 11pm and this thing is due at midnight so make something up. And the NSF site just crashed. Grant writing is a leading cause of wine drinking.

Then you look up and realise you're supervising 19 people. Congrats! One of them just quit, one crashed the work truck, half of them are dating in flagrant violation of the rules of the college and sanity and at least one is a moron who can't fill out a timesheet. Oh and you have mandatory supervisory training, it's a week long and did we mention it's off campus? Downtown. Watch the parking Nazis!!

Then someone quits and you have to finish their work on top of your own because your are a co-PI on the grant. And meetings, conferences, more meetings, consulting work for which you don't get paid, 472 people a day calling you with questions and yeah, it's more than a 40 hour week. It's essentially running a business with none of the benefits and no way to fire people. Tenure means something totally different than it did 30 years ago.

Having one spouse not work in academia is practically mandatory. Male, female, golden retriever, who cares as long as they have a semi sane schedule and earn decent money.
posted by fshgrl at 9:45 PM on January 28, 2015 [28 favorites]


And I would like to give a shout out to the wonderful people at the grant agencies and the institutions in admin who make it all happen. They know you're not working 700 hours per week during field season, they know you need to shuffle hours around, that staff come and go, that you need money for the printer and the overhead, that you tend to bill in blocks of time, that people need to be trained and that the white paper will come out eventually and they'll get their moneys worth and more. Academic research is cheap in broad terms and grantors do get their moneys worth, God, do they! but the rules are Byzantine and the accounting confusing. I do my honest to god best but some people are a bit more cavalier, still excellent researchers. It couldn't happen without them, they are good peeps.

Funnily enough a lot of them are former researchers seeking shorter hours and more stability.
posted by fshgrl at 10:52 PM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


This article seems to be about lab science professors

You are correct in that academic research scientists are the focus of this article and this thread.

The original article is not exclusively about professors, though, since it also treats postdoctoral researchers, who represent a large part of the academic science workforce. NIH estimates peg the current number of biomedical postdocs at around 70,000 (though it's actually surprisingly difficult to get this number); the current average length of a postdoc in biomedical science is 4-5 years, after a PhD of on average 6.5-7 years.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:52 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh nonsense.

I am a parent who has been through the tenure track twice. I work hard but enjoy huge flexibility compared to nearly any other career.


You are then truly fortunate, and hat's off to you, but to quote the study: "[A]cademia is both all-consuming and also a relatively flexible work-place."
posted by blucevalo at 10:54 PM on January 28, 2015


You can, depending on the college you are at, get wondeful childcare benefits and a set your own schedule while a postdoctoral or associate prof. Depending on your situation I could see it being magically flexible and I know people who loves the hell out of their careers at that point. If you are running a program though, particularly one with physically limited times to do stuff because of field work or equipment time and a lot of staff, it's very consuming.
posted by fshgrl at 11:01 PM on January 28, 2015


I think this ties in quite well with this recent post.

The "Money-privilege-luck-connections" thread makes the point that art is sometimes subsidized in not very obvious ways by means of a significant other benefactor. The idea applies to aspiring academics/professionals just as much. And perhaps paradoxically, often continues to apply to successful, established academics/professionals whose careers demand high levels of dedication.

Is it really that profession's fault that we don't have adequate supports for child care, health leave, education and family mental health? Maybe we should fix that first.

OK, so suppose we fix that. The career is still a life sucking 50+ hrs a week at the expense of family life.

But I'm still waiting for the twist in the story. Academia is a fairly rare, competitive, demanding and esteemed career path. How much do you want it? And it's just one of thousands that are equally demanding, if not worse. At some point, people pursuing such paths have to accept that rigorous pursuit of career may well indeed exact a price elsewhere.

People in this position are in a good place, presumably. Capable, driven, lucky, and in the end, successful at their vocations. For all the people with success enough to bemoan it, there are millions who work just as much, just as hard. Not careers. Just jobs. To keep their family's bellies full and the roof over their heads. People who don't have the resources, connections, smarts that academics/professionals possess and successfully utilize. Resources, connections, smarts that they could channel into better paying, better esteemed, more satisfying, and/or more family friendly paths, if they'd been so blessed.

So, yeah, if you find yourself in such a position of upward mobility, prestige, security, that you worked so hard to reach, I'm a little less sympathetic to your woes over not being able to see the kids dance recital or baseball game. You've got a choice. Probably more than ever. Probably more than most. When so many couples similarly can't spend as much time with their families, because they lack that choice.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:02 PM on January 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


My ex-husband worked his way up to seniority in his field. He's still very involved with our kids, although I have primary responsibility and do a lot of the heavy lifting. Still, when he would have to go to a meeting at the school or a medical appointment for our kids with special needs, he had more than one (male) boss say, "Can't their mother do that?" and "Haven't you got a wife?" He continues to point out to me that most of his peers have traditional marriages, often with women from "traditional" (his words) cultures whose parents step in to provide all sorts of round the clock care and support, on top of that provided by the wives. He grew up in a family where his mother constantly told him that one day he'd have a wife to take care of him and meet his every need. I wasn't that wife.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:32 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ignoring the focus on man-works-woman-manages-household, does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

Yes, it is a lot of work, although I don't have very many bases for comparison (nor do I know whether my research career is "successful" since it hasn't existed for very long). On the other hand, I get to pick which hours I work, as long as there are a lot of them, don't really report to anybody, can largely work on whatever I think is a good idea to work on, get a lot of control over who my co-workers are, get to meet an interesting variety of people whose main commonality is a specific set of interests, "get" to travel frequently, etc.

There are numerous respects in which the whole setup needs to be improved, but a lot of these don't seem particularly academia-specific, to me, although making certain improvements in academia would be a start.

For my own part, being an academic is the lowest-hassle way I know of to do the research I want to do; I can't imagine wanting to be an "academic" rather than wanting to be a "mathematician" (which is what I am) or an "anthropologist" or whatever. There's therefore not much of a work/life issue, because I decided that for the moment this work is what I want to spend a large chunk of my life on. I'm inclined to agree with 2N2222, more or less.

I'm a postdoc currently on the tenure-track job market for the first time, so there are other people more qualified to comment. I also don't have kids; neither my co-conspirator nor I is interested at the moment. A small part of my lack of interest in having kids is work-related, though [my co-conspirator's reasons are unrelated to the topic at hand but probably less egotistical]. The idea of devolving "life" responsibilities onto my co-conspirator, especially at the expense of her opportunities to make the sort of how-to-spend-one's-finitely-many-minutes decisions that I get to make, is not really acceptable to me. I've e.g. turned down job interviews in middle-of-nowhere places this basis, but thus far this hasn't really entailed genuinely serious compromises since our values are fairly similar.

I have the impression that the "life" in "work/life balance" is largely code for "kids". It might well be true that, for many people, working on certain things, in a serious way, is not compatible with having kids (absent exploiting one's partner). I kind of think this is true of me, for instance, which is why I am glad that my partner has her own reasons, predating me, for not wanting kids.

One sometimes has to trade goals and aspirations for other ones, and compromise, but for some reason, saying "I'm not a parent because I spend my time on other things" is viewed differently from saying, e.g., "I'm not a musician because I spend my time on other things" or "I'm not an activist because I spend my time on other things" -- both of which are true of me but which might not be true later. The difference is, I think, just gross cultural pressure to reproduce. One of the cultural changes I'd like to see is the emergence of an attitude where parenting is seen more like devoted musicianship or hard-core political activism, rather than like something one can just graft on to any pre-existing lifestyle (provided someone else does most of the actual work).

I think that academic work can command a relatively large proportion of one's mental and emotional energy, relative to some other types of work (e.g. there is no chance of me cooking up an accurate accounting of how many hours I work, since I am thinking about work stuff much of the time -- I don't know for how many people this is not true, though). I'm certainly in favour of employers/society having to take much more serious measures than they do (where I live) to make it easier to balance work and parenting. I also think that choosing to do academic stuff and parent simultaneously -- even with the types of support that should, but do not generally, exist -- entails signing up for serious work and pressure, and that there really shouldn't be general expectations of this being the thing to do.

Sorry for the incoherent answer. I'm loath to generalize much from anything I just said.

And the NSF site just crashed.

The work-life balance of thousands would be improved in a small but significant way if the NSF website weren't a steam-powered relic assembled from beer cans and string. I've almost never successfully logged in to FastLane without having to email somebody first.
posted by busted_crayons at 12:23 AM on January 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


To clarify: "middle-of-nowhere" means "places where there is a university but few opportunities for non-academics".
posted by busted_crayons at 12:29 AM on January 29, 2015


My dad's approach was to take me to the lab and let me play Chuck Yeager's Flight Trainer on his office computer...
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was doing my first postdoc, I did a career development workshop the university ran that required me to interview someone successful in my career about how they had got there. I picked a senior professor who sat me down and told me that it was hard. You had to make a lot of sacrifices for the profession, for example he had sacrificed the opportunity to just about ever eat dinner with his kids or see them before they were asleep at night. But apparently it was worth it, and I needed to be prepared to make the same sacrifices.

It didn't seem to occur to him that actually, it was his family making sacrifices as much as anything. Especially his wife, who had a PhD in a related field and published some subsequent very important papers, but had never been able to take up an academic job herself.
posted by lollusc at 1:42 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Grant writing is a leading cause of wine drinking.

Heh, quoted for truth. It is currently grant writing season in Australia and I am sitting here at nearly midnight working on my application draft, after three glasses of wine. The first one was because of dinner. The second one was because of oh crap, I'm scared of writing my application, and the third one was because my subconscious knows that I will probably not trust myself to write a grant application if I go past two glasses, and it wanted to sabotage me.

And I could have written the last few sentences every night for the past two weeks.
posted by lollusc at 4:22 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Does a successful academic/research career actually ask this much of people?

Yes, do these institutions really pressure people to do that much work, or is it just a chance for people to indulge their obsessive/compulsive behaviors (and/or avoid doing the boring stuff like being with family)?
posted by Melismata at 5:10 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is it just a chance for people to indulge their obsessive/compulsive behaviors (and/or avoid doing the boring stuff like being with family)?

I think this is an under-appreciated cause, frankly. You see this a lot at law firms, where the partners basically dare each other (and the juniors) to stay later and work longer, even if the billable hours aren't forthcoming. It becomes a lifestyle and an identity for many people who have the intelligence and conscientiousness to rise that far in the first place.

A lot, too, is that curious status anxiety that emerges when you realize that you're good, sure, but lucky too. And you don't know how much of your future success or failure is going to be luck and how much skill, so you double down.

Thanks for pointing it out.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:41 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


> "Yes, do these institutions really pressure people to do that much work, or is it just a chance for people to indulge their obsessive/compulsive behaviors (and/or avoid doing the boring stuff like being with family)?"

Speaking as the spouse of a tenure-track scientist at an R1 university (in other words, pretty much exactly the kind of person under discussion) ... these institutions really pressure people to do that much work.

Being a research scientist is in and of itself a more-than-full-time job of long days interrupted by frequent exhausting business travel. I know this because that's what she was doing for quite a number of years as a postdoc before she got this job. Now to that more-than-full-time job, add an entire new career that includes: teaching, grading, applying for grants, committee meetings, advising grad students, supervising postdocs ...

Admittedly this particular period (tenure-track but not yet tenured) might be about the worst that it gets. And as others have pointed out, her job is not without its benefits. The hours are in many ways flexible, and she chooses her own research topics, which in her case means she gets to do amazing stuff like figure out surface maps and weather patterns for planets in other solar systems -- research I know she loves. She is also, in general, an astonishing person who has somehow managed to do all this while having an actual life that even includes having another, albeit part-time, career as a dancer.

But she has a job that would easily take over every single second of her life if she let it, and she has to fight constantly against fairly relentless pressure to carve out time for all the other things in her life that she loves. She works hard against that pressure to spend time with me, to spend time on dance, to have some semblance of a life outside of her career. And I think she would rightly bristle at the suggestion that the reason it is often hard is that she is obsessively OCD about her job or wishes to avoid spending time with me(!)
posted by kyrademon at 5:45 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


LarryC, in a thread with such resounding affirmative experience, you are really going to have to do better than, "Oh nonsense." I notice you are married.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:48 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am with LarryC on this, being more an R1 problem. Non R1 positions do not come close to the expectations of R1. The emphasis at the lower range is teaching and maybe University service. Tenure is potentially easier if you do not need to churn out publications at the rate of an R1 nor the grant/money acquiring. To be honest, state university prof, from my observation, is the sweet spot. If you want to be a workaholic, cool, but is not a requirement.
posted by jadepearl at 5:52 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, do these institutions really pressure people to do that much work, or is it just a chance for people to indulge their obsessive/compulsive behaviors (and/or avoid doing the boring stuff like being with family)?

In some cases a bit of both. I know of academics at the top of the ladder who are, let's say, confident enough that their jobs are secure that they don't feel much of a need to be doing any more work than strictly necessary, plus at least one academic who was emailing his research group chasing up stuff from his wife's delivery room, so there is a spectrum and part of the picture is that kind of obsessive workaholic tendency.

But. That is only part of the picture, and yes institutions absolutely can pressure you to do insane amounts of work. We don't even have a tenure system in the UK, but we have an increasing number of junior jobs where the deal is basically that they employ you for X years and at the end of that time you are out unless you're bringing in a very significant amount of grant money - and to bring in that money, you have to be putting in a lot of applications (because a significant number of them won't get funding no matter what you do), plus carrying out a (usually heavy) teaching load, plus producing a good amount of research no matter how your grant applications turn out, plus administration/service work, and it is just not possible to do a decent job of that in a 40-hour work week. I know people who are sleeping in their offices at particular times of year just to get things done.

I'm a postdoc currently seriously considering leaving academia and this is one of the main reasons why. I love so much about my job and my subject and my work, but I have a kid now and I just don't think the good points of academia are worth the payoff of the hours I would have to put in on rocky job security any more. There are other jobs out there I could love too.

Someone told me back when I was writing my PhD that every female academic has a choice at some point in her career: either have a baby or write a book. At the time I thought "no, dammit! I'll do both!" - and I did. Even wrote lots of the book while I was on maternity leave (a stupid idea which I do not recommend, btw). But, I look at my friends who got the grand prize of the permanent job at a good university, and see the hours they're working; and I look at some of the more senior staff I know, who are all "oh, back in my day we didn't have to bring in all this grant money, this isn't what academia should be about, you should just refuse to play along!" while living in a totally different world to people further down the ladder; and I look at some of the advice people in my situation have been seriously given, including that the best thing we could be doing for our careers at this point is to write a large grant ourselves with the understanding that someone more senior (who can actually officially apply for the money) will have their name on it, we'll be named as postdoc, and we'll do all the work on a short-term contract while someone else gets to be eligible for promotion because it's their name on the thing - and I think, eh, I'd rather watch my kid grow up.
posted by Catseye at 6:09 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am with LarryC on this, being more an R1 problem. Non R1 positions do not come close to the expectations of R1. The emphasis at the lower range is teaching and maybe University service. Tenure is potentially easier if you do not need to churn out publications at the rate of an R1 nor the grant/money acquiring. To be honest, state university prof, from my observation, is the sweet spot. If you want to be a workaholic, cool, but is not a requirement.

There is definitely a lot of variation between schools in terms of research/publication expectations, but at the same time the very clear pattern over the last decade or so has been of increased publication expectations across the board. Unless you were hired a while back, there just aren't many of those "teach and go home" kinds of jobs; the people I know at state universities are feeling intense pressure to publish while also dealing with severely curtailed funds for conference travel compared to what you get at a more elite private institution.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:27 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


i am a man. i have a PhD in mathematics and I also have two kids and a divorce. Having kids while in grad school meant I was a 1/4 time parent and a 3/4 time grad student. This effectively destroyed my marriage. It also almost destroyed my PhD. In the end I got a PhD and a divorce. In order to have had an academic career I would have taken a post-doc in Europe and then probably another post-doc or two in the US before getting a tenure track job (if I was lucky.) This would have meant that I would not have been much of a parent at all.

I chose being a parent and being very very poor as a result. The thing is, everyone understands when a woman destroys her own career for the sake of her kids... it's expected even. As much as it is a feature of sexism, there are many supports for women with children and career paths... albeit, obviously, doing "women's work." I've yet to meet anyone, male or female, who thought that I was doing the right thing by choosing my kids over my career.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:47 AM on January 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


Part of the reason we (my wife is also a scientist in academia) decided to leave the high stakes world of science in the developed world (Australia in our case) and head back to Mexico- was the chance to have a sane life. It's worked out pretty well for us. We are in a small state university, very easy going, and the pressure is tolerable. However, I do miss the feeling of being in a top university where, lets say, the research possibilities are much greater. Especially funding for things like conferences. We basically decided to get out of the rat race and settled for a smaller rat race. Parenting has been a lot easier because of this. I was recently in the US visiting a lab, and hearing the stresses of the host researcher made me really appreciate the life here. Especially in the US, they work so hard under such constraints, not to mention crazy politicians trying to thwart basic science at every stage.
posted by dhruva at 7:27 AM on January 29, 2015


This has very little to do with the lives of most academics, even at R1 universities. But I guess then it wasn't supposed to.

The assumption that "academic" means "academic scientist" is an annoying one, but it's one anybody who spends any time in academia has to get used to.
posted by koeselitz at 7:40 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Academic institutions can offer great work/life balance, but only in their lower tiers. I'm a college reference librarian and work 40-50/wk, get a good amount of leave/sick time, am part of a team that works together to offer the parents on it time off during the day for doctors' visits / school meetings / etc. , and can work from home on some days. I'm able to have two small children and a working partner with things being only sporadically unmanageable. That said, it's all dependent on my not having any ambition to rise above my current position.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:06 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ugh, can we stop calling this "traditional" already? One spouse not working is NOT traditional for many income classes. Women/wives have been performing work outside the home since there was work outside the home/farm to do. It's only among wealthier classes that people had the option to not work. Historical data about women's labor force participation is skewed because it is based, largely, on census self-reporting, and many women (a) did not disclose that they were employed or (b) did not meet the definition of employed used at the time. Also, slavery.

Women were prominent in starting cottage industries (one of the "causes" of the industrial revolution); women were essential to the shoemaking, garment, and other factory industries (and the labor activism in those industries). The first union for American working women was formed in 1845 (after a decade of strikes and activism). In the UK, "most women in Victorian society, in the two thirds of the population below the upper and middle classes, worked for wages."

Women working is traditional.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:21 AM on January 29, 2015 [24 favorites]


I can wear trainers to work. That's worth something.
posted by cromagnon at 8:40 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


a male tenured prof at my last institution apparently encouraged new faculty to "have kids strategically" to gain extra time on their clocks

en forme de poire, I had the exact same experience with a recently tenured research professor who encouraged assistant profs to have kids as a strategy to add time to the tenure clock (6 months at my institution). His wife bore him two children and it worked out great for him! My guy at least looked around the room and noticed that half of his audience was of the sex that would most likely bear all of the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth, and said that his strategy probably only worked out for men. Thanks.
posted by twoporedomain at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Academic institutions can offer great work/life balance, but only in their lower tiers.

The variation is more multidimensional than that. Tenure track faculty at an R1 isn't terrible if you're in a non-lab field that isn't heavily grant-driven. I mean, I can't speak from my own experience as I'm a married dude with no kids, but my colleagues who've been women with kids generally speak pretty well of the experience and seem to be able to make time for nonwork life.

It helps a lot that in my field -- political science -- we don't have labs full of employees that we have to manage and while grants exist and can be important in top-tier departments, it's essentially impossible for faculty to fund their own lines through grant overhead.

For the curious, the downside of being in that position is that depending on the university's funding system your whole department is likely to be a cost center instead of a revenue center, so you start any discussion with college/university level higherups from a position of less respect and autonomy and generally have notably worse access to resources and hires. In the business world it's like being in HR or QA, while grant-driven lab-science types are in Sales and Product Development.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:08 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


michaelh: I don't have one, myself, but it seems okay to me if doing difficult, worthwhile work has a high price. If it doesn't, then the focus is pathological.
Why must such price be no time for the family? Or, indeed, any price at all, other than time and effort - neither of which should be to the exclusion of other things important to us?

Your thesis seems to be: unless the job requires sacrifice, it isn't "worthwhile" - it's "pathological". My job requires I work 40 hours a week, and do my tasks; if they don't get done in that time, generally the project is delayed. Yet my job is worthwhile.

Granted, it wouldn't be easy for me to do this and be a stay-at-home parent, but if daycare were reasonably affordable for all, this would be less of an absolute requirement. Instead, our system really, fundamentally requires that one person (who coincidentally female) in the relationship (the wife) makes big sacrifices to (her) career.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


or the curious, the downside of being in that position is that depending on the university's funding system your whole department is likely to be a cost center instead of a revenue center, so you start any discussion with college/university level higherups from a position of less respect and autonomy and generally have notably worse access to resources and hires. In the business world it's like being in HR or QA, while grant-driven lab-science types are in Sales and Product Development.

See, they say that about English departments... while willfully ignoring the huge amount of money we bring in through the tuition paid by the students in our classes. I would argue that it's not that some departments bring in grants and are therefore revenue centers, and other departments don't and are therefore cost centers. Rather, it's that money brought in through anything other than grants is dismissed as somehow unimportant, despite how money's chief property is its fungibility.

If I had to put together some sort of story for why this is the case, I would argue that the ultimate cause is the tremendous disdain among academics for:
  1. Students
  2. Teaching
Students at R1s are understood as problems to deal with or (ideally) make other people deal with, and teaching is understood as sadly necessary shitwork to be pawned off on suckers. Because the university hates teaching and thinks of teachers as wretches (and understands that there are tactical advantages to convincing teachers that they're wretches — makes it easier to exploit 'em), it pretends that the money that teachers bring in doesn't even exist.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:28 AM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Beyond that (because, hell, soapboxing here is a great way for me to get into doing my real writing), I would say that the disdain within elite universities for teaching and the concomitant willingness to overlook the money that teaching brings in is itself a symptom of a broader societal hatred for work and workers.

Leading a large team of scientific researchers is seen as something like executive-level schmoozing and dealmaking; it's an important thing that real people choose to do. On the other hand teaching, like janitorial work, like housework, like child-rearing and like labwork, is a form of sadly necessary shitwork that has to be done by subordinates so that the real people can get to their real, interesting business.

Teachers, like janitors, post-docs and wives, are understood as tools for getting this sadly necessary shitwork out of the way. Maintaining that idea that teachers (and wives and janitors and laborers) are irrelevant requires willfully ignoring their status as sources of, rather than sinks of, the value that the administrative classes get rich from.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:39 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why must such price be no time for the family? Or, indeed, any price at all, other than time and effort - neither of which should be to the exclusion of other things important to us?

Your thesis seems to be: unless the job requires sacrifice, it isn't "worthwhile" - it's "pathological". My job requires I work 40 hours a week, and do my tasks; if they don't get done in that time, generally the project is delayed. Yet my job is worthwhile.


You misunderstood me. If the job requires the time, then I am okay with people making sacrifices (maybe.) If the job doesn't require the time, but people still put in the time, then something is wrong with those people - pathological.

Doing 40 hours on a 40 hour job is good!
posted by michaelh at 9:40 AM on January 29, 2015


Ah, thanks for the clearer explanation.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


See, they say that about English departments... while willfully ignoring the huge amount of money we bring in through the tuition paid by the students in our classes.

At private schools, sure. At public schools, that minimally assumes that the school keeps its tuition revenue, even though it's often the case that tuition goes in whole or part to the state's general fund. And that tuition is higher than cost of instruction, which is almost never true for state schools.

It's certainly true that English departments generally have a lot of majors and service a lot of nonmajor students. Whether that makes them a net revenue source or a net cost sink depends on the fussy details of the state's funding formula and I could imagine it going either way.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:55 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


There's another side of the coin to all this, which is that there are some people—maybe not a ton, but some—who don't care about the whole "work/life balance" thing in the same way that family-oriented or family-desirous people do. And if someone really is willing to put their job first and make it the sole focus of their life, live it and breathe it and sleep it, because that's what they want to do, well, they probably should do well if the place is any sort of a meritocracy at all.

Being incompatible with having a family and being meritocratic aren't mutually exclusive at all. In fact it's probably the other way around; the more meritocratic a place is, the more rewards are going to accrue to the people who are really dedicated. And it's hard to see that as unfair.

It'd be nice if there were more job options for people who do want to have families (or just, you know, not work as much; it's cool if you want to have kids and all but it gets into a really creepy pro-natalist everyone-must-have-2.2-kids family-uber-alles place really quickly, so how about we just leave it at working 40 hours and going home to do whatever you want with the rest of your life?) but I think there also needs to be an understanding that at the very elite end of a lot of professions, you're going to find people who are absolutely driven to do that thing to the exclusion of anything else in their life. That's not an academia thing exclusively; you see the same sort of monomaniacal not-quite-healthy dedication at the rarefied levels of medicine, journalism, athletics, finance, music... probably just about any field.

A good start would be working to take the grossest sexism out of the equation, and the lowest-hanging fruit there would seem to be by granting both maternity and paternity leave across the board. (Optimally, you could let anyone who hasn't had kids take a sabbatical once every few years in lieu of maternity/paternity leave; this would further level the playing field—the biggest beneficiaries are actually parents—without being coercive. But good luck getting that past The Job Creators.)

Even in an ideal world—at least one where we're not all immortal, but even maybe then—people are still going to have to make decisions about where they want to spend their time. Not all of those choices are compatible with all the other choices. Some people are going to make what appear to be really crazy choices for various aspects of their own advancement that others find disagreeable... the best goal I think we can shoot for isn't to prevent them from making their own choices (which is pretty ugly and strips them of their personal choice), but to make sure everyone has the option of setting their own priorities and isn't disadvantaged out of the gate on account of their plumbing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:17 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Being a research scientist is in and of itself a more-than-full-time job of long days interrupted by frequent exhausting business travel. Now to that more-than-full-time job, add an entire new career that includes: teaching, grading, applying for grants, committee meetings, advising grad students, supervising postdocs ...

And if you happen to be a medical clinician-researcher-professor, add the devastating THIRD leg of clinical/diagnostic duty that is highly unpredictable in terms of time commitment and requires the exact same enormous subset of must-stay-current knowledge whether you are 1% or 100% clinical effort. The "triple threat" teaching-research-clinical paradigm is the most absurd of them all! Sure, everyone can be a Norden award-winning teacher with 1 million YouTube subscribers, plus have a 3 million dollar NIH RO1, AND perform impeccably as a boarded specialist. Wife?! I need an entourage!! (Married F with 2 kids here)
posted by SinAesthetic at 11:21 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


AND perform impeccably as a boarded specialist.

I read that as "perform impeccably as a bearded specialist," and was thankful for my future academic career that I don't find beards itchy or irritating.
posted by clawsoon at 11:31 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And if someone really is willing to put their job first and make it the sole focus of their life, live it and breathe it and sleep it, because that's what they want to do, well, they probably should do well if the place is any sort of a meritocracy at all.

Unfortunately, the existence of these people forces others to ruin their lives in order to compete with them. Though I have a certain amount of respect for some of the work produced by the type of person you're talking about, we desperately need to use either the force of law or social opprobrium to keep them from neurotically devoting their lives to it.

There exist positive outlets for people who have that much energy, that much devotion to work, and no interest in any other aspect of life. For example, they could work on unionization campaigns or volunteer for social justice movements. Spending that time on work itself, though, is a destructive activity. If too many people live that way, over time the work they're giving voluntarily eventually becomes a mandatory requirement.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:33 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Spending that time on work itself, though, is a destructive activity. If too many people live that way, over time the work they're giving voluntarily eventually becomes a mandatory requirement.

This is troublesome; I basically agree with you but what am I supposed to do? Stop thinking about the stuff that interests me once my workweek hits 40 hours?

The problem is not the existence of people like that; the problem is people in charge allowing that expectation creep to happen. This is something that we should take up with the people in charge, not with the people who happen to have some sort of calling and are not deliberately creating a difficult system.
posted by busted_crayons at 12:03 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is something that we should take up with the people in charge

We are the people in charge. We just don't know it yet.

I guess the less-unpractical version of an answer to your statement is that I don't hold any hope for building anything resembling solidarity or whatever with the employers who benefit from the presence of irrationally devoted workers, because, well, they benefit from the presence of irrationally devoted workers. I don't hold much hope for swaying irrationally devoted workers, either, but at least they're much less thoroughly incentivized to make life worse for everyone than the actual employers are.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:10 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I still basically agree, but the problem is I resent the characterization of someone who feels driven to do some bizarre arcane fascinating thing as an irrationally devoted worker. They/we are just lucky that someone is willing to support such arcane pursuits.

And I am ambivalent, here, because, as regards the specific question of being able to survive while also spending a lot of time and energy on research, I don't hold out much hope for solidarity with "we" (or with the employer, particularly). A trustworthy "we" would be coughing up more than ~1% of the US "defense" budget to fund the National Science Foundation.

Again, should I stop thinking about math when my 40 hours of work are in (even if a bunch of those working hours were not even spent on the interesting parts of research)? I think your objection might be to a system that, for a few very lucky people, makes labour out of something that is not exactly labour.

I have all kinds of complaints about the effects of such a system, too, that are similar to yours, but I think you're holding the wrong parties responsible in this context.
posted by busted_crayons at 12:26 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know two different tenured historians who lost their marriages due to the amount of time they spent working.

None of the other historians I know are tenured.
posted by jb at 9:55 PM on February 1, 2015


I don't know any tenured historians under 50, that is. For anyone over 50, the world was a different place and there is no comparison. You really don't know what it is like.
posted by jb at 9:56 PM on February 1, 2015


There is also research that shows that married men are more likely to attain tenure, while married women are less likely than unmarried.
posted by jb at 10:04 PM on February 1, 2015


This is troublesome; I basically agree with you but what am I supposed to do? Stop thinking about the stuff that interests me once my workweek hits 40 hours?

I think about my work probably 85% of my waking hours. But there's no reason I have to do it all at work. I do it while exercising, walking around, completing errands, cooking, etc. It blends reasonably well with "life" most of the time, even forming the topic of lots of my conversations and off-time reading. I don't think you're making a distinction between the "think time" that's part of all intellectual labor and the showing-up-at-the-office, serving-on-committees, going-to-department-meetings, etc. I am sure the woman who wrote the article above doesn't turn her brain off in her off time, either, but she makes sure to limit her commitments and leave the office on a given schedule. This is still possible even if you adore thinking about your speciality all the time.

As an aside, there's so much research showing that creativity and productivity are improved when your brain switches gears for a while that it would seem that everyone in a thinking profession would benefit more from time doing something else than additional time doing the same kind of thinking. If you're working literally all the time, you're probably creating diminishing or even negative returns on that time. Perhaps one secret to leading in your work is allowing the time for your brain to refresh itself and return to its work re-energized.
posted by Miko at 4:53 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older The Good, The Bad and The Furry   |   "This is not Guantanamo Bay" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments