Monday, December 30, 2019

New York Times reports on study confirming academics work through the holidays

At the risk of stating the obvious (and insofar as that's not already so, studies like this help to shine a light on what some may not realize), the New York Times is reporting on a recent study published in the British Medical Journal finding that academics typically work weekends and holidays as dictated by their workloads. The study has limitations - it's confined to research scientists and bases its conclusions about the work habits of academics solely on the volume of scholarly manuscripts submitted and peer-reviewed over weekends and holidays. The "publish or perish" component of an academic's life is only one of the many responsibilities that consume weekends and holidays which the BMJ study does not account for like grading student work, prepping for class (or the new semester), committee obligations, extra-university service obligations, speaking engagements, etc., etc. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the workload since I feel truly blessed for the opportunity to work in academia, though concededly there are some malingerers and others who don't really work that hard (see Professor Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools for proof). Speaking for myself, however, I work nearly every weekend and most holidays so my reaction to the BMJ study is a shrug of "so what?" But at least it offers some hard evidence you can share with family, friends, and that very special someone who may now better understand and appreciate the pressures of the job and will cut you just a little more slack when you have to spend New Year's Eve or your Sundays working. ;-)

Anyway, below is an excerpt of the NYT's article; you can access the underlying the BMJ study here.

There’s No Winter Break From ‘Publish or Perish’

An analysis of submissions to two top journals showed that scientists in the U.S. were highly likely to be working during holidays.


Jay Van Bavel, a social neuroscientist at New York University, is vowing not to work during the Christmas holidays.


A few years ago, Dr. Van Bavel had agreed to conduct peer review on a couple of manuscripts before the end of the semester. But he got really busy and ended up having to do one on Christmas Day and another on New Year’s Eve, while his family was visiting.


“I felt like I let down myself and my family,” said Dr. Van Bavel, who gets asked to conduct peer-review 100 to 200 times a year. But he says he has now learned his lesson, and is not planning to do any work in the Christmas holidays this year, except perhaps the odd email.


If Dr. Van Bavel holds to his vow, he’ll beat the trend of many of his colleagues. While you might be setting an out-of-office message and backing away from your keyboard as the winter holidays set in, many researchers in academia can be found working straight through the season. Scientists based in the United States are, in fact, the third most likely to work during holidays, behind only their counterparts in Belgium and Japan, according to a study published Thursday in BMJ.


The study — aiming to quantify some of the overwork and burnout experienced by researchers in the sciences — examined nearly 50,000 manuscript submissions and more than 75,000 peer-review submissions to BMJ and its sister journal, BMJ Open. More than a tenth of U.S.-based researchers who submitted manuscripts and peer review reports to journals did so during the holidays.


At the same time, researchers in China lead the world in working on weekends, where more than a fifth of academics submitted papers and peer-review reports, followed by those based in Japan, Italy and Spain. More than a tenth of researchers in the United States turned in studies on weekends, and more than 15 percent conducted peer review.


Scandinavian nations had the best work-life balance. Scientists in Sweden were least likely to work during holidays, and those in Norway generally kept their weekends free.


Adrian Barnett, a statistician and metascience researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who co-wrote the analysis, thought of conducting the analysis while submitting a paper on the weekend.


“This is a real marker of how hard I’m working,” he said.


The study has shortcomings. Among them, it only accounts for manuscript submissions and peer review, just two of many tasks on an academic’s plate, for instance.


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