Monday, April 23, 2012

40-hour week?

I keep stumbling on this blog while looking about the internets:

A fairly recent post called for a 40 hour academic work week.

I just wanted to give an Amen! I've spent the last year or two "rescuing my life" from philosophy. This isn't a knock on philosophy (I mean, I've spent the last decade of my life in the discipline), but I found the things that made me a successful grad student -- like internalized guilt when not working, putting philosophy at the center of my world, spending 'down time' thinking about the professional side of philosophy -- didn't really cultivate sustainable life habits.

Now I make a pretty concerted effort to do things like not work after 7p or on weekends. It doesn't always happen, but it's really opened up some space for life (admittedly at the expense of productivity). For me, protecting life from work feels a bit like protecting time from students - you want to give them their due, but setting clear time boundaries doesn't make you a bad teacher.

-- Second Suitor


Rory said...

Next step: adopt the pareto principle to achieve Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work Week. :D

Anonymous said...

I have a rule: no work after 10:00 pm on weekdays, or after 7:00 pm on weekends. Most days, I can adhere to that rule.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...from observations of my [tenured] peers, I doubt this is an issue. Quite the opposite in fact.

Anonymous said...

I've rarely worked more than 40 hours a week in grad school. I find that returns diminish rapidly if I try to work too many hours.

Still, I think I'm getting enough done - I have a job I'm happy with for next year. The trick is not to read (much). And minimizing teaching time (within reason) helps too.

Anonymous said...

My general impression is that work load varies greatly within the profession. Some folks I know are 'rising stars' - they tend to work like mad, probably 70 hours a week and more. Some folks I know are very dedicated teachers and researchers, and put in 9 months of 60-hour weeks or so, then crash during the summers (still researching, but not as many hours/week). I know some very active full professors. If you count travel time as work time, they work a crazy amount, like 9 hours/day everyday at least, and travelling a good bit.

But I know some tenured folks that I doubt have worked more than 40 hours in any given week in several years. Maybe much less, although I can't say for sure. And I know some grad students who work less than 30 hours a week. Whether these grads will get jobs, who knows.

Me, I do something like 50 official hours a week, but I sneak some reading while the family's looking the other way, and I wake up nights thinking of paragraphs I'm struggling with.

Anonymous said...


That would only seem to work if you don't care, too much, about teaching or you are exceptionally talented as a teacher or you are good at appearing on top of things without actually being so. I've known philosophers who fit all of the above.

If you are trying to teach effectively, research appropriately, and stay current while fulfilling other professional obligations then a 60 hour workweek becomes common. It is unfortunate and I think it's terrible that young faculty, especially, are forced into sacrificing the best years of their lives in this way.

I'm pulling maybe 50-60 hours right now teaching full time, revising things, and preparing for a few talks and a flyout for a job that still has not yet been settled. My life is a living hell right now in terms of work. Seriously, it sucks. I hate that this is what I need to do to have a shot at a middle class philosophy job but there also don't seem to be any other options.

Anonymous said...

I have a TT job at a top 20 school. All indications are that I will be granted tenure (my pub record is similar if not better than others who have received tenure here recently and all discussions with faculty have led me to believe that things are safe as far as the department is concerned). I work about 35 hours a week. Sometimes, committee work requires more hours. But other weeks, I work even less. It can be done.

Anonymous said...

I have a TT job at a top 20 school.

This is 620 here.

Congrats. I mean that non-sarcastically (the internet can be hard to make that clear).

But what I was trying to get at was that in many cases the workload is far heavier for those without tt employment, especially for those not at an R1. This is because we not only have to be trying to do R1 level research but also keep phenomenal teaching evaluations and do service like mad because we essentially have to be making ourselves attractive to as many possible jobs as possible.

This is why I, at least, feel as overworked as I do. When I get flyouts for both community college tt jobs and R1 research jobs I know I'm doing something right but I still don't have a job. I still need to keep doing everything possible because, frankly, all I want is a job with security doing philosophy. I don't care where it is (cc, slac, R1).

Anonymous said...

I'm tenured at an SLAC with a reasonably light teaching load (compared to most teaching schools). During a normal semester, I definitely put in at least 50-60 hours. Probably more and possibly a good deal more. My work load increased significantly after leaving graduate school.

I believe that keeping track of hours would be enormously helpful in cutting this down; and honestly, I'd very much like to cut it down. I have lots of other things I want to be doing. However, it's difficult. Most of my time goes into teaching, which is how I like it so long as the teaching continues to be enjoyable. But even we tenured faculty at teaching institutions need to work on scholarly pursuits and it's hard to find enough quality time for that. Since the advent of email, "contact" time with students and university colleagues has seriously spiked and that's a problem.

A 40-hour (or even 35-hour) week is, in my view, very reasonable and very desirable.

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

Hi, this is Tanya, the author of the 40-hour work week blog. Based on your comments and those over at the blog, I am beginning to think that perhaps the 40 hour work week is ideal for tt faculty in the humanities and some social sciences. The brain just can't think much more than that. But, if your job involves running statistical models or supervising experiments, perhaps you can do more. Once you *can* do more, it becomes an expectation.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Is the proposal that universities should expect for purposes of promotion and tenure that tenure-track faculty will work for no more than 40 hours/week, and that merely working a fixed number of hours for a fixed number of weeks each year will be satisfactory for advancement irrespective of what is accomplished during that time? Or that reasonable expectations for promotion, tenure, etc. should be based on what a "generic" faculty member would accomplish working 40 hours/week? Or perhaps that one of these should be applied broadly, to graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty as well?

If so, they seem to require dramatic changes in how academia works (or at least how research universities work -- perhaps if there are teaching schools were original research is not expected, one can make more sense of the proposals). Professional philosophy, at least, is highly competitive at all levels (and particularly at junior levels, which I take it is the focus of most readers of this blog). It is also highly task/accomplishment driven. No one cares how long Gettier worked on "IJTBK?"; it's the significance of the ideas that matters. And as long as there are some people in the field who are highly efficient or exceptionally hard-working (or both), those people are always going to produce more and/or better work than a generic faculty member working a 40 hour week.

So why should university X hire someone, or tenure someone, or otherwise promote someone when there's someone else who has simply produced more or better work applying for the same job, etc.? How would it even work? When job market time comes around, would we all just put in time cards for our five or six or seven years in grad school, and if we'd each worked 40/week we'd be eligible for a lottery for the NYU job? Or would it become a competition about who could do the most work in a fixed amount of time? (In the latter case, who would enforce the rule that no philosopher can think about philosophy for more than 40 hours/week?) It seems to me that how much any particular person has to work in order to continue advancing the field (and especially to get a job) is a function of where in the profession she wants to end up, how productive the best people in the profession are, and her relative efficiency as compared to others. Perhaps there are additional contributions to the work week for some people who, because of (say) pedigree or gender or race have an effective handicap. I don't see how changing expectations among university administrators could change this.

Anonymous said...

I've always resisted the impulse to quantify the hours I work. This is because of my dad. My dad was a working class man who punched a clock his entire life working as an electrician. I didn't want to go to college when I was in my late teens. I thought it was "bogus." My dad, however, dreamed of me going to college. I refused to go for a few years, and he finally did his best to convince me. "You make money with your mind," he said, "not with your hands."

He was a union guy, very socialist. He believed that "management" got away with murder--less work, much more money, without the back breaking and totally soul-sucking labor. He told me he hated his job every single day of his life (but he was awesome at it!), but that he hoped for something better for me and he knew I could get there through education. The point was NOT HOURS but the QUALITY of my work--my IDEAS. He wanted me to live and work off the clock.

Much, much later on, my dissertation supervisor explained to me that in academic labor, time is the real money. You are paid in time, not so much in money. You need time to write. The balance between teaching, service and research is a deal you make w/r/t time. However obvious this might seem, it was impressive news to me since I recognized that even if I never made a huge amount of cash for my ideas, my control of my time was very unique in terms of my profession. Not only was I making money with my mind, but also my "pay" was time to create these ideas. How cool was that? It was even better, if I could succeed in an academic position, than my dad had ever dreamed. Maybe being a successful artist, actor or musician was similar. But being successful at art, acting or music was even more of a crap-shoot (or maybe, at this point in time, given the job market, equally a crap-shoot).

Anyway, for years now, I do what I have to do. I do what it takes to get things done. There's a rhythm to the semester. Things bottleneck. Some weeks I work like a maniac, some weeks are not so insane. And so it goes, year after year after year after year. But, I never count the hours. I don't punch a clock, and--for me-that it the joy of what I do.

Anonymous said...

Be careful what you wish for. The popular press has had a lot of articles lately about how academics should be forced to move *up* to a 40 hour week, 12 month schedule. Since, as you know, we only work in the classroom.

Anonymous said...


Your comment was an absolute pleasure to read. Thank you.

(@5:08 Yours, not so much. But your point is well taken.)