The Plight of a Postdoc

I’m currently a postdoc at the University of Washington, working in the biomedical sciences.  If I include graduate school, I’ve been doing wet-lab based, academic biomedical research full-time for almost 10 years.  Work hours can be kind of askew in academic research: you largely dictate your own schedule, but there’s oftentimes a pressure — either internal (ie. self-imposed) or external (eg. advisor-imposed, or general workplace culture) — to work more than the standard 9 to 5 -type work day.

When I started my postdoc, I decided to keep track of all the hours I worked (I essentially “timestamp” when I get in and when I leave, on my computer lab notebook).  It’s partially for my love of data recording and analysis… but it’s also a figure I keep in my back pocket, to remind myself that I totally can — hell, deserve to — sometimes leave early or take some time off if I need to, since I’m certainly putting my time in overall.

Here’s the same data plotted in the context of the work week.  In contrast to the “standard” 40 hour work week, I’m doing something much closer to 50 hours.  I also have a running summation of total hours worked, as the final piece of information.

I won’t make any claims about how representative I am of a typical postdoc; people will each approach this phase of their career differently, especially with how it can be even more “choose your own adventure” than grad school is.  I will point out that — along with being a carefully collected datapoint — I am still a real person trying to balance professional and personal life, within the context shown above.  Hopefully these visualizations will better inform people considering the grad school -> postdoc route, and provide context for better understanding and discussing the role of postdocs in scientific research (one that I feel is systematically undervalued).

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