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How many hrs a wk to be a successful boffin?!

(23 Posts)
CelticTigress1 Thu 07-Dec-17 22:54:15

Dear boffins,

I have an opportunity to move from a research post outside of academia (third sector organisation with uni honorary status) to a 3 yr funded senior research fellow post in my local decent uni.

Advantages of current post is that I collaborate with many university academics and am involved in lots of interesting projects as a co-investigator / collaborator, but have no chance of ever being a PI or progressing my own ideas as a project lead. I can co-supervise postgrad students, but not be the lead supervisor. This is a permanent post. I am good at what I do but have been in this role since I returned to work after maternity leave 6 years ago and there is no chance of progression.

I now can have a chance to make a case for my post to be moved to a uni (my organisation would fund this). But probably only for 3 yrs. Great advantage is that I could apply for funding as PI, potentially lead projects and give myself a shot at developing my own ideas and establishing a team.. But I know that funding is really hard to come by and the field is very competitive.

My question is whether it is possible to maintain a decent work life balance while at the same time do good work and progress in academia?! I have 2 small children - 1 preschool, 1 early primary - so work a 4 day/wk, never work weekends, though increasingly work some evenings. I'm wondering if I move to the uni post what the pressure will be like? And I also wonder how many hours a week is considered normal.

Any feedback on how much time you feel you need to put in each week to do well, progress and be a successful boffin would be helpful so I can plan what I will do next with realistic expectations in mind.

Thank you in advance.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 00:51:46

Without naming the subject area and the type of university, it's hard to know how much time people typically spend working. Even that wouldn't necessarily tell you much, as you may be more or less efficient with your own time.....

There is also the question of what you would do longterm. Would getting further research contracts be likely? Would you look to become a lecturer (and hence have to combine teaching and administration with your research)? Would you be able to stay at your local university? How competitive is funding in your area (this differs hugely depending on subject area)?

MedSchoolRat Fri 08-Dec-17 08:53:09

My dept (medicine), several people have fellowships that they do on 4 days/week. I don't think they do a huge amount on weekends/evenings, but I wouldn't be surrprised if they do extra, snippets here and there.

The problem is that fellowship is a very short career option. Broadly, You can only receive one in first 3 yrs (or FTE) after completed PhD. The fellowship lasts maximum 5 yrs. You can only get one fellowship, ever. There are very few fellowships available to folk >3 yrs after PhD, and seems like only for unusual niche subjects (like radioactivity). Fellowship is designed to be a tiny window to accelerate you into being a professor via a shorter status as L or SL because of the research boost. Fellowship is just a kink in the path of becoming Faculty.

So to stay in academia you'd be looking at how to become a lecturer. Because of the admin, lecturers tend to have long hours. I think a lot of people are inefficient, though, and could get more done in less time with better work practices (being ruthless about how they spend their time).

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 12:46:02

MedSchoolRat, many of the things you are writing seem quite specific to your field. In my field it is quite possible to have multiple fellowships. Indeed it is normal to have 5-6 years of postdoc experience before getting prestigious fellowships like the Royal Society ones.

I agree that fellowships are almost always taken on the path to lecturer positions. (But you yourself don't have a lecturer position and always argue that it is possible to work long term on rolling research contracts....??)

ManInTheMoonMarigold Fri 08-Dec-17 15:21:27

It depends very much on the subject area. In mine, it is possible both to have multiple fellowships in the course of your career and to have permanent research-only contracts.

As to the OP's questions, it is difficult to say without knowing the subject area and the type of fellowship you would have (and the expectations that come with it).

SRF's in my department are all contract researchers but have permanent contracts. They have targets for research income (both personal and for their research group), REF-related publication and impact and PhD supervision, and expectations related to admin and collegiality. They are expected to be the PI on the majority of research projects they work on and progression up the research-only scale would depend on showing they can lead a viable research area, have an international reputation in their field and meet all the other targets.

They probably work around 50 to 70 hours per week, but that is the same for everyone. If your funding is secure for the next three years, you could probably expect to work less, as a lot of time, especially outside normal working hours, is spent applying for funding. This is at a Russell Group university.

HellsBellsnBucketsofBlood Fri 08-Dec-17 15:26:44

DH does 60-70 hour weeks as a full time senior lecturer.

GreyCloudsToday Fri 08-Dec-17 15:30:06

Working a 4 day week with no weekends in a permanent role sounds amazing! I don't know any researchers on those terms. Trading from permanent to a 3 year contract sounds super risky in the current Brexit context where the funding landscape is very uncertain. I'd hang on where you are and look to do this move in another 4-5 years if you can bear it.

irrationallyworried Fri 08-Dec-17 19:11:44

I am a SL in humanities at a Russell Group university and I don’t work more than 40 hours a week. I am efficient though. My children are v similar ages to you - nearly 3 and just turned 5. Work is going well and I’ve recently applied for promotion again so progressing on those hours, not just coasting.

bigkidsdidit Fri 08-Dec-17 20:04:03

I have a fellowship (Rat I got mine seven years post PhD and don't recognise much of what you're saying). I had to track all my hours recently for a week and I did 45. But, I left early three days to collect the dc from school - made it up with a Saturday at a work event and two evenings writing. For me, that is completely acceptable.

bigkidsdidit Fri 08-Dec-17 20:05:09

Ps there is a LOT of evidence showing people massively overestimate how many hours they work.

MedSchoolRat Fri 08-Dec-17 20:13:51

Can you link to the fellowship you got, Bigkids, and what the qualifying rules are? Every one I look at is either "within 3-5 (FTE) yrs of completing PhD" or "really weird rare field that almost no one is qualified for." Plus many or most seem to say "must never have received any previous fellowship."

I don't know about "always", and I don't think I ever used the word "rolling", but I do indeed know dozens of people who have decades of experience working as RAs on sequential fixed term contracts -- that is true.

I observe FTC is MUCH more secure employment than "permanent" contracts. DH works in private industry. He has one story after another about people being made redundant at short notice when their contract is "permanent." With FTC, the job won't suddenly unexpectedly disappear.

bigkidsdidit Fri 08-Dec-17 20:33:33

I'm not saying which is mine. But

Royal society Urf
Medical research council career development fellowship
Wellcome sir Henry dale
Erc starting grant

Are all under 7/8 years post PhD and some have no limits at all any more (such as the MRC).

It is very very common to roll from mrc or Wellcome fellowship to senior fellowship, or to renew royal society fellowships for an extra term, or to hop from one RS fellowship to another.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 21:07:21

Plus many or most seem to say "must never have received any previous fellowship."

I have never come across this, apart from Oxbridge college fellowships which are aimed at those completing PhDs. Can you link an example?

It is not true for fellowships under ESPRC, STFC, Royal Society, ERC, EU Marie Curie.... actually ERC strongly favours those who have had personal fellowships before. You are much more likely to get an ERC Consolidator if you already had an ERC Starting.

BTW the EU Marie Curie fellowships put no limits on years post PhD.

Royal Society URFs are eight years.

Etc etc.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 21:09:07

BTW there is indeed a movement to remove limits on years post PhD for fellowships as it is recognised that this discriminates against women. Time spent on maternity leave is discounted in the years post PhD, but nonetheless having young children often slows women down for a while, and removing time limits increases the number of women eligible.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 21:10:38

Ps there is a LOT of evidence showing people massively overestimate how many hours they work

Yes, this in bucketloads.

I have (male) colleagues who claim to work 60+ hours per week based on the number of hours spent in the department, but they spend lots of time chatting over coffee, doing the crossword, taking long lunches etc.

MedSchoolRat Fri 08-Dec-17 21:50:28

I must be crap at searching because when I googled
"Medical research council career development fellowship"
I came up with "Essential: PhD in cognitive neuroscience" and "A recently qualified PhD "

Is it a variable award that comes out to different targets at different times?

"Royal society Urf" You can apply if you"are in the early stages of your research career and have between 3 to 8 years of research experience since your PhD by the closing date of the round (note career breaks are taken into account)" and you "do not hold or previously have held a fellowship that provides an opportunity to establish an independent research group and therefore independent researcher status,"

"Wellcome sir Henry Dale": There seem to be 2 versions, one says "This scheme offers recently qualified postdoctoral researchers", but tbf, the other version doesn't say "recent"

ERC: "2-7 years of experience since completion of PhD" I wonder if someone applying today could actually start the award before March 2019.

I'll try to keep a bookmark on that list for anyone I meet with less than 8 yrs since PhD.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 22:03:08

The latest round of the ERC starting grant applications is currently under assessment. Grant agreements will be signed by March 2019. But in any case did you not notice today's Brexit agreement included continued participation in Horizon 2020?

you "do not hold or previously have held a fellowship that provides an opportunity to establish an independent research group and therefore independent researcher status,"

Oh, come on, now you are being ridiculous. A large number of URFs in my department have held personal fellowships of various kinds - EPSRC three year fellowships, Marie Curies, Oxbridge college fellowships etc. There is no way that this clause is interpreted to mean having held no fellowships by anybody on the panels.

What they are trying to exclude is holders of fellowships equivalent to the URF in Europe e.g. German five year fellowships.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 22:04:10

And the Royal Society also offers the Dorothy Hodgkin awards for those who need flexible working. These fellowships deliberately don't have rules on years since PhD.

user19283746 Fri 08-Dec-17 22:06:50

BTW I am writing this as somebody who sits on these panels. I am horrified that anybody would interpret the URF wording as "should have had no fellowship ever". This excludes applicants completely unnecessarily as many/most successful applicants will have held prestigious early career fellowships.

bigkidsdidit Fri 08-Dec-17 22:25:45

You are confusing Sir Henry Wellcome - which is soon after PhD - and Sir Henry Dale, and yes your googling is not great!

Anyway, this is veering quite far from the op's question. Op I reckon 4 days plus some evening work is fine if you are productive and efficient

murmuration Mon 11-Dec-17 11:18:22

I've just been collating my hours in prep for a review meeting tomorrow, so can give some hard numbers. I'd say it is possible, but difficult, to maintain work-life balance and avoid working ridiculous hours. I am 'forced' to due to my health - which actually makes it a bit easier, since it doesn't require self-control. I just collapse if I do too much. But if you don't have that hard feedback, you'll have to stand up to a lot of pressure to "just do one more thing" or "just work this one weekend" and so on. It's easy to slip into thinking you're doing it just once, and then find out it's gone on so long you're never home. I've seen people fall into this trap; but I've also seen people protect their personal time succesfully.

Anyway, last academic year, I spent an average of 41.5 hours working each week. This year so far I'm averaging 41. I feel I'm doing okay - I despair that I can't do more and feel like I'm falling behind (as you'll see from some of my other posts), but it is possible to maintain an academic position with those hours.

Will you have teaching and admin duties as well, or just research? If it's a strongly research post, you'll be able to concentrate on putting in proposals and getting funding, which can jumpstart your academic career. You say 'only for 3 yrs' - is it that the post would return after that time, or are you switching to a fixed-term contract? If the latter, there is quite a bit of risk, particularly in the current funding and political environment. So you'll have to think about if that's worth it.

I would suggest (particularly if it's fixed-term post) to concentrate on securing yourself a lectureship in those three years. You'd have to check and see if you'd be elligible for the 'new investigator' type grants from the RC (some don't let you have been Co-I, I think some do?). Or the fellowships people discuss above (I have no knowledge of those). I'd highly recommend getting funding applications out asap - so that you could potentially move somewhere and bring your funding with you right at the end of the three years (if not earlier) - or convince the local Uni to transfer you to a permanent post (harder, I understand, than moving elsewhere, but I've seen it happen - it's probably worth addressing what the rules/potential for that might be).

GaucheCaviar Mon 11-Dec-17 12:36:06

Strictly nine-thirty to five here, due to small kids making work impossible outside those hours. BUT, I.m not in the UK.

CelticTigress1 Wed 13-Dec-17 00:52:38

Thank you so much boffins for your most helpful responses. Unsurprisingly it seems like there is a degree of variation in work hours ranging from 40 to 70; With most spending somewhere between 40 and 50, especially when other responsibilities come in to play. I do about 40 hours in 4 days at present (get paid for 30...). And I think it would be hard to do much more with the little ones at the moment.

The possibility of sticking to fellowships is quite appealing, and there is a good chance that the proposed fellowship would be renewed after 3 years. A lectureship role might be tricky as I don’t have a particular subject to teach as I moved from one field to another different but related field, though could always do methods stuff.. need to think more about that.

Sounds like a fellowship role could work for 3 years, even at 40 hrs; with some focus and good organisation.. and it is a luxury to be able to focus on research only for a couple of years. I’m mid-40s having come back to academia after a career elsewhere but I think it’s worth a shot! And if doesn’t work out maybe I can find something more relaxing..

Apologies for delayed response; iPad problems so had to visit iPad repair shop thanks very much again.

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