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Tuesday September 10, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday September 10, 2013 MYT 7:38:33 AM
by natalie heng
Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz (right), one of the authors of the study, reviewing a manuscript while conducting fieldwork in northern Malaysia.
A study of work habits suggests conservation biologists in some parts
of the world may be working too hard.
IF you've ever wondered if there is truth to the notion that scientists – well, conservation biologists at least – forsake their social lives to spend most weekends buried under a mountain of books and research papers, a recent study has the answer: Yes.
With manuscript submission being a key part of the scientific process, the study’s authors analysed the date and time of uploads to the online submission system for the journal Biological Conservation.
What they found was an increasing trend towards work after office hours.
The proportion of 10,000 manuscripts and 15,000 reviews submitted after hours and on weekends across 28 countries between 2004 and 2012 may ring alarm bells when it comes to indicating a healthy work-life balance.
Data showed that 16% of the manuscripts were submitted at night, while 11% of the manuscripts and 12% of the reviews were submitted on weekends.
Asians sacrificed the most personal time, with Japanese, Chinese, and Indian researchers submitting nearly 40% of manuscripts outside regular office hours, and Mexicans doing a lot of overtime on weekdays.
American and British scientists worked only moderate amounts during the evenings and weekends.
Continental Europeans appear to have the best work-life balance, with Belgian and Norwegian scientists not working much on weekends, and Finnish scientists rarely working at night.
The study’s authors have come up with some possible explanations for these variations. China, for example, has seen an enormous increase in scientific output within the last decade, thanks to incentives for scientists with good publication records.
Overall, the level of work outside normal office hours seems to be increasing at a rate of 5%–6% per year.
The study raises concerns that heavy workloads may not only potentially have a negative impact on the quality of work, but also the balance between work demands and family life.
One co-author of the study, Associate Prof Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus, points out that good science requires time to read and think.
“Overstressed scientists are likely to be less productive overall,” he says.
The idea for the study took root when he was on a short holiday in Bali.
Tied up reviewing manuscripts beside the beach instead of swimming or reading a novel, he says that was when he realised finding time at work is difficult, and that he did most manuscript reviews on weekends and holidays.
“Reviewing someone else’s manuscript is a relatively altruistic act since it is generally done anonymously, and aims to improve someone else’s work or to prevent poor science being published,” says Campos-Arceiz.
He suggests that academic institutions consider peer-review activities as part of the academic job description and consider it in staff performance evaluations.
The study’s co-authors were Lian Pin Koh of Princeton University and Richard Primack of Boston University’s Department of Biology. Primack found the study enlightening in other ways.
“Until we saw the data, I did not appreciate how hard-working Chinese, Indian, and Japanese scientists were. Also, I thought that Americans were among the most hardworking scientists in the world, but they are about average,” he says.
The study, entitled Are Conservation Biologists Working Too Hard? is published in the October issue of Biological Conservation and can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/17z3aLH.
Tags / Keywords:
Science & Technology, conservation biologists, work habit, scientists
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