In the intest of keeping the conversation going, here are some comments I've received so far:
Honestly, I don't believe that this type of work is sustainable. It might have felt like you worked this much, but you probably didn't. 100 hours per week is 14 hours a day, every day including weekends. Assuming you need some time to sleep, eat, and presumably shower and commute, that means you did nothing else at all for years on end. I think we all have crunch times like this (proposal deadlines, thesis writing, class preparation, etc.) but to work like this non-stop would mean you have no outside life whatsoever. (And certainly Facebook and reading blogs would be out!) This letter is saying that not only should you live such a life but you should be happy to do it or else you will deservedly fail at becoming 'one of them'. I agree that only 40 hours may not be realistic (though I would argue that's because we work inefficiently) but there is a huge difference between 40 and 80-100.
Point taken. As Saurabh elaborates in the Facebooks:
I feel like there is a broad range of interpretation to the comment from the original email: "most will tell you that they worked 80-100 hours/week in graduate school". No doubt there are times when one needs to do this; you gave a good example, and I did the same in grad school at times: observing runs, before proposal/thesis deadlines, etc. Those crunch times are the ones that come to mind first (I particularly think about the months before turning in my thesis), but they are not representative, and I think this leads to the memory bias that others have mentioned (and I think your blog post is an example).
However, the email implies that this level of work hours should be the norm. There is no way I spent that much time, averaged over all of grad school. Maybe 60 hrs/week on average, but not 80 or 100. I think that would be an unhealthy level, and not one to encourage on a regular basis. In fact, if astronomers could get out of the habit of doing things last minute (ha!) even those infrequent cases of crazy schedules could be reduced.
Another reader calls bullshit:
Yeah, I'm going to have to politely call bullshit on averaging 80-100 hours per week.
There are 168 hours per week. Give yourself ~50 hours of sleep, ~1hr/day hygiene, ~2hrs/day of eating, ~1hr/day of getting to/from the office, and ~1hr/day of household chores. Add 80 hours of work, and you're out of hours.
So I guess I was addressing the notion of working more than 9-5, qualitatively, while whiffing on the quantitative details. My bad! I think 50-60 hours/week is more representative of what I do on average. I wake up at 5:30-6:00am, work 2 hours from home, go to campus ~8:30-5pm. Then I put in another 2 hours in the evening. I take one weekend day off, so this comes out to be about 11 hours/day * 6 days/week = 66 hours/week, not all equally productive (does writing this blog post count as productivity?). Figure an 80% efficiency factor and its closer to 50 hours/week. Certainly longer hours than a typical 9-5 job, but then again, I've never had such a job. Comments are welcome from industry foks!
I completely agree with you on this point... The only times I find myself really working only 40 hours per week, is when I'm doing something I don't really want to be doing. I use it as a metric for how excited I am about the current task/project/proposal. When I'm doing what something I am truly excited about, which as you say, will result in me knowing something about the Universe nobody yet knows, then putting in the "extra" hours is not a chore but a complete pleasure. And since I'm reading your blog and not working at this very moment, makes me think I'm not very excited about what I need to working on today. hmmm... *switching gears today*
Be sure to check out Jason Wright's post here. A snippet
Yes, it's incontrovertibly true that of otherwise identical students putting in 40 and 80 productive hours per week, respectively, the 80 hr/wk student will have a better cv and be more employable. Pointing out that the 60-80 hr/wk students are your primary competition for the "best" jobs is perfectly true. But that depends on what you think the "best" jobs are, and whether you actually want to do what's necessary to get them.And Julianne Delcanton here:
However, what made the letter notable was that put in writing clear confirmation of pretty much every fear that students have about how they’re viewed and what they’re expected to sacrifice for “success”. On one level, it’s perhaps good to have this all out in the open, rather than having a secret set of criteria that students are never told about. However, the criteria listed are, frankly, kind of nuts. Kelle Cruz at AstroBetter and Ethan Siegal have gone through some of the highlights, with most of the outrage coming in response to the implication that failure to work 80-100 hours a week (or simply to not want to work 80-100 hours a week) was a sign that scientific research might not be for you.Finally, via email:
I thought your response is the best that I have seen so far, and certainly more along my way of thinking than some responses I have read. I honestly didn't get that wound up reading the email as I feel like it was saying, if you want to be a research Prof at the top schools, you won't get there by putting in 40 (or 60) or less hours - and that is honest and true. For a long time I did put the crazy hours in, but I realized early on that I didn't want to be a research prof anyway but still wanted to be in astronomy and found my own way of doing that, successfully, in a manner that suited what I wanted to get out of the astronomy world and life in the bigger picture.