Workloads: 9 to 5 is far from reality for scientists

Data show how much work conservation biologists do outside office hours

August 22, 2013

Researchers have long lamented that they are forced to do much of their work late at night or at weekends – and now they have the beginnings of an evidence base to support their claims.

A study has found that academics working in conservation biology submit more than a quarter of their journal papers late at night or at weekends, with Japanese, Chinese and Indian academics the most likely to toil outside normal working hours.

The study analysed the day and time for the online submission of 10,000 manuscripts and almost 15,000 reviews to the Elsevier journal Biological Conservation, correcting for time zones and different working weeks.

Worldwide the results show that scientists submit 16 per cent of manuscripts between 7pm and 7am, and 11 per cent of manuscripts and 12 per cent of reviews at weekends. Figures for the time of day for review submissions are not available.

According to Richard Primack, professor of biology at Boston University and one of the authors of “Are conservation biologists working too hard?”, an editorial in Biological Conservation, the biggest surprise was how working patterns differed across the world.

It’s always time for work

Including both weekend and night-time submissions, authors based in Japan, China and India submit about 40 per cent of their manuscripts outside regular work hours, while in countries including Belgium, Norway, Finland and South Africa, the figure is just 16 to 17 per cent. Czech and Polish biologists are the most likely to submit reviews at weekends ( per cent and 25 per cent, respectively).

Professor Primack said that anecdotal communication with scientists across the world backed up the results. Academics in India and China tended not to distinguish weekends from weekdays, he said, but in Belgium and Scandinavia there was a strong mentality that work should ideally be done only during office hours.

Compared with their peers, American and British scientists have average work habits, the study shows.

However, British scientists still submit 9 per cent of manuscripts and 14 per cent of reviews at weekends, and almost 13 per cent of manuscripts outside office hours.

The study – which was co-authored by Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, associate professor in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and Lian Pin Koh, of ETH Zurich – found that the tendency to submit outside normal working hours has been increasing at a rate of about 5 to 6 per cent a year since 2004, the point at which data on e-submissions became available.

The rise was likely down to increasing pressure to publish, as well as technology allowing around-the-clock activity, said Professor Primack. He added that universities should give more credit to the time academics spend submitting papers and grants and carrying out peer review.

The authors would now like to see whether similar working patterns apply outside conservation biology.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

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