Career sustainability and the ideal worker norm
Posted by Melissa on March 29, 2010
“Whether discussing an individual career, a lab, funding, the academic research system, publishing, peer-review, or scientific innovation, at the heart of the issue is often the question of whether current practices are sustainable and what changes need to be made to ensure sustainability… From an individual to a more global perspective, definitions, successes, diversity, barriers… what makes–or breaks–sustainability in science?”
That’s the question biochem belle asks for Scientiae this month. It’s an interesting question with many layers. Unfortunately, with the start of a new term today, including a new class prep (solid state physics—yay! enjoyable, but also lots of work), I don’t have the time to do justice to the topic. I occasionally consider the question of career sustainability, what it means to me and how to achieve it. In my eyes, a sustainable science career allows for balanced professional and personal growth and satisfaction that can be maintained over the long term. I struggle with how to create a sustainable career when too often my personal time gets gobbled up by job-related demands. Granted, some of it is my own fault–I find it challenging to set boundaries, to ask for help, and to cut myself slack. Yet the issues of creating sustainable academic science careers are broader than individual circumstances.
Robert Drago’s book, Striking a Balance: Work, Family Life, provides a particularly thoughtful presentation of the challenges. Drago discusses the increasing emphasis on the ideal worker norm, the demand that professional workers exhibit total commitment to their career, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for years without interruption, and how it conflicts with other societal norms. In a report on work/family issues for NCSU, Drago makes an interesting comment on how the tenure process is set-up to promote the ideal worker norm in academia:
“[Tenure track faculty] are typically told that quality research, teaching, and service are all required to achieve tenure …[T]o produce tenured academics who have internalized the ideal worker norm, then the process needs to remain a mystery to those on the pre-tenure side. The individual is given the consistent message that more work, longer hours, and more research are always desirable.”
As a junior faculty, I certainly feel the pressure to do more, but observing my tenured colleagues, it’s clear the pressure doesn’t diminish with seniority. Academia seems to select and support those who have taken to heart the idealized worker norm, but at what cost to promoting diverse and sustainable academic career paths?