I came across a blog post on Higher Ed titled The next target. The article started with the announcement by University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa enforcing the 20-hour workload per week on graduate students to avoid paying costly health care fee. It is reported that “nationally many graduate students work long hours – longer than officially recommended by their universities” for various reasons. I remembered one past GTA’s talk during phase I of the GTA training at the beginning of the semester. He shared some past experience of staying up late to grade homework and answer emails from students. I was a little bit doubtful of the heavy work load I was going to expect as GTA. Having gone through a very stressful masters program, I thought I would be able to manage my time well. However, the past two months of GTA experience was definitely more than what I expected. I am TAing for a core course for the first-year master students. Beside grading a stack of homework every week and holding up office hours, the extra time spent in answering students’ questions outside class and by emails also takes a significant amount of time. And of course as a graduate student myself, I have a 3 credit hours course workload in additional to my research work in the lab. At the beginning of the semester, I made the resolution to pick up French as a personal goal. However, after I scheduled my classes, group meetings, office hours, lab time etc. on my calendar, I realized I had to put off the idea of taking French class. But my schedule is still much better compared to some of my TA friends who have to teach two back-to-back lab sessions twice a week in addition to their own classes and research work.
Deeply embedded in our culture, there is a relentless pursuit for more and for better. It is especially prominent as people get more educated and have a higher standard of living. A recent Economist article, title Get a life, showed that in US the rich are working longer hours while the poor are working less hours. As people become more informed, we are more aware of the immense opportunities that existed. Thanks to modern technologies and rapid flow of information, many previously unconceivable ideas are rendered possible if we are willing in to put in the hard work to realize the ideas. As a graduate student, I get constant inspiration by successful high-achievers, from the professors in my department who have published countless journals in prestigious journals, from the extraordinary visiting speakers, from the people I met in conferences and not to mention the geniuses featured in TED talks. While I am excited about the opportunities lying ahead of me, sometimes, it could also be a little bit confusing and depressing to see how little I have accomplished so far. To compensate, I would feel compelled to fill my day with more activities to get more things done. However, trying to get more things done without a clear plan often lands me in the wrong direction or even in the opposite direction. Many articles alert people of the extra price to pay for multitasking, but it still remains as a big productivity killer for many who tried to pack too many into the limited 24/7 schedule. Multitasking indeed gets people nowhere besides making oneself looking extremely hectic and lost.
I am also not surprised to read that some of the biggest academic hoaxers are seen as workaholics by their peers before their scandals broke out. Indeed it is because they are so fixated on getting more work out there, they lost the true definition of the scholarship. With the genuine self-motivation and external pressure to churn out more papers with less time, there is definitely less time for thorough thought on experimental design, quality control and verification of the experimental data. As a result, while the total number of the papers out there is increasing exponentially, the amount of useful quality information may not be increasing in proportion. Moreover, poorly conducted research could even cause greater damage by sending mixed or even downright wrong messages to the public and the research community.
Beside the lost of productivity, a lopsided work life also takes great toll on people’s well being, both physical and psychological. The ill effects of a workaholic breakdown are reported in an article on Psychology Today, including chronic fatigue, depression and suicidal tendency. In another interesting study done to find out who are the heaviest coffee drinkers in the workplace in US, Scientist/Lab Technician tops the list while education administrator and professor are at the third and eighth places. The list, together with findings from another research project, which aims, to the working habit of scientists concluded “scientists work a lot.”
Below is some alarming findings from the research team.
“Scientific achievements are accompanied by intense competition and pressure, which requires a large supply of time and efforts. On the other hand, the demanding assessment from the institution makes the working atmosphere even tenser. Scientists today are spending much more time working than initially intended. They are deprioritizing their hobbies, leisure activities, and regular exercises, which negatively influenced their mental and physical health. Meanwhile, engagement in scientific research after work directly leads to the ambiguity of the boundary between home and office. This investigation on scientists’ timetable may in some ways call attention to the unwritten rule of working overtime in academia. As is generally agreed, research is not a sprint but a marathon. Balance in scientists’ life is needed.”