Then you're doing it wrong at Caltech.
We are often quick to assume that MoreHoursWorked = MoreWorkGettingDone. This is true up to a point, but false beyond that point. Personally, I believe that evenings and weekends are usually beyond that point.
I used to work 90 hours per week. But when I decided that I needed to get more done, I started working 60 hours per week. Results per hour and quality of results have both improved dramatically, so I'll never go back. And I would never work for anyone who doesn't understand this.
But the most interesting thing is that long term perceived productivity is higher at 60 hours a week than at 40. Because of that, it is very difficult to realize that overtime is a mistake (emergencies aside).
I would also understand that not all people are alike. Some may be most productive at 35 hours a week. Some may be most productive at 50. But 60 hours sound like much. Maybe you could try to work even less for a month and see the results? (And of course try to measure your productivity reliably. Going from 60 hours to 50 or 40 may be beneficial, but less so than going from 90 hours to 60.)
In short, Henry Ford did experiments in his factory and decided that 40h/week was optimal. Unfortunately, this figure has stuck, even though newer research indicates that for knowledge work and creative work, less than 40 is more appropriate. (35-40 suggested by these slides: http://www.lostgarden.com/2008/09/rules-of-productivity-pres... )
And there's no need to put in obscene hours, or expect it. As it's counter-productive... See where this is going...
Their conclusion to maximize productivity was to work 40 hours most of the time, with occaisional bursts at 60.
If the professor mentioned properly selects for such people out of his mountain of applicants and the group's culture thrives on it, then he's running a tight ship.
We are often quick to assume that MoreHoursWorked = MoreWorkGettingDone
That assumes sustainable productivity as our highest goal, though. I think that's a good one and plainly you do too. But external measures of productivity are not always their own reward: some will sacrifice external position for internal strength. Working the juniors like slaves, with the resulting high turnover, means fewer competitors for publication credit or questions about your strategic approach: those who hate you leave as soon as they can, those who remain are inclined to do what they're told. Look at countries which are dictatorships; they know quite well that open societies tend to be substantially richer, but conversely they're much harder to boss around and it's often safer to be the big fish in a small pond.
Not saying this is true of the professor in question, but his tone certainly suggests an authoritarian demeanor.
> Then you're doing it wrong at Caltech.
This isn't really about the 90-hour workweek. Occasionally, it transpires that you have 90 hours of work to do and only one week to do it in.
What's repellant is that the words "at Caltech" add no meaning to that sentence. They are included purely to argue from authority:
"You will find that this is the norm here."
"You will find that this is the norm here at Caltech."
"You will find that this is the norm here at Caltech, and who are you to violate the norms of such a prestigious institution?"
Scientists are supposed to know better than this.
Maybe we shouldn't suppose so much.
I don't know how long I'd be willing to stick around doing work that could be done by a poor asian farmer.
--- edit ---
If naming groups after yourself is normal, then it's not a bad apple, it's a bad barrel! It sounds like academia could only be more feudal if you had to call your professor "my liege."
I find the practice a bit in bad taste, but it's not exceptional.
I guess these students must have been from his group as well :-)
I personally know several people who have been taken advantage of by their professors, so I'm inclined to believe him.
Also, "taken advantage of" is exactly the right term in my friends' cases. Both are classic Aspergers cases (actual Aspergers, not just an excuse for bad behavior), and their professors seem to be taking advantage of the trouble they have mounting an effective resistance.
That's just the real world calling, and their refusal or inability to answer. If they were in corporate america, a co-worker or middle manager would steal their work and take credit, or capitalize on their inability to resist additional assignments.
If they were in a start-up, they'd be overburdened and then forced out, probably receiving the lowest equity of anyone and getting even less than out of the deal, because they didn't make any decisions.
Its just a dog eat dog world out there, and if you can't say "No" or take credit for your achievements, you're going to get taken advantage of.
I've worked in corporate America for a while now, and I haven't seen managers steal credit for their workers work before. Generally, if you're a manager and you have someone you manage who is doing a great job and getting lots of stuff done, that reflects well on you as a manager too.
I've also worked in places where engineers get the offices with windows, there are lunchtime tech talks, and managers try their best to prioritize work and then "get out of your way".
So it all depends. The people who email Scott Adams (of Dilbert) their workplace horror stories are not [all] making them up. A "good" corporate culture in America is still atypical, IMHO.
As for your friends, who's to say that academic science is the culprit? There's assholes everywhere, and neither you, nor the GP has convinced me it's endemic to science research.
As for my anecdote, I work in bioinformatics now. I've only just started, but so far my experience couldn't be more different.
Of course, most weekends the lab has least a couple people in it, but I don't think it reflects the attitude presented in this memo. To be clearer, the motivation to come in on weekends and stay late are not coming from a harshly-worded memo, but from their desire to push their career forward.
The plural of anecdote is not data, but I thought I'd throw that perspective in.
That's brilliant. Can I steal that from you?
Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think.
Rule 2: Keep them tired.
Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved.
Rule 4: Reward intermittently.
Rule 5: Allow them to quit or pause at any time
Rule 6: Allow them to set their own input costs (to "place their own bets")
Doesn't everyone have a tough job now and then? Doesn't everyone have rough relationships with friends or family when the counterparty is down? Who among us only associates with well-adjusted people and companies?
I prefer the "boring" healthy relationships.
I forget whether I'm talking about salaryman "we" or tech industry "we"...
You payz your money and you takez your choice. Different profs, different groups, had different cultures. I was in a group where the cultural values were being really smart and having a great time. This letter is clearly from a group where the cultural value is devoting your life to climbing the ladder.
Rejecting the work your butt off model is the wiener way out. Maybe it works better, maybe not. Maybe it works well for some people, and that's why many of them are represented among the full professor faculty at Caltech. I don't care if it works that well, it is not my choice, and I had no problem finding full professors at Caltech who asked for nothing of that kind.
Arno asked all staff reading his memo for the following. If you have to come in late, please try to arrive after 9 AM. If you need to leave early, please leave before 4 PM.
I never saw the memo myself, but I did have the pleasure of working at Crawford Hill for nearly 2 years in the late 1970s. I find the existence of this memo easy to believe. So at minimum, it is a good story, might even be true. My own meager google skills do not turn up any corroboration on our universal consciousness.
Speaking of brilliant managers, one of my favorite anecdotes is of an engineering exec who, his first day at a new job, was doing the rounds meeting people and happened to notice an engineer asleep at his desk. Most managers in this situation, of course, would have one of two reactions: either get mad because the guy was sleeping at work, or try to be quiet because he was obviously working hard and needed it. This exec, instead, immediately grabbed a couple of the other engineers and went out and got a couch.
The article begins with the suicide of one of Corey's graduate students.
In other words:
I know its not a good measure (based on a previous statement), but I am still going to use that, because I suck so much that I am too mad to think of anything else. To stop getting fired, I will measure how many people die of hunger, and kill farmers to make sure people get more food.
2) He doesn't suck. Despite the anomalous dip in stock price, Cerner performs well to this day, and Patterson, as was noted in another post, was named one of the best CEOs in the country by Forbes when it comes to maximizing shareholder value.
That said, he might well be good at maximizing shareholder value (e.g. squeezing lots of hours out of salaried employees) and he certainly didn't get fired over this.
I definitely wouldn't work for him, though.
Guys like this win @ life. By doing this kind of shit.
It's likely that, no matter what else he does with his life, this memo will always be the one thing he's most well known for, and just about everyone who reads it will judge him for writing it.
That just doesn't sound like "winning" to me.
One of my friends was working as a programmer there. The guy was crazy and when the inevitable relaunch came, he worked insane hours, would code at night and on the weekends at home.
Our CEO, egomaniac that he was noticed that he would arrive late at work.
He made the technical manager chew him out despite his protests while standing watch next to him.
The developer quit shortly after and the company tanked after one more year.
Needless to say, I've never regretted my decision to drop out and write software instead.
As you well know there are many, many qualified applicants who would gladly take your place if you feel that you are unable to follow these rules. The simple truth is that if you are unable to get results in the 40 hours provided each week, you will probably be unable to get results period and should look for different employment."
Go ahead, professor, post it. I dare you.
We are a much smaller company all round with a very relaxed work schedule (like today, our busiest day, we finished early to watch the football) and yet we consistently outperform, outmanoeuvre and beat those competitors into the dust.
It's all about work ethic and the ability of a "team" to Get Things Done.
I think the leanest and most productive type of companies/groups/teams today tend to:
- work flexible hours
- work relatively few hours
- and most importantly works hard to reduce the hours you need to be productive (this does wonders IMO)
Next thing is how many people are eager to be in the field, no matter the cost. Don't enter a field overcrowded with good people. Sports, acting, anything glamorous. For reasons that escape me, science fits in this category. Find an area where you're genuinely appreciated. If there is no money involved, the appreciation is fake.
I guess some may argue it has happened in some tech circles (startups: at least you usually give us a reason to work hard), but it's never been the norm anywhere I've been employeed.
Employees can (and should) be people too.
- Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, "Rework"
Most of the people in the team are stressed and are complaining that they don't have a personal life. They would quit the company, the day they get an opportunity to apply leave, so that they can attend other interviews.
Very soon, I am going to buy him a book called "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams". It's an amazing book, and is a must read for people who are or want to manage teams.
I know plenty of other people with ridiculous horror stories though. Things like professors demanding to know why a postdoc was taking so much time in the bathroom, or confiscating a graduate student's plane ticket back to China until an assignment was completed.
Academics desperately need a ratemyprofessor.com for advisers and lab environments.
Some people worked long hours, some didn't, there wasn't any correlation between hours in the office and how successful people were.
However, other profs were known to be fascists. It all depended who you worked for.
Edited, to add that I was already working 80 hours a week before the speech. I'm not even sure how I could possibly work more if I stayed.
(My background's theoretical solid-state which is a lot less savage.)
In general, a bad supervisor will neglect you rather than force you to do ridiculous amounts of work, and will fail to put in the requisite effort to get you a job.
It feels the profs who care that much about hours/wk are ones who really just have a whole lot of gruntwork they want done, and want grad students to do it. That's not really a good way to produce brilliant research progeny (grad students whose PhD consists entirely of doing gruntwork for you aren't the kind you want for that), but maybe in some areas it's the path to fame--- especially areas where hitting on a Big Result is the way you make your career.
My impression regarding this divide is that major discoveries in math, physics, CS etc. tend to be the result of very original, creative thinking--ah-ha! moments--and that is not the sort of thing that can be stimulated by simply doubling the amount of time you spend working. Whereas big papers in chem and bio appear to result, in large part, from a tremendous amount of trial-and-error gruntwork spent on the bench. Certainly, somebody's inspiration (the PI's) is driving the overall research program, but you need a huge amount of manual labor to bring it to fruition. Whereas, in the theory fields, you can just sort of stare off into space until it comes to you.
My experience is definitely on the theory side, so I would love to hear what the other sides's thoughts are...
Some employers avoid falling into this trap by refusing to make a record of how long employees work, only their results.
Let's suppose the prof is, himself, so passionate about his work that he's devoting all of his time to it. He's made an effort to recruit people who are equally dedicated, because when the colleagues he depends on go home before him, that puts a bottleneck on his output. Furthermore, if most of his grad students are content sacrificing their personal lives for this work, doesn't it sour morale to have one guy who's always last to arrive and first to leave, yet who expects equal status?
Plus, while other commenters have suggested that this professor is mainly motivated by ego, it's also plausible that he's doing life-saving research, thst he decided long ago that he has a moral responsibility to sacrifice every waking hour to his work to save others from years of pain and sadness.
Again, I don't know if any of the above is true, but it's easy for me to imagine circumstances under which this memo would be totally reasonable. Surely anyone who's worked at a startup knows how important it is for everyone's workload expectations to be aligned?
It's a little over the top. Trollish even.
It does vary a little by school, if the school's administration wants to cultivate a particular image. For example, CMU was getting a reputation for taking 9-10 years for a PhD. It was for a variety of reasons not all the profs' fault, but it did include some aspects of profs wanting to keep their senior/productive students around producing more papers by dragging out their PhDs. The administration decided they didn't want that reputation, so started putting strong pressure to get people out within 6-7 years typically, 8 years max, which reduced that considerably.
Someone asked "How do they get anyone to do heavy squats with a pressure sensor up their ass?!"
The answer was just two words -- "grad students".
(A favorite anecdote.)
See, one day, that grad student will be a PhD. And because you abused him like slave labor, instead of being a peer you can collaborate with, he becomes your competitor.
You find yourself getting less funding and less people willing to go in on grants with you because some young, hotshot upstart took own of his PhD level ideas you don't own and turned it into something valuable. And you're scrambling to catch up.
Last year, my neighbor was a PhD working in a lab at an institution in the same equivalence class, and he told me that he made it clear that he expected people to work nights and weekends. The attitude in the email linked above is strict but the point is that the guy probably had been slacking and if he wanted to do something else then he should do something else instead of slowing down the pace of important research and taking up a spot that could be easily filled by somebody else.
Total synthesis (designing programs to build molecules from scratch) is a global never-ending footrace - first to make the molecule wins. That's almost uniquely startuppy/pressure-cookery among science; even among chemistry. I was a postdoc in one of the world's leading chemistry departments, but that was in chemoinformatics, which was less crazy. Before that I did my PhD in a prestigious earth sciences department, working on problems in mineral physics, and that was fine.
Total synthesis is unique.
The bottom line is that the market dictates whether it's a buyer's market or a seller's market. In the case of the letter in question, it's clearly a -perceived- buyer's market at the time the letter was written.
No point in being outraged by the letter. The quick and easy solution is to quit - why would any sane person want to continue to work in such a toxic environment?
Otherwise, I see no reason for a person to be that nasty.