WHAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS REALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK ?

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HAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS ACTUALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK 

          Almost nobody in the general public has ever met and talked with a real living scientist.  Hence, beyond the generalizations that scientists “do research” and “teach about science”,  most people have no idea at all about what scientists work on during their daily job activities.  To fill this gap, the typical daily work of scientists employed as faculty in universities is described here.

 

          To understand science and research, one must also know about scientists.  For the first half of their faculty career, university scientists conduct experimental studies on one or several research projects which are supported by the award of external research grants.  This involves their own hands-on work in a research laboratory, supervision of laboratory staff (undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research technicians, visiting research workers, etc.), analysis of experimental data, and the publication of research reports presenting the results and conclusions from their investigations.  Appropriate time also must be given to ordering, checking on functionality of research equipment, design and planning of future experiments, problem solving with laboratory co-workers, dealing with questions arising as the experimental results are being collected, writing (research reports, new grant applications, other documents, and, books), etc.  Many faculty scientists additionally teach in one or two courses for undergraduate or graduate students.  As faculty, they also pursue various other academic activities, such as giving and attending research seminars, working with graduate training programs, attending various meetings of institutional committees and departments, attendance in graduation and other institutional ceremonies, participation and attendance at one or more annual science meetings, etc.   And finally, most of these scientists have a spouse and children, and so also need to spend some time working with their family, as well as with personal activities. 

 

          At sometime during the second half of their career, many university research scientists commonly decrease the time spent with their laboratory work, and begin to do more teaching, more writing of books, and/or more administrative work (e.g., as a divisional chief or focus director, vice-chair or chair of a department, committee head, liaison official, university representative to some venture, assistant dean, etc.).  Some also begin working off-campus much more than was previously done, by accepting responsibility for serving on various official external bodies (e.g., review boards, councils, and professional science societies, regional research facilities, publishing houses, accreditation boards, etc.).  In principle, their activities in teaching, administration, and public service all utilize the advanced experience of these senior individuals to directly and indirectly benefit other people. 

 

          The daily toil of scientists working in a university varies depending upon the different individuals, institutions, and local conditions.  Nevertheless, on a typical workday for a youngish faculty scientist, many or all of the following activities take place:

1.   thinking, questioning, and planning;

2.   reviewing the schedule for activities on that day and planned for that week;

3.   confer with laboratory staff about their new results, new problems, and current plans for progress;

4.   review research data: analysis, plotting and processing for presentation, statistics, etc.;

5.   hands-on research experiments at the laboratory bench;

6.   lectures, examinations, meetings, etc., for courses taught;

7.   administrative tasks, including filling in required forms and reports, interactions with the

safety office and the financial office, attendance at committee meetings, etc.;

8.   research grants: preparation of annual reports and forms, advance preparations for next

renewal application, review of progress and pilot studies, etc.;

9.   work on journal or review publications, abstracts for meetings, internal documents, etc.;

10.  library work, reading activities, studying a few selected recent publications in detail, gathering

            references and citations for manuscripts; and, 

11. miscellaneous: commuting, lunch, telephoning, e-mail, other individual activities, etc. 

 

          It should be very obvious that this daily work schedule requires a whole big bunch of time!  For the many other doctoral scientists doing research and development in commercial settings, their daily schedule is made slightly more reasonable because they usually share some work duties with co-workers, and are effectively assisted by a dedicated administrative, secretarial, and technical staff.  Those researchers working as faculty scientists in universities and hospitals often find that they have severe problems with time management, and necessarily must decrease the amount of time allotted to normal extraneous activities.

          The very busy daily schedule of university faculty scientists is compensated by their receiving a decent salary, working inside a scholarly home with other doctoral faculty and professional researchers, having access to good students, and utilizing the resources provided by an on-campus well-equipped science library.  In addition, they hopefully will achieve the thrill of being the first to acquire some much-desired research discovery, and, all are able to have the fun of doing research within “my own laboratory”. 

 

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