The 125 Hour Work Week
Recently, if you listened hard enough, you could hear the collective sob of well-read junior scientists as Science Careers posted a commentary from Eleftherios P. Diamandis. Dr. Diamandis attributed his success to decades of consistently working 16-17 hour days, every day. He goes on to say….
“How did I manage it? My wife—also a Ph.D. scientist—worked far less than I did; she took on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities. Our children spent many Saturdays and some Sundays playing in the company lobby.”
Sure….we’ve all pulled crushing hours as grant deadlines loom, but to have sleep as your only outside activity? I frankly find this unimaginable. Even if I did have a stay at home spouse, I wouldn’t work 16-17 hour days. 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. I miss my pillow. I miss my kids. (Not necessarily in that order.)
A counter-post from Bryan Gaensler provided balance to this work-as-life narrative. While incredibly successful by all accounts, Gaensler is also committed to leaving work between 5-6pm and taking full advantage of vacation time. He says,
“If you’re trying to impress people and move up the ranks, the solution isn’t to work longer, but to work smarter. Learn to manage your time, to limit the endless spiral of emails and meetings, and to improve your efficiency.”
As much as I appreciate Gaensler speaking out to those of us who thrive on a balanced schedule, having 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. Not long ago Scott Kern wrote a similar appeal to scientists to work harder and consistently be in their offices and labs on weekends.
Why do these journals persist in holding up these workaholic men as THE standard of success? I frankly don’t know. But I do know this advice isn’t just damaging to women, it’s frightening to men and arguably off-putting to incredibly bright, talented minds that have a more rounded set of life ambitions than being a slave to science.
While I’m disappointed to see variants of Diamandis’ narrative published repeatedly in high profile journals, these people have little in common with my aspirations or my reality. Holding myself to their standards is right up their with getting my beach body back 3 months after having a child. I can read about it in a magazine and it’s do-able. Heck, it’s probably important to some people, but I’m not one of them. I’d prefer to share thoughts with scientists who don’t get asked to write about their career paths in Science and won’t be ready for an itsy-bitsy swimsuit for a good decade after their kids go to college. At which point, none of us will care.