Long Working Hours

Depending on the scientific area and employer, scientists may have to work long hours. This is especially true for science careers in academia, but can also occur in industry.

A familiar example of a science career that can entail extremely long hours is that of medical doctor. For example, recently the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) petitioned OSHA to regulate the number of work hours put in by medical students. Studies have shown that the hours worked by some medical students are so long that they result in chronic sleep deprivation, leading to health problems such as depression, and outcomes of sleep deprivations, such as falling asleep behind the wheel, leading to motor vehicle accidents. While OSHA recognizes that long work hours can be an occupational exposure and that employers would do well to 'recognize and prevent' this, the government agency has little direct power to regulate and prevent this kind of exposure. A similar 'exposure hazard' is present in many graduate schools as well. On the way to obtaining a PhD and during postdoctoral work, many scientists work upwards of 60 hours a week and have fairly unpredictable schedules. Since working long hours in a graduate school setting is technically voluntary, it is not possible to regulate. The situation is somewhat better for scientists working in industry. However, like with many jobs where the worker is judged by the product and where tight deadlines are frequent, occasional late nights or work on weekends are to be expected.

Some scientists work in the field. Here, too, many work long hours. For example, marine biologists may work on ships at sea, and engineers may have to spend extensive time on an oil rig. This not only entails long hours, but also days, if not weeks, spent away from one's family. Willingness to do this should certainly be a consideration when applying for specific science jobs.

Even scientists working in an office can sometimes be expected to work long hours. Computer scientists doing support work, such as system administrators, are responsible for making sure the computer network is running, and worry about not only spam, viruses, and spyware, but also power outages, fires, and floods. This often results in working long hours, late nights, and weekends. When not in the office, many system administrators are always on call.

One impact these working hours have is the lower retention of women in science and engineering jobs. When thinking about a career in science, women, and men as well, should consider the impact their career choice may have on starting a family, and plan accordingly.

In many scientific fields, schools graduate more professionals than there are jobs, leading to a significant level of job insecurity. New trends in management may require more work from employees, employers may motivate employees by performance-related pay and the possibility of outsourcing the job, and can change job expectations that now may require fewer workers to be more flexible and cover more tasks. Combined, these factors will probably make long work hours a mainstay of a career in science and science-related fields.