Mixed messages to ECR from Senior Academics

Blog posted on: 15 July 2015.

Is it just me are there lots of mixed messages on how to be successful in Academia?

This week I was presented to two different approaches on the standard I should set for myself. To be a workaholic or not to be a workaholic?

The first approach was published late last week in SCIENCE magazine Getting noticed is half the battle. I will not criticise the author directly, rather I will criticise the magazine for publishing it. This article features the success of yet another MAN in science who did so by working insane hours for years. One quote from his article that made my skin crawl is: "My wife-also a Ph.D. scientist-worked far less than I did; she took on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities." No you did not just say that!

Out of context that sounds pretty bad. So let me put it into context. The article is about how one person became successful. He worked harder than those around him, he was given opportunities to succeed and I imagine he deserves all the success he has found.

No. Context does not make it any better. You might think it. You might even talk to people about it. But you should NOT publish in one of the most prestigious journals in the world that your success occurred to the (assumed) detriment of your wife success. Sure she may have chosen that path and be happy with the decision. Everyone should be given the choice and how you make it is up to you.

But that does not make it okay to advertise to young scientists that we should commit all of your physical and emotion resources into our work. We should not advertise to women ECRs that we should come second nor should we teach our men to think that its okay to expect their careers to come first.

As a woman ECR reading this article it says to me: Only over-worked MEN will be the professors in a department (or successful depending on your measure). Forget that SCIENCE magazine, cause when I am a professor, head of a my own research group, head of a department or where ever I end up, I till take comfort in the fact that I will have mostly done this during the hours of 9 and 5.

So I finished reading this article and was feeling really angry. Enough to come to work and write this blog instead of doing "real science".

For me one really positive thing came out of this article. Surprising enough in the often 'dreaded' comments. In BethAnn McLaughlin comment she went on to say: "My mind simply can't function with these hours. I have no enthusiasm, creativity or balance when I'm working non-stop for more than a few weeks. I feel like death, eat poorly and don-t work out. "

Then goes on to say: "Science, Nature and other journals feature yet another 'successful man' who has a stay at home wife, a wife who puts her career second or wife who works for her husband in his lab feels like sandpaper on my psyche."

She nailed it for me.

So we each have a choice to make. If you want to work insanely long hours, and that brings enrichment to your life, than who I am to tell you what to do. But I will advocate for balance, be inspired by people who I respect and look for mentoring in people who are being good role models.

I prefer option two: Not to be a workaholic. Instead I will read articles in the conversation like: Workaholism isn't a valid requirement for advancing in science that was published in the wake of the Science article. In this article we are reminded that: "The sustained schedule of 80- to 100-hour working weeks, which the macho male academic claims has got him where he is today, is a myth." Hallelujah!

He then goes on to say: "Thus, if the scientific community follows the advice on working hours and parenting offered by my Toronto colleague, we are then even further fostering a culture that directly holds back talented women from successful scientific careers. And that limits the quality and breadth of ideas and discoveries."

I will finish my rant with another quote from the conversation article which sums it up perfectly for me:

"Science demands a lot of its disciples, so scientists should take control, not be controlled. Young researchers should determine how, where and when they work best, should set themselves rules, and then should try to stick to them."