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Long hours

Julia Frugoli jfrugoli at bio.tamu.edu
Mon Mar 27 12:20:03 EST 2000

>Unfortunately, to succeed in academic science, one must often particpate
>in the hierarchical games.  Maybe women are more likely to get annoyed
>with this and move out;  their sense of self worth not coming from what
>macho guy down the hall says, but from themselves.  Maybe the macho men
>are secretly more worried about what the rest of the hierarchy thinks, whereas
>the women can leave it behind.
>Well, its a thought. :-)

And a good one! I've begun to believe that academics actually attracts
people who LIKE these games-I've worked with a few people who complain
mightily about academic politics, but seem to relish the challenge and do
everything they can to enforce their version of academic politics as soon as
they get a toehold in the hierarchy.  I've begun to think that most people
who don't worry what the hierarchy thinks are (1) so far above it they don't
need to care or (2) in another business (successful business of their own
perhaps?) because they wouldn't put up with it.  It's not that I think
anyone's self worth SHOULD come from what the hierarchy says, it's just that
I know that there's a peril to ignoring it. 

I had dinner with a computer programmer the other night who's approaching
40. Our talk turned to burn out and age discrimination.  It will be hard for
him to find another job if he leaves the one he has, because 40 is way too
old for computer programmers, in the lore of the business (US News and World
Report had an article on turning 40 last week, and said the same thing). 
Companies want young, graduates, fresh out of school, who will work those
80-100 hour weeks and have no life, and aren't afraid to try anything,
because they don't yet know what its like to fail.  Most programmers who
work like that burn out by age 40, or, as my friend said, discover life and
no longer have a desire to program all night.  But like my friend, they
don't care-they plan to burn out, or they leave without guilt, because by
then they've socked enough money away to do whatever they want-it's a
lucrative field.  It also doesn't require years of training-most have only a
BS and a few have even less. There's no kidding each other about how it's
some kind of special calling (which some scientists seem to do when
confronted with the idea that 80 hour weeks aren't good for anyone).  They
seem to understand it can't go on like that forever, but unlike in science,
it doesn't-there is an end to it due to unwillingness to hire older workers,
and not too much complaining because there's money to show at the end of
it-more than most academic scientists will ever see.  

Eighty hour weeks are not holy, outside of academia.  I read an article a
long time ago about how medical students in residency are pushed beyond
their physical limits.  Medical professors claim this makes them able to
make snap decisions about care no matter what kind of stress they encounter
in life.  Confronted with studies that show that this policy decreases
quality of care for patients under the residents' direction and flimsy
evidence that those snap decisions are valuable, medical professors fall
back on the "if I got through it, they will too" excuse.  In short, the
abused becoming the abusers, which I see happening sometimes in academia

I think industry is going to pull all the women who can't stand the
hierarchical games out of academia, which may be good for these women
personally, but not good for women as a group.  The games may not be gone in
industry, but with a bottom line they can't dominate the way they do in
academics, and putting up with them becomes more lucrative.  Until academia
feels some kind of pain by ignoring the contributions of major sections of
the population (women, blacks, hispanics, etc) I'm afraid the games will
continue and those who perpetuate them will remain in academia.

A bit cynical for a Monday morning :)

Julia Frugoli
Department of Plant Pathology & Microbiology
Texas A&M University
Norman E.Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement 
2123 TAMUS
College Station, TX 77843
phone 979-862-3495
FAX 979-862-4790

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