"I have noticed that you failed to come into the lab on several weekends"


The stereotypes those little seventh graders had, of scientists who do nothing but work? Those come from somewhere. It's worth noting that Guido Koch is employed today, despite his youthful experimentation with the forbidden allure of the weekend.

Chemistry Blog: Something Deeply Wrong With Chemistry

(Thanks, Aaron Rowe!)


    1. Yeah! It’s just like retail sales, too…

      Did Guido send a response letter? I salivate just thinking of the replies fit for such nonsense:

      “Erick (or is it 2 k’s nowadays?),

      Considering that your preference humping your pile of post-doctoral applications over warm, human bodies is a source of awe and admiration for the entire department, I humbly admit that my work ethics might never live up to yours…”

  1. I’m glad I’m not named “Guido.” I’d have to get a spray-on tan and walk around shirtless all the time.

    1. You know, I am actually named Guido. It does not really take a lot of willpower to ignore MTV…

      And, yes, the boss is an asshole, but some people really like to spend that much time in the lab. I am one of those. I love what I do, I think it is important and it pleases me. Where I live, pay is next to nothing, even for professors, but if you are in science for the money, you picked up the wrong career. It might be hard to understand for some people but money is not all in life, even if it is very important.

      When you love finding out the way things work and when you can tie that to make a difference for people, NOTHING can buy that. NOTHING can buy the feeling of knowing something new, of making a small discovery, of proving an hypothesis wrong.

  2. There were a number of total slave driving labs at the University of Washington, that I knew of, about that time too. “We expect a -minimum- of a 60 hour work week” ..at postdoc’s pay. I can only hope that this policy is no more – but I doubt it.

  3. A chem professor in my department used to joke with new post-docs by taking them aside and saying “The institute says I have to give you two weeks of vacation a year. Which sundays do you want?”.
    Well, he was kind of joking. Kind of not.

  4. I do not agree with the sentiments expressed by the author of the letter, but is it okay to be posting this here with real people’s names, etc.?

    1. I do not agree with the sentiments expressed by the author of the letter, but is it okay to be posting this here with real people’s names, etc.?

      If you don’t want the world to see you as a tyrannical ass then don’t put things like this in writing.

      1. It’s not a matter of protecting the author of the letter, but rather the target – Guido. This crap will follow poor Guido forever as justification for any misstep. It’s never – “ah, well he used to work for an asshole” but it’s always “well, This guy says Guido has problems applying himself to his work and Guido’s latest error is just another example of the problems he was having at the Caltec post doc lab.

        Every business runs this way, and the only way to get around it is to cut the paper trail by moving from employer to employer. Blows big holes in the efficiency but since there is no reward for severance in industry (no pensions) you are essentially an idiot for showing loyalty.

    2. It’s fourteen years old, I think both of them have seen this out there for a while and have moved on.

      1. Yep, it’s been around in academia for a while – I had it hanging in my office 6 years ago and got it quoted by my supervisor every time I wanted time off… Funny BoingBoing should notice it but now…

    3. Is there any reason why such clearly illegal (check the US and California State law on working hours and Sunday being an official holiday in the USA) actions should NOT be posted with the name(s) on it? The letter has been written on official Caltech paper and signed by its author. No reason whatsoever to hide this important piece of information.

    4. Of course it’s OK, as a matter of fact it’s your responsibility to call out management who treat workers as slaves. If you are a union member, union representative, or good citizen who cares about your fellow worker it is your job to do so. We can’t turn the tide by being quite little sheeple.

  5. Fortunately things aren’t that intense in the Biology department at my institution. But I have heard tales from Chemistry grad students required to work 1 of the weekend days…your choice, naturally.

  6. My first boss tried the same crap, except I was receiving hourly pay, and he didn’t want to give me any overtime.

    I guess working ridiculous hours without pay was supposed to be an investment in my career. Thankfully, I left research for a better path soon afterward.

  7. at first i thought “guido… you’re so busted”. but then i thought “professor… you’re such a cock

  8. That is really nice firm physical evidence to back up an unfair labor practice claim. Especially since post-docs are usually hired through the university.

  9. Yes, this is slavery. unfortunately too common in science labs…supervisors can exploit PhD Students and Postdocs easily. sometimes I think academia is a pyramid scam. I´m very happy I quit.

  10. as a just completed phd student in the sciences, I can’t imagine my advisor ever treating me this way (heck, as a post doc at an industry laboratory, I can’t imagine my management treating me this way,

    Without the accurate names, I would have assumed it was a hoax.

  11. I’m sorry, but how exactly does this hold up?

    If you’re only paid for 40 hours, then that’s all that you should be working.

    If they want more, they need to pay more. Simple as that.

  12. I do not agree with the sentiments expressed by the author of the letter, but is it okay to be posting this here with real people’s names, etc.?


    Individuals who behave in antisocial ways need to be called out on it. Names can be changed to protect the innocent, but that instinct can lead to a protection of the guilty, which in turn only enables further guilty behavior on the part of all.

  13. Since the Profs name is only in the image, I’m sure google can’t find it if people search for Eric M. Carreira who used to work at Caltech and is now at ETH Zurich.

  14. Academic science is brutal and unforgiving. Unfortunately, there really are an army of people vying for a very small number of jobs which means that unreasonable hours are unavoidable. I don’t think unions or any other means besides restructuring science itself will work to fix these problems.

    1. “Academic science is brutal and unforgiving. Unfortunately, there really are an army of people vying for a very small number of jobs which means that unreasonable hours are unavoidable.”

      They work hour like this because they love their work. Life as a researcher at a great university is a privilege and, for many, a great pleasure. Work is hard, but pay is very good. Post-Docs make around $50k and full professors around $150k or more with their summer appointments.

      1. Loving what you do really really helps when you are putting in long hours for little pay.

      2. “Work is hard, but pay is very good. Post-Docs make around $50k and full professors around $150k or more with their summer appointments.”

        BS. I know for a fact that when that letter was written, postdocs at Caltech were getting paid less than $30k, and I doubt that even now many profs at Caltech are getting paid $150k.

        Try living in Pasadena on less than $30k, much less raising a family

        1. “Try living in Pasadena on less than $30k, much less raising a family”

          You ain’t kidding, HD. I do live in Pasadena, make nearly twice that, and can’t make ends meet. I suppose I’d be livin’ large if I didn’t have 2 kids and hadn’t bought my house at the top of the market bubble, but still.

          I used to wish I’d gone into the sciences, but now I guess I’m glad I didn’t. My entertainment industry employment has often entailed 60-80 hour work weeks for much less money than you’d expect, and though the end result of my toil is utterly disposable pop-culture entertainment rather than potentially lifesaving or paradigm-altering scientific achievement… at least my crappy community college education was fully paid for by my old pizza-delivery job.

          I still run into all the stress and the outsized egos and the ridiculous working conditions and the horrible hours… but at least I’m carrying no debt for an expensive CalTech education.

      3. They work hour like this because they love their work. Life as a researcher at a great university is a privilege and, for many, a great pleasure. Work is hard, but pay is very good. Post-Docs make around $50k and full professors around $150k or more with their summer appointments.

        You have a pretty fucked up sense of “pay is very good”. With just a BS in chemical engineering I made MUCH more than 50k out the door on my first job… and I worked 40 hours a week. Maybe, if something really big was going on, I might work 50 hours. No dude, academia is completely fucked up. There are not many systems that are so completely messed up where having highly educated people working third world sweat shop hours and being paid less than what the uneducated asshole on the MBTA makes for pressing the big green button to make the choo-choo-train go in-between sexting their boyfriend.

        Like I said. I finished up my BS looked down that abyss, looked at the pile of money and hours that allow for a life that private industry offered, and made the only sane decision.

        The entire tenure system as it is structured today, from kindergarten teachers to post-doc slavery, is completely and totally fucked up. No other system is so effective at keeping worthless old ineffective bastards in power raking the cash while at the same time crush the life out of young people with enthusiasm all the while exploiting them at Chinese sweatshop wages.

      4. Not really. I was a postdoc in a lab just like this and entry pay for a postdoc by NIH standards, is 37K. After about 7 years, maybe you could make somewhere in the 40s. This is for biological sciences, I do not know about other sciences. I also have to strongly disagree that you need to work like this all of the time to get somewhere in academia. I have an appointment, and no I do not make 150K, I make around 70K. It’s the lack of camaraderie in labs like these that potentiates this kind of behavior from lab heads. We all know that there are some times where you never leave the lab, but there are other times where it should not be this way. It seems to me that many lab heads try to train postdocs and grad students to wear laboratory hours like a badge of honor, and these smart yet mindless bastards buy into it, kind of like winning a competition. Reality check: unless it is fruitful, these efforts are meaningless. Exhausted staff is a good way to ensure that there are both mistakes and lack of clarity in experimental design. Lab heads should be emphasizing publications or something that will be helping their worker’s careers not this kind of garbage. From my experience, most labs that I see function like this tank.

    2. I guess what I don’t understand is that we supposedly don’t have enough Americans interested enough in science to begin with. Are the dozens of other applicants all from out of the country? Just asking.

  15. This seems bad, but presumably people go into this situation aware that this is what is expected. The PI’s point is that there are people that will work that hard applying ever day. That being said out of principal I would not work for someone that sent me a letter like that nor expected that type of work schedule.

    1. I laughed all the way home one Friday when I heard the boss use the phrase “productive weekend” in a conversation.

      If the department can’t accomplish it’s research goals in a way that doesn’t give it’s workers a good quality of life and balance between work and personal life, then they are not running it right.

      If they need 120 person hours of work done in a week then they need to find a way have 3 people working 40 hours and not 2 people working 60 hours.
      If they can’t afford enough people they need to be more aggressive about getting funding.

      If private companies can find a way to be productive with a 40 hour work week then the geniuses at universities can figure it out, too.

  16. Crunch crunch crunch
    Do all scientist-bosses write crunchy letters like this?

    Besides, he ought to know from his “research”, if he’s been observant, that everybody’s working for the weekend:

    Good old pop musik!

    1. I’ve never heard of a professor actually writing a letter like this, but certainly in some groups you sense that they are basically thinking what this one does. Many professors not only expect ridiculous hours out of grad students and postdocs but apply the same work ethic to themselves. This sort of thing is more common in universities than in industry or research institutes, which typically have more normal expectations and thus are more suited for people with an life beyond research.

    1. OTOH, perhaps these two simply lacked the chemistry to get along…

      What, no one’s going to give this the love it deserves? Pfft..

      ♡ bad chemistry jokes

  17. This kind of crap doesn’t go on at the research institution I am at. I work maybe 10-5pm Mon-Fri, my supervisor who is a postdoc works 8:30 to 5pm on the dot. We only do weekends if we have to for data collection (testing participants) and only for fixed periods of time. But I live in New Zealand where there isn’t a crazy race to get jobs in elite universities. All our universities here are around the same and people don’t mind working in any of them. We also get four weeks a year holiday in this country and no-one begrudges you when you go on holiday.

    1. …but then again, New Zealand isn’t exactly on the leading edge of research, now is it?

  18. My father got his PhD in Chemistry back around 1950. He did occasionally have to work long hours, but that was usually because he had some lab experiment going on that would take 36 hours to cook and needed frequent attention. But doing that because the department wants to get 80 hours of work for 40 hours pay is ridiculous.

  19. Yikes. Talk about exploiting grad students (or post-docs). Academia is built on student slave labor — undergrads for subjects, grads to do the work.

    I’m glad the boss at my lab is, well, not him!

  20. That Prof needs to be shown a picture of himself getting a blow-job from a student… You could have all the weekends off you wanted, weekdays too.

  21. This situation is inevitable with in academia where there are too many applicants and too few positions. The slow conversion of most jobs to low-paying adjunct postions is not helping.

    Anyway, when my father went to med. school, residencies, which are required unlike post-doc positions, ran up to 120 hours a week. Now they’re limited to 80 hours, but they are all 80 hours, and pay comparable to post-doc’s. For 4 years, which is much longer than most post-doc’s.

    This applicant no doubt knew what would be asked of him before he took the position.

    1. No doubt, postdocs know what they’re getting into. However, most postdocs last between 3-5 years in biology. Given that the job search itself consumes 6-9 months, the days of the 2 year postdoc are dead. While doing a postdoc isn’t technically a requirement, obtaining an academic job without one is virtually impossible.

    2. Post doc positions are essentially required if you want to be a professor or have any other signficant position in research. They’re lucky if they could find a “4-year postdoc position”, most times it’s a one or two year position, after which they have to get hired by someoen else for another year or two year position. Five or six years of being a post doc is pretty common. Afterwards, PhD salaries are not really that good compared to MD salaries, though hours aren’t too different.

      I had a friend whose (married)advisor was concerned because it seemed like she was courting a guy, and this was an issue because it could detract from her science. Bullshit like this is not explained before you join a lab, certainly not in my or fellow grad student’s experinece..

    3. Not true. Not by a long shot. Many people are misinformed when they start. I was a post doc in a lab like this in a prestigeous and the contract that was given to me did not ask for extreme hours. My contract said 10 am to 5 pm and occasional weekends if experiments require it. This appointment quickly turned into 9 am until at ??? and both days every weekend by request of the PI, who was sneaky enough to discuss this at lab meetings, but never put it on paper. The university could not do a thing about it b/c they include the clause that hours, vacation and even holidays and responsibilities are up to the discression of the PI. I was told by my boss in a closed door meeting that if I did not have any experiments to do on a weekend, I should come in on weekends to clean our mouse cages, otherwise, I am not showing interest in my science. This is after I worked 3 months straight w/o a day off…no holidays or weekends. NOTHING. I was finally catching a break for two weeks where nothing was pressing to finish and he had an issue with that, even after working like a dog. I did not spend years in school to get a Ph.D. to spend my weekends cleaning animal shit to prove my devotion to my work to this exploitative bastard, who couldnt give a rat’s ass about his science, bc he manipulated data and called it “intellectual judgement”. As far as I am concerned, someone who manipulates data is the last person on the planet who should discuss devotion to science. Getting back to the point, this PI was to cheap to hire a technician and knew he could get away with it bc the university allowed for it in the wording of their contracts. No one signs up for this kind of treatment, I can assure you of that. All this is exploitation and my case was by no means unique. It’s easy to sit pretty and advise people to suck it up and deal with it, others have is worse, until you face it yourself. This kind of treatment is NEVER ok.

  22. “Ah! Yeah. It’s just we’re putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that’d be great. All right!”

    Sounds like a Red Swingline solution in the offing.

  23. grad students in chemistry work 60-80 hours a week and get paid around 10 grand less than post docs. carreira is a very well known organic chemist, guess he got their on the backs of lots of grad students and post docs.

  24. At least he put it in letter form. If it was a corporation it would’ve been done through peer pressure and passive-aggressive behavior.

    1. “At least he put it in letter form. If it was a corporation it would’ve been done through peer pressure and passive-aggressive behavior.”


  25. My advisor never demanded that kind of attendance, but did expect to see significant progress on projects. I did spend ridiculous hours at it, as did a few others in the lab. A couple better focused grad students and post docs spent less time at it and led more normal lives but got more done.

    When I told her I was leaving the PhD program, she said that the most important thing was to do something that made you happy, and she could tell that I’d been struggling and I wasn’t happy.

    Simple, kind sentiment, but came at a stressful time and resonated and stayed with me all these years. I’d hurt stories of other’s advisors in the same circumstances who were brutal and crushing. Always striking how otherwise smart people don’t know the importance of being kind.

    1. Just because they are smart, does not mean that they are also wise.
      Experience counts, in everything, even human relations.

    1. It’s worth noting that neither of them are still working in California.

      I’ve had bosses who announced their bizarre expectations of me. I just told them to fire me if they didn’t find my performance satisfactory. Funnily enough, they stopped pestering me after that.

      I’ve also had bosses who announced that they treated their employees like family. I quit those jobs as quickly as I could find something else.

      1. I should also mention that the person who works 40 hour weeks may be as or more productive than the one who works 80 hours.

        1. Then imagine how productive you’ll be if you worked 80 hours.

          Someone who works 80 hours but can’t produce as much as someone working 40 is someone who isn’t going to get a professorship anywhere.

          I know a lot of people might feel outraged by this, but the guy knew what he was getting himself into when he signed up to be a postdoc. There’s a lot of people who dream of becoming professors; independent researchers who can do whatever they want as long as they keep grant money rolling in. That’s why, even though industry offers salaries that can be multiples of what academia makes, there’s still so many people willing to work in academia.

          1. Then imagine how productive you’ll be if you worked 80 hours.

            That’s just a variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

          2. Then imagine how productive you’ll be if you worked 80 hours.

            You know what works better than imagination? Facts. Facts that come from research.

            Every study I’ve seen on this suggests that for knowledge work, you get a roughly fixed amount of productivity each week. You can bust things out in 40 hours or you can spread your work out over 100, but you don’t get much more done. The only exception is that for a week or two you can work long hours and be more productive, but you’ll pay for it later.

            It’s basically the same deal with sleep. An occasional late night is fine if you recover. Chronic sleeplessness harms performance and increases errors, which drives people to spend even more time trying to catch up. There is no net win to continuously burning the midnight oil, except to impress jackasses like Prof Erick Carriera.

          3. You’re assuming it’s knowledge work they are doing.
            I’ve always suspected that the work of an organic chemistry student isn’t that intellectually rigorous if you can do 80 hours+ a week every week and not burn out.

            Dull organ-grinding type work, on the other hand, does increase productivity if you work 80 hours rather than 40.

          4. ” Every study I’ve seen on this suggests that for knowledge work, you get a roughly fixed amount of productivity each week. You can bust things out in 40 hours or you can spread your work out over 100, but you don’t get much more done. ”

            Thats absolutely right. Unfortunately organic synthetic chemistry isn’t knowledge work for most part. Its about optimizing parameters for reactions which can be (or even is in most cases) mindnumbingly dumb. So up to a certain extend (i.e. when you are so tired that you cannot read what written on the bottles) the more hours you spend in the lab the more you get done.

      2. “I’ve also had bosses who announced that they treated their employees like family. I quit those jobs as quickly as I could find something else.”

        Ugh. A few years ago, I worked (drawing and painting pictures for board and card games) for a guy who treated his employees “like family”. It was a miserable 80+ hours per week, subsistence-level, “the work is its own reward” job and it ended in a letter very much like the one at the top of this post.

        Strangely enough, I now work almost as many hours as a teaching assistant, researcher and graduate student and I love it. It has a lot of the same characteristics: subsistence-level pay, enough work to fill every hour of every day (if I let it), and the assumption that the work really is part of the reward.

        But somehow, I’m happy where I am and I think it’s because my instructors, advisers and supervisors don’t treat me like family. They treat me like a valuable, hard-working part of the team.

      3. More noteworthy is the fact that, not only are they both not working in California, but they both work in Switzerland! I’m sure it’s a small world of Caltech PhDs in lil’ ol Switzerland. These two have assuredly crossed paths again…

      1. Actually, I was surprised to learn that David Cross was such an asshole boss.

        @ Anon #81: Now THAT is scary.

  26. This is simple post-doc hazing with no merit behind it. By the time you’re a post-doc, you’re committed to the goal and those above you can be arses and take advantage of that because they were nerds who never got laid in undergrad.

  27. Joining the chorus — I did research as an undergrad, and had one fantastic experience, and one horrific one. The latter scared me away from science permanently.

    Pursuing the fantastic experience would have required me to relocate to Alaska, which I wasn’t prepared to do. I worked with a bunch of Geology students, who are definitely the “happiest” group of scientists I know of.

  28. I’ve always wondered about people like this and their bizarre notions of what constitutes an appropriate work ethic.

  29. Add another one to the pile: I’m a postdoc leaving the field after putting my personal life on hold for the last 10 years. Not only is shit like this letter a common assumption (though rarely so openly stated) but the same PI’s who expect you to stay until midnight are only too happy to waste your time pointlessly for half the day.

    Academic science is a fun, absorbing occupation, but a terrible, terrible career.

    1. This is perhaps the most significant comment here. Too many PI’s expect their staff to be at their beck and call and then waste their time.
      There’s nothing quite as moral-boosting as having to work late after hearing yet again all the boss’s stories of his glory days as a post doc.

  30. Anyone saying this is not just in the world of science misses the point. I know people in all fields, but there is something evil about scientific academia who on the one hand presents a field filled with discovery and exploration. But on the other, science is a field dominated by workaholic OCD a-holes.

    You see, at least in the world of business, banking and finance, you know from the outset what the deal is. They might be equal workaholic OCD a-holes but there is no deception. Science? Hilarious! The most hypocritical male dominated field in the world.

    And for the record my brother is a (failed) bio chemist who is now forced to teach since his main career and life are decimated. I have no problems with teachers, but he’s “forced” to teach because my whole life I heard this a-hole talk about “those who can’t do, teach.” Now he can’t do. If he spent a fraction of the time he spent overnight in labs obsessed with whatever nonsense he wasted his life on, he might have a family. Now he has nothing except a very strong life example shown to the rest of the family: Academics can be selfish workaholic jerks. Except they will feel superior about doing so.

  31. I got told this verbally in graduate school in Nuclear Physics about ~2000. Essentially they paid us for research and the remainder of the time (Evenings and Weekends) we were to work on our PhD thesis work.
    Actually at one point the whole lab got seated down and told that the professors were unhappy not to see us on the lab on weekends. Most of us were logging into the experimental computing analysis machines at home, and only in on weekends if there was beam. The old guard didn’t understand that just because they couldn’t see us, we weren’t working.

    This sort of expectation combined with a society that expects women to bear the majority of child-rearing combines to suppress women’s involvement in the Sciences.

  32. I am a chemical engineer. I got my BS and looked at the options I was facing. On one hand, the above crap. On the other, a nice private sector job offering a pile off cash and 40 hour work weeks with only the occasional weekend a simple of times a year. It was a pretty easy decision and I have never looked back.

  33. Note that most all sentences grammatically begin with the word “I”. You’re seeing here something seen through all academia and business. It is the need for control. In my long experience, it’s typically associated with poor management skills or concern over job security.

  34. This is clearly a case of far too much supply for available demand. But remember, not enough American kids are going into the sciences. To maintain our Competitive Edge(tm) We need to import more skilled labor from overseas to do the Jobs Americans Won’t Do(tm).

    1. Have to disagree. American kids are going into the sciences but universities are taking in international applicants that look stellar on paper (Bc the expectations for foreign Ph.D.s are different in many cases, not all c. Not trying to be nasty but if many cany speak english or write a coherent sentence, how do they have primary authorships? Seriously? Some common sense here please! Give primary authorships to lab techs if this is the standard.) It’s disgusting. I knew so many american kids that wanted into a Ph.D. program, and had the head for it, but instead were rejected and we are educating the rest of the world. Example: MD/Ph.D from China, who is a lab head a a top notch univerity did not know what blood pressure is needed to be considered hypertensive. That’s some good training!!! Remind me to take his pubs seriously. Also didnt know why basic statistical analysis (ex ANOVA)are used in analysis of data. Again, this was not a unique experience. Maybe foreigners get accepted ahead of Americans bc if they are on a on a student visa, (AKA you get sent back at the drop of a hat), laboratories can very easily become a sweat shop. Proud to say I am home grown, and earned my Ph.D. here. Wish others who had the same dreams that I had and were equally as talented, were as lucky as me.

  35. I’m sorry, but how exactly does this hold up?

    If you’re only paid for 40 hours, then that’s all that you should be working.

    If they want more, they need to pay more. Simple as that.

    I think the answer to that is that in many professions you are payed for results, not hours worked. It is one of the down-sides of being salaried, balancing the benefits of usually more flexible hours and not having someone looking over your shoulder with a stopwatch.

    My advisor in grad school was very generous and reasonable about work/life balance. This is a nasty letter. However, it is true that graduate school, and academic work, is in some ways much harder than working in the real world. It requires a singularity of purpose that 8-5 jobs don’t require. Your field of choice needs to be your life. If it is, you can enjoy terrific opportunities for intellectual freedom and personal enrichment that few people will ever know. If you don’t have that singularity of purpose, the sacrifices are not worth it.

    Basis of claims: My own graduate school experience, decision to leave my program, and my continued friendship with several scientific professionals.

  36. “Then imagine how productive you’ll be if you worked 80 hours.

    Someone who works 80 hours but can’t produce as much as someone working 40 is someone who isn’t going to get a professorship anywhere.”

    There are at least three fallacies here:

    1) More time does not equal more work even for a given person. 80 hours per week of sleep-deprived attendance staring at the pretty bubbles and the spinning stir-plate is less productive than 40 hours of insightful thinking and directed web-research (which may look to a manager like no work at all).

    2) There is no way to accurately measure productivity in the sciences. Most student and post-doc work product is appropriated by professors. Most papers contribute little or nothing to the field. Citations are a matter of politics and chance more than they are of discovery or innovation.

    3) Getting a professorship is not a legitimate goal. Learning, discovering, explaining and teaching are legitimate goals. Exploiting and overworking people who have legitimate goals so that you can climb the greasy pole to tenure is evil.

  37. If they need 120 person hours of work done in a week then they need to find a way have 3 people working 40 hours and not 2 people working 60 hours.
    If they can’t afford enough people they need to be more aggressive about getting funding.

    If one assumes working more than 40 hours is undesirable, I agree with you. Pressuring people to work overtime that they do not want to work reflects badly on program management. But the evil professor’s point is partly that there are plenty of people in academia who can, will, and would gladly work longer hours for the same compensation. Work/life balance is not as much an issue when work IS life. (i.e. physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, whatever your passion may be).

    1. Personally, I think that building psychological safety in the workplace by avoiding letters like this as well as in-person pressure from managers (in labs or elsewhere) can only be a good thing. From and organizational capacity-building perspective, simply telling someone they should be passionate about their job, and expecting them to work 60-80 hour weeks without compensation is a top-down, industrial, outdated model that seems to create resentment rather than a motivated workforce.

  38. And, please, let’s not forget that the scheddule can be very very flexible. I know people that arrives to the lab close to noon, to leave very late at night, some others work better during night.

  39. #54 – “I’ve always wondered about people like this and their bizarre notions of what constitutes an appropriate work ethic.”

    What work ethic? This is careerist exploitation. If Carreira works his grad students and postdocs that hard then he gets more publications and more grants, and so better positions and more status for himself.

    There is no positive result for him which comes from treating his subjects fairly – and there is a considerable advantage to him in taking them for as much as they are willing to give.

  40. As a molecular biology postdoc, this is something I have a little knowledge of (and why I’m posting anonymously, although the odds of someone in my lab reading this are slim).

    I work 40 hour weeks, but it’s understood that things have to get done, so if that means I come in on a weekend or stay late, so be it.

    On the other hand, I’m not willing to sacrifice my soul — I did 60+ hour weeks as graduate student, and that’s enough. I also suffered through cancer during that time, and if there’s one piece of advice I can offer other postdocs, it’s this:

    Don’t let them do it to you. It sounds good, you know: “Oh, you’ll just work hard as a postdoc, so you can get a position later and be comfortable and enjoy your life.”

    Nonsense. Don’t sell your youth for the promise of riches later, because if it doesn’t pan out you’ve lost the one thing you can never, ever regain: time. It’s not worth it. Nothing is. I’m just now turning 30, and every day I live with the knowledge that my cancer could return.

    So maybe I’m not at the best school ever for a postdoc, and maybe I’ll never be a Nobel prize-winning scientist. I can live with that, because I come home to my wife, and we enjoy our evenings together. I love my career, but I’m not sacrificing everything for it.

  41. My husband’s research group leader handed this letter around a few months ago at a research group meeting. Everyone was a little surprised, because this guy isn’t the sort to joke around. It turned out it wasn’t being passed around for its humour value. He wanted to “show them what sort of competition they were up against” and what they would need to do to keep up.

  42. @grymrpr-I swear to god that is David Cross.
    @snig-that was good

    and re-this letter. Oh, the stories I’m sure some of the respondents here could tell, I’m sure.

  43. Only 5 years out of school and already shuch an ass. He must have come from the factory that way.

  44. Searching through the older papers ( //www.carreira.ethz.ch/publications/1988-2004 ), I see that Guido only had one paper with the lab, and not until 4 years later (2000). And he was second author, though it was a JACS paper. Some professors tell their postdocs straight up, “A paper in 6 months or you’re fired”.
    If the letter seems out of the ordinary to other people in science or even chemistry, this is really the attitude of organic chemists (and particularly, those doing natural product synthesis). Many chemistry postdocs work 40 hours (or less), but these organic synthesis profs want 60-80 hours + another 20 of reading literature. I remember some grad students and postdocs saying that their professor had complained at group meeting that he had driven by the chemistry building and the lights in the lab were off… at 2:00 am. And then they said that there was only one guy who he never complained about hours to, and that guy had a cot in his office…

  45. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate and dedicated. Scientific experiments often require long hours of commitment. However, the psychopathy illustrated in this letter is one of the reasons I won’t be pursuing a post-doctorate in academics. Already having experienced something similar during my Ph.D., I doubt very much the value of these kinds of demands. If anything, this kind of behaviour only serves to run one down more so than the sometime frustration of bench work. I find it impossible to believe that physical hours logged equates to quality of science, especially when often times the person demanding said hours provides little to no intellectual input and expresses only a shallow interest in your work, yet ultimately profits from it.

  46. Almost certainly a violation of university policy. And definitely a violation of State of California employment laws.

    These days an Assistant Professor who put such a statement in writing would risk dismissal. Universities don’t really like unnecessary law suits.

    I really see no reason not to publish such a letter. I would certainly consider doing so had I been treated in that way.

    One question I have not seen asked is whether Carreira himself was working that hard. If not he is an even bigger fraud.

    One of the things I have noticed about academics is the smug belief that somehow their profession allows them to behave in ways that would be considered outrageous in any other field.

    CMU-CERT is the co-ordinating center for computer security incidents. So in the mif 90s they were the point contact for reporting security vulnerabilities in software. Only they didn’t publish the name of the person who discovered the vulnerabilities. When I pointed out that this is called plagiarism they replied that they didn’t consider it so, even thought there were numerous complaints, because the reports came from private consultants, not academic researchers.

    They changed their policy after I pointed out that I would be making a formal complaint to the university proctors next time I see a report that fails to properly cite the discoverer.

    Sure the supply of post-docs may exceed the number of slots by a long way. But the current problem for academia is that their career process means that they end up missing the best.

    A grad student who goes into industry will earn several times more than a post-doc. And they can also expect to be paid considerably more throughout their career. On top of that they can expect to have better working conditions, less politics and considerably better job security.

    Yes a full professor is in theory tenured. But they only get tenure after two decades of chronic job insecurity. Before they get to that point they have to go through a whole series of temporary and fixed term appointments.

  47. Spent some time at Caltech, and the Chemistry department there is apparently legendary for this sort of stuff, even above and beyond the IMO absurd time commitments that top research institutes expect from grad students and postdocs in all departments.

    My favorite Caltech Chem story was the prof who told his grad student that it was unacceptable that she was out of the lab Sunday mornings to attend church. The self-important audacity it would take to say this to an employee with a straight face beggars the imagination.

    But as a graduate student, I have a hard time believing that someone who’d finished a PhD wouldn’t foresee these expectations for a postdoc at Caltech. If I were willing to take a job with low pay, long hours, an openly stated lack of job security, and few opportunities for advancement, then I would have foregone the bachelor’s and gone to work straight out of high school – the lure of academic freedom is apparently that strong to some, not to me, but who am I to judge?

  48. Some people forget that folks in mining and factory towns were shot in the streets less than a century ago trying to establish a 40 hour work week.

  49. Just for prespective, the fine arts can be every bit as bad as this. My wife basically doesn’t remember the first year of her grad work (in theatre) due to extreme chronic sleep deprivation. She spent an awful lot of very short nights sleeping under her desk, rather than waste a valuable hour coming home and going back in in the morning.

    In her second and third years, she imposed a 14 hour workday on herself. She imposed this as a maximum, the work imposed it as a minimum. Sometimes she’d take one day off a week, sometimes not. This was a great improvement over the first year.

    All this is not to justify this sort of ridiculous treatment, but just to point out it’s not confined to the sciences.

  50. Considering my position as a grad student in synthetic organic chemistry (the field of Carreira), I feel obliged to chime in. The expectations put forward in the letter are exactly the expectations one would expect to find anywhere else in the field. He is not being as asshole as many of you have opined.

    I think many of you are looking at this as a normal job, which it most certainly is not. Graduate students and post-docs are there to learn under the guidance of the advisor. Let me stress, it is not about getting X amount of work done for Y dollars. It is about learning from the advisor with the bonus that you get paid (just not a lot.) Studying under Carreira is a huge resume booster that I could only wish to have the chance to get.

    1. Sorry but being a bastard should never be the norm. Being a well regarded bastard is no excuse. Just like his letter alluded the world has plenty of brilliant but vile people. If he can’t get his research done without demanding 24/7 work from his grad students then he maybe he isn’t that good.

    2. For bunnies sakes. In which planet do you live?

      It is people like you who should get organized en mass, and protest against this treatment and demand strict regulation regarding this kind of positions.

      Justifying general malpractice ia a field or profession is frankly asinine.

    3. i dont care if Dr. Carreira won numerous awards. At the end of the day, he’s just an overblown egoistic bastard who doesnt care about his students. Sure, when you finish your PhD/postdoc in his lab (if you survive)and you published in a good journal, you will have an edge. But come on, youve got one life and honestly, i wont waste 2 years of my life working for someone who would run me down and destroy my psychological well-being.

  51. “Hi, welcome to legalized slavery! Now, my life as a grad student was a shitty hellhole so I’m going to make sure your’s is also. I didn’t get laid until I was 30 and even then I paid for a hooker. I’m also on antidepressents. I expect all my students to be equally miserable.”

  52. His bio page says he won the “Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology Annual Award in Teaching, and a Richard M. Badger Award in Teaching.”

  53. If you are getting into one of these crappy situations, plan that you have some documentation for your long hours. You may work the hours without protest, at straight time, but there should be some kind of initial agreement that you sign with the company or institution which outlines your rate of pay, for hours worked.
    Sign your time sheet, do not let your department head or supervisor sign on your behalf. (this is important if they are falsifying your employment records). Put in your hours, don’t just sign “Worked “.
    Make note of your hours somewhere, write it down when you get home every day.Make notes if someone came back with a revised time sheet that they had you sign. Computer files that could be revised later don’t seem to count for much, sorry!
    A year or two later, should it not work out (say after a letter like this), contact your labour standards arm of the government, show your documentation, and request all of your additional unpaid overtime pay, or worst case, your additional pay to bring you to the minimum wage for the jurisdiction you are in.
    If labour standards won’t support you, perhaps your Federal Department of Labour will.
    I have been down this road, on both sides. At some point, if your employer wanted you to work 22 hours a day, they should write it down. Their legal should be happy to sign off on it(smile).

    How may hours a day can you work?
    Here is the State of Georgia on breaks and hours:

    “No State nor Federal law requires meal periods or breaks. If you are willing, the boss can work you 24 hours a day provided you are 16 years of age or older”.
    -Really makes you want to rush right out and get your Air Brakes Certification.

  54. *snort* The EU just release a press-release that self-employed people can’t work more than sixty hours a week. I wonder what they would say about this.

  55. @Dan Mac, #103

    The problem in science is that you are wholly dependent on your supervisor. I need my PhD supervisor to be on-side, so he can help me produce my thesis, arrange examiners,and similar. If he doesn’t like me because I’m making a fuss about working hours, it gets that much more difficult for him to care.

    A post-doc needs publications – first-author publications to have any chance of a future career, and the supervisor has the influence to direct the funding, and other work in the lab, to further your publication goals. No papers = no job later. If you want all the way to post-doc level, you are probably past 30, and your prospects of starting another career at the bottom are pretty poor.

    They won’t ever put it in writing, because they know that the employee is forced to put that pressure on themselves anyway. Scientists are cheap, because there are so many, for so few positions.

    I’m leaving science – even though I think I could deal with doing post-docs, the risk of not getting high-impact papers is too high. Even if I did, there is only one group leader position for hundreds of post-docs.

  56. If anything, this thread proves that Boingboing’s readership is heavily populated with scientists!

    As a self-taught software engineer, I feel rather intimidated now…

  57. z7q2:

    In my opinion you have nothing to feel intimidated about. I think this thread only proves that this many scientists were interested enough of the subject to post.

    Making any statistical assumptions about data that depends on people’s interest to voluntarily post something usually ends up losing to counting rain drops as productive use of time.

    ( Yes, I read yours as a bit tongue-in-cheek reply so this was ment as such also. )

  58. I know it was like 80 comments ago, but your first comment made me laugh so hard, I shot udon out of my nose!

  59. I know this sounds harsh but I am going to play the devil’s advocate here. The job market is really hard and a postdoc usually lasts for a year or two. The competition is very tough for a field like organic synthesis and only the best are ever going to land a job at a first-rate university or company. If you could work with a top scientist like Carreira and have his name on your resume, get some papers in a top journal and have some pretty good jobs lined up for you, wouldn’t you be willing to work weekends and slave off for a year or two? I am not saying it’s pretty or it’s justified but think about it; a year or two slaving off could get you a great job and a good life for a long time. In the long-term it does not sound awful.

  60. It’s douches like this that keep people away from getting into the sciences in this country.

    No wonder we have fallen so far behind in research and scientific advances…. after all anyone smart enough to get into those fields is probably also smart enough to know that they can probably get lots more money with actually reasonable hours and not have to deal with dillholes this power-hungry Carreira guy.

  61. There is much to be said about the modern university/research institution as an unsustainable enterprise. This will rectify itself, as a career in academia is an increasingly unattractive option for many people. The narcissism of academics is astounding, yet most of them cannot even manage their own lives. They end up bullying their charges as a sick kind of compensation for their own sense of inadequacy as human beings.

    HIgher education is extremely ill. This does not bode well for a future that will require a good deal of creativity to get us out of the environmental mess we have created for ourselves. In other words, higher education is building up to an enormous FAIL.

    Unfortunately this is not much solace for those suffering under these types of environments, and my heartfelt sympathies go out to them.

  62. This letter really gave the post doc an iron clad lawsuit.

    Grad students are in a worse spot as universities fight hard to keep them classified as “students” despite their obvious hybrid employee/student situation.

    You know what would really help though? If scientists would talk to each other about this crap. If your advisor is like this guy you should be telling every prospective post-doc or graduate student. Seems like nobody does. The PI can be a basket-case literally going insane and the other lab members will say nothing about it to potential new hires.

    Once nobody will join his lab, or everyone who does wants to work 7 days a week 12 hours a day everything will be fine.

  63. A friend of my mother’s is a professor (not in science but language). She makes roughly 100K (CAD) but she is literally ravaged by stress from the one-upmanship, competition and back-stabbing she experiences at work.

    Last year, she was worried about a lump in her breast. It turned out to be benign, but she was telling my mom she felt guilty that a tiny part of her had wished to be badly ill. “Maybe then I could have taken a little break without people trying to gut me for it”.

    People are NOT machines. And life is short.

  64. What’s really fucked up are PhD students who are paid only as TAs and have to actually teach 20 hours a week in addition to doing their research because their professor doesn’t fund them as an RA. So teach 20 hours, research 40 hours, and take classes. It’s much easier for your adviser to fire you than it is to fire your adviser and go work for someone else. I’m glad the lab has a couch so I can take naps during 24 hour experiment runs that I have to stay and monitor. I’m interviewing for industry jobs that will pay me more to start than my soon-to-be-tenured adviser makes. I like teaching, but I refuse to stay in academia.

  65. I was gonna make a silly comment about how I was glad I didn’t work there, but then I realized I was at work till 1:30am, drove an hour to go home, then back up this morning in the office by 9am, and I’m sure I’ll be here till midnight or later tonight. Crap! I _do_ work there! :)

    1. I almost did the same thing last night around midnight. Then I realized I was still at the office. On my way back in now.

      Have a nice weekend everyone. Enjoy your movie visual effects.

      You’re welcome.

  66. This happens all of the time in biology, too. When I was an undergrad at Berkeley some 15 years ago, the grad students passed around a copy of the following memo from Robert Tjian, professor of biochemistry:


    To: All Lab Members
    Fm: Robert Tjian
    Re: Dismal Attendance at Group Meetings and Slack Work Ethics

    From now on, I or someone designated by me will take attendance at group meetings starting at 9:10 am. If you are not there, I will not sign your salary sheets. Also, if you haven’t noticed the number of people working on weekends and nights in the lab is the worst I’ve seen in my 17 years. The frequency of vacation, time taken off and other non-lab activities is bordering on the ridiculous. In case you forgot, the standard amount of time you are supposed to take is 2 weeks a year total, including Christmas. If there isn’t a substantial improvement in the next few months, I’ll have to think of some draconian measures to “motivate” you. I also want to say that the average lab citizenship and community spirit of keeping the lab in functioning order is at an all-time low. Few people seem to care about fixing broken equipment and making sure things in the lab run smoothly. If the lab were extremely productive and everyone was totally focused on their work, I might understand the slovenliness but productivity is abysmal and if we continue along this path we will surely reach mediocrity in no time.
    Finally, those of you who are “lame ducks” because you have a job and are thinking of your own nibs, so long as you are here you are still full-fledged members of this lab, which means participating in all aspects of the lab (i.e. group meetings, Asilomar, postdoc seminars, etc.)
    I realize that this memo won’t solve all the problems. so I am going to schedule a meeting with each one of you starting this Saturday and Sunday and continuing on weekends until I’ve had a chance to speak with everyone and to give you a formal evaluation. Sign up for an appointment time on the sheet outside my door.
    This is the first time I’ve had to actually write a memo of this type and I hope
    it’s the last time.

    Robert Tjian

    Indeed, it has come to pass that the Tjian lab has sunk into mediocrity, but I would posit that the cause wasn’t the lax work ethic, but rather the tyrannical management.

  67. Typical academic attitude toward postdocs. Sad, really. On the other hand, it’s good for upcoming scientists to get a taste of what awaits in their future.

  68. As someone familiar with crunch time (Silicon Valley ship dates – yay!), I can attest (and numerous studies have found) that our brains turn to mush once you brush past the 10-hour mark, or extended periods of no-weekend activity.
    From a productivity standpoint, there’s no reason for 12- or more hour workdays or no/limited weekends.
    What it does do is give everyone slaving away the illusion that they’re über-important doing über-important tasks, and gives managers the erroneous impression that they’re badasses of the highest order.

    > In short, it’s an ego-boost, not a productivity one.

    Work smarter, lab (and cubicle) monkeys, not harder!

  69. Don’t put up with this bullshit. I’m not rich, but I do try to tell people: Do what you want. It’s the only job you’ll be happy having.

    If you work hard, you’ll get good at it. And if you f*cking read BoingBoing, you should be savvy enough to make a buck doing it.

  70. This may be standard practice, but this guy goes out of his way to be a dick about it:

    “If you are unable to meet the expected work-schedule, I am sure that I can find someone else as an appropriate replacement for this important project.”

    That is – “if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who will.” That’s a threat.

    He could have said, “.. we work these hours, as was noted in the job description. (Assuming it was). If you can’t work these hours, let me know.”

    Maybe that’s too nice for this guy. Maybe he gets off on giving underlings a hard time. That’s the only time he ever gets to feel like a bad ass.

  71. While they were waiting to board a flight a lawyer, a doctor and and chemist got to talking about whether it was better to have a husband or a boyfriend. The lawyer said a boyfriend was better because it doesn’t cost much to change when you get bored. The doctor voted for the husband because you could depend on him to work while you went to med school. When they turned to the chemist she said it was better to have both because the husband would think you were with the boyfriend and the boyfriend would think you were with the husband so you were then free to spend more time at the lab.

  72. Caltech has a classic, “FU, learn up” approach, which is essentially the antithesis of education. They don’t want to be associated with such low-brow concerns as education, because they have ostensibly more important things to do, like building bombs or discrediting string theory or something. They may be right about string theory, but they suck as educators.

  73. I’m a grad student…not hard sciences though, but this sounds like my life. I put in about 12-14 hours a day weekdays, but on weekends I get a bit of a break as I usually only work 5-8 hours then. What non-working hours I do get are usually dedicated to laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. Since I’d die without SOME semblance of s social life (or rather, my girlfriend would leave me if I didn’t spend some quality time with her), the thing that must give is sleep. I usually squeeze in 4-5 hours on weekdays, but on weekends often get up to 7. Once or twice a month I even manage to have sex before passing out with exhaustion.

    And, of course, my professors think I don’t spend enough time working.

  74. The no. of PhD openings I feel are way too less than the no. of people capable of doing good research.And thus the anarchy. Academic rules should help promote research but not use bureaucracy to stop the development of science. (My comment is not particular to this document)- Buzzlightyear

  75. Since 2003, US medical residents “only” work 80 hours a week. Per Wikipedia:

    The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has limited the number of work-hours to 80 hours weekly, overnight call frequency to no more than one overnight every third day, 30 hour maximum straight shift, and 10 hours off between shifts. While these limits are voluntary, adherence has been mandated for the purposes of accreditation.

  76. I never thought it was possible for a chemical engineer, college student or faculty member of any institute of higher education to be unaware of the 420 phenomonon. How can a struggling student be expected to succeed without devoting time to such valuable introspection and intellectual stimulation? In the future, this student will most likely become a business leader and owner while the mindless devoted workers (like his Prof) will slave away for him to earn pennies for endless hours of intellectual labor. Who is teaching and who is learning here??

  77. Okay, so, my question is:

    Why don’t they spend the time they’d spend screaming at people instead reviewing productivity, adjusting salaries (probably downward) and using that money to hire new people to work extra shifts? Then you end up with everyone making less, but, people getting to work the hours they like, a couple more people with postdoc jobs, and the same net number of hours are worked.

    Maybe this is some crazy, unachievable, utopian idea, but if it is I’d love to know why.

  78. It is easy to take the postdoc’s side. But in academia, this situation is not unusual.

    As for the expectations, it’s the PI’s lab to run how he wants. Academia is not a job to do if you care about how much you are paid per hour. Some disciplines are largely 9-5, other (usually lab-based) disciplines require coming in weekends and evenings. Working hard is an investment that will pay off as publications, which ultimately, is the only way the postdoc can get a permanent position and the research goals accomplished. There are far fewer positions than postdocs so it is a painful stage. There are many who don’t like the system, many more are simpy not suitable to academia.

    Yes, the system is geared towards research productivity. This is what the government and donors are paying the PI to achieve. This is what it’s all about.

    Bottom line is, some labs are like this and they are not suitable for people who like to do their own thing, work at their own pace. I am now a professor and have never worked in a lab like this. It wouldnt be a good match for me. But there is nothing wrong with running your lab like this. Obviously this kind of working enviornment will break or demotivate some people. But looks like Prof Carreira has done really well in general.

    Oh and as to why there is a letter like this, it is really difficult to terminate someone’s appointment without fair warning given in advance in written form. Once you’re on this side of the fence, you suddenly understand a lot of university correspondence. Covering..

  79. I found you man !!!!!


    ETH Zürich
    Prof. Dr. Erick M. Carreira

    Erick M. Carreira was born in Havana, Cuba in 1963. He obtained a B.S. degree in 1984 from the University of Illinois at Urbana­Champaign under the supervision of Scott E. Denmark and a Ph.D. degree in 1990 from Harvard University under the supervision of David A. Evans. After carrying out postdoctoral work with Peter Dervan at the California Institute of Technology through late 1992, he joined the faculty at the same institution as an assistant professor of chemistry and subsequently was promoted to the rank of associate professor of chemistry in the Spring of 1996, and full professor in Spring 1997. Since September 1998, he has been full professor of Organic Chemistry at the ETH Zürich. He is the recipient of the American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry, Nobel Laureate Signature Award, Fresenius Award, a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science, Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award, Merck Young Investigator Award, Eli Lilly Young Investigator Award, Pfizer Research Award, National Science Foundation CAREER Award, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award, and a Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award. He is also the recipient of the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology Annual Award in Teaching and a Richard M. Badger Award in Teaching.

    His research program focuses on the asymmetric synthesis of biologically active, stereochemically complex, natural products. Target molecules are selected which pose unique challenges in asymmetric bond construction. A complex multistep synthesis endeavor provides a goal-oriented setting within which to engage in reaction innovation and design. Drawing from the areas of organometallic chemistry, coordination chemistry, and molecular recognition, Carreira’s group is developing catalytic and stoichiometric reagents for asymmetric stereocontrol.

  80. Carreira learned it from his old boss, Scott Denmark.

    Like many in academia, upon graduation Mr. Carreira found himself in competition for grants with… his old boss. “Rats. Guess I’ll have to work harder.”

    And so it goes.

    I’ve seen near identical letters from other graduate students in organic chemistry – makes me wonder if Dr. C. used a template… The funny thing is, they get saved – perhaps as later validation of a “rite of passage?”

    I passed on graduate school – too much screwing around. Twenty years later I work 35 – 65 hours a week (workload dependent) as an industrial organic chemist at the full scientist level. I make good money, and I get more done in a week than most grad. students get done in a month. The compounds I make are generally used to treat sick people. Now who’s the smart one?


  81. Well, welcome to academia. There’s nothing particularly grueling about science in this. If you want to do serious work in the humanities, you’re going to be putting in nights and weekends as well, although at least it won’t be at the beck and call of a senior professor. And if you aren’t willing to put in the time, you’re going to be held in contempt by those of us who do. For anyone who would rather work 9-5, good for you. But I wouldn’t trade my career of the last 30 years for yours.

  82. This is a major reason there are so few women in the sciences. When I was in grad school, there were four female professors in chemistry or physics. Dozens of male professors. None of the female professors had children. I am a female engineer, 43 years old, not married, no children. I have no regrets about this decision, but I did feel that I had to choose either the career or the family, and there was no way I could do both.

  83. Their Way
    (Bob Blue)

    I came, I bought the books, lived in the dorm, followed directions.
    I worked, I studied hard, made lots of friends that had connections.
    I crammed, they gave me grades, and may I say, not in a fair way,
    But more, much more than this, I did it their way.

    I learned so many things, although I know I’ll never use them.
    The courses that I took were all required, I didn’t choose them.
    You’ll find that to survive, it’s best to play the doctrinaire way
    And so I knuckled down and did it their way.

    Yes there were times I wondered why I had to cringe when I could fly.
    I had my doubts, but after all, I clipped my wings and learned to crawl.
    I learned to bend, and in the end I did it their way.

    And now, my fine young friends, now that I am a full professor,
    Where once I was oppressed, now I’ve become the cruel oppressor.
    With me, you’ll learn to cope, you’ll learn to climb life’s golden stairway.
    Like me, you’ll see the light and do it their way.

    For what is a man? What can I do?
    Open your books, read chapter two.
    And if it seems a bit routine,
    Don’t talk to me, go see the Dean.
    They get their way, I get my pay.
    We do it their way.

    Copyright Bob Blue

  84. Unfortunately, Dr. Carreira is correct. Not right, but correct. Working 40 hours per week is freakishly lazy by the standards of top hard science labs.

    Scientists, believe it or not, aren’t stupid. Some of us choose to work more to advance our careers or help society or do what we love. The element missing from all the scientist-mocking is the genuine joy of discovery. Some of us do this because we actually enjoy our jobs. We do have other options, such as going to less elite labs, or industry.

    On that note, it is interesting that the recipient of the email, Dr. Guido Koch, has been working at Novartis since slightly after receiving that letter. I would guess that he now publishes far fewer papers, and earns far more money, than Dr. Carreira. Who is happier, or more fulfilled? No idea.

  85. There will always be people who allow this kind of maltreatment to continue. Those who can work the long hours quietly replace those who cave under pressure. Eventually they rise to professorial positions and repeat the cycle of abuse. How many people delude themselves about their love of science and the importance of their work so they can feed their egos and add meaningless lines to their resumes.

  86. My former boss must have read this, bc it is almost exactly the same speech that he have our lab at a lab meeting. If you need to be in the lab that much on a constant basis, and are not pumping out multiple papers a year or at least one big one a year, you suck as a scientist. Plain and simple. Good experimental planning and not running on empty all of the time is a far more productive approach.

  87. Wow!!!….. and I thought I was the only one with a slave driver as a boss at caltech!!… Seriously!, the SAME behavior!

  88. 14 years later, I finally saw this letter which is given by my advisor. I should say what an ass hole he is. Professors are wasting our money and produce trash papers.

  89. I am a PhD student in Organic Chemistry in a lab very similar in work ethic to this, however without the draconian professor. However 16 hour days 6 days a week with one day of the weekend off (your choice obv) is unfortunately the only way to get good quality research done, and you must remember that Erick Carreria is one hell of a chemist! Lighten up a little people, those who really want the job would take the hours and the “abuse” for that name on a CV.

  90. Someone put the Erick to Guildo letter on the notice board at work, I thought at first it was joke but evidently not! If I had been Guido I would have continued with 9-5 and waited to get sacked, and then sued Erick and Caltech for every penny they had.

    I’m a scientist, I even went “back to school” in my 30s to get a PhD so I could stay as a scientist, anything to stop me having to get a proper job :-) I thought I had had some bad bosses in my time but even my worst ones would let me go home at weekends.

    I now work at a synchrotron and it’s not a 9-5 job. When the synchrotron beam is on experiments are running 24/7 and sometimes you have to be there late and/or at weekends to help synchrotron users do their experiments. But not every day or every weekend. At my previous job, also at a synchrotron, I got politely told off for spending too much time at the lab when I was doing my own research!

    There are so many holes you could drive through this letter, not only is it circumventing labour laws but with experimental chemistry there are serious safety implications. Do you really want to be doing synthesis with nasty chemicals at midnight for the nth day in a row? Glad I’m no longer a synthetic chemist.

    My wife is from California and she said that Caltech had a reputation of working hard and playing hard! Didn’t Feynman have time to play his bongo drums as well as winning a Nobel prize?

  91. The answers to all the discussions are very simple:

    Where is the hotbed of the most new ideas and innovations?

    Is it a University or Industry?

    I never understood why people shy away from working more hours than they are paid for(of course its a personal choice)?? But is it always about the money??

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