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Yesterday I read an article in the German newspaper "Süddeutsche", in which the author states that basically every German scientist incriminates his employer. The article says:

Das Arbeitszeitgesetz regelt, dass maximal zehn Stunden am Tag gearbeitet werden darf.

This translates roughly as: "The working hours law sets a limit on 10 hours of work per day". If you exceed this limit, you can sue your employer. It's besides the point asking who will sue his employer, of course.
The point is that today, many people are working overtime on their own accord to increase their salary just to survive, to keep their job or to exceed their competition for promotion. In Germany, this is sparking a debate which was covered by the newspaper article (an interview with Martina Perreng, a union lawer). Scientists can relate to this debate. They've always worked "overtime". We come to the lab as early as we can and leave it when we're too tired to keep on working. The common picture is that the stereotypical scientist is driven by his quest for knowledge and his enthusiasm for his topic. This is certainly true, even to a large extent. People boast all-nighters at the bench and how much trouble they get from their partners for neglecting the relationship or their children. This is all not new.
What is new is that this old stereotype is further promoted by the current job-situation in the sciences. The tough competition enhances the pressure on the individual scientist to produce more knowledge than his/her competitor, to get the extra result, the extra paper.
The pressure you face is enormous: in a working environment where 12h working days are standard, you need to out-work everybody else. A post-doc in his late thirties looking for a faculty position easily and realistically faces several years of 13, 14 15h work-days 6-7 days a week. Try to explain this to your child in kindergarden when you're asked why you leave the house before the child gets up and come home long after bed-time? Who do scientists sue?
As a scientist you're expected to change at least countries, better yet continents every three years or so. On top of that, you should work 12-16h 7 days a week, if you want a permanent position by the time your 40 (with the very realistic prospect of ending up with nothing at all but a PhD in your mid-40s). And then you have people seriously wondering why there are so few women in the top science positions? People seriously wonder why educated people have fewer children than average? Science is probably the most family-hostile work-environment on the planet! Remedy this and you will see more scientists with children and more female top scientists!
Posted on Tuesday 29 January 2008 - 08:39:44 comment: 0
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