Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Do scientists work too hard?

Posted by Richard Primack

It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing but
work, work, work. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more
opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant
business.    -Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau thought that people worked too hard, and did not have enough time to devote to the really important things in life. To find out how hard scientists are working now, my colleagues Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, Lian Pin Koh and I analyzed the day and time of submission for 10,000 manuscript submissions and almost 15,000 reviews sent to the scientific journal Biological Conservation. 

 Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, one of the authors of the study, reviewing a manuscript while traveling to a field site in Malaysia.

Our results showed that these scientists do a substantial amount of their work late at night (16% of the manuscripts) and on weekends (11% of the manuscripts and 12% of the reviews); and that this work outside of normal hours has been increasing at about 5-6% per year. Japanese and Mexican scientists stood out for working late at night and Chinese and Indian scientists worked far more than average on weekends.  In contrast, Belgian and Norwegian scientists did not work much on weekends, and Finnish scientists did not work at night. American and British scientists had average work habits, working moderate amounts on weekends and evenings. 

Overall this study shows that conservation biologists and potentially other scientists and academics do a considerable amount of their work outside of what we generally consider regular working hours.  This can negatively affect the scientists’ life-work balance, impacting relationships with family and friends, physical exercise, or just resting time. However, is it possible that conservation biologists just enjoy what they are doing and for them it is not all work. After all, Thoreau must have spent lots of his evenings and weekends writing what amounts to 2 million words in his journals!

For more details, the article is available at Elsevier:

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