Faculty research scientists working at modern universities always are very busy (see my post on “What do Scientists Actually do in their Daily Work” in the Scientists category). Almost none can avoid having their professional life being characterized by far too many deadlines. Some job deadlines are yearly or monthly events, while others occur weekly and even daily. For many university scientists, there are major deadlines for submitting applications for competitive grant renewals or new research grants, annual forms and reports to the granting agency, signed forms going to the employing institution, and, yet other business and financial submissions related to research grant awards. These deadlines for research grant activities in turn create secondary deadlines for sending in new or revised manuscripts to professional journals, submitting abstracts for science meetings, and getting certain lab results finalized. Yet other deadlines occur intermittently throughout the academic year, involving lectures and examinations in university courses, safety inspections, chemical inventory updates, radiation usage reports and inspections, graduate student meetings and examinations, writing invited chapters for new science books, participating in journal clubs, obtaining travel approvals and arrangements, preparing and giving invited seminars at other institutions, attending meetings of science societies, reviewing assigned manuscripts, etc. Most of these many deadlines cannot be avoided or postponed.
For industrial research scientists working at research and development centers in commercial companies, there also are very many job deadlines. Progress in their projects must be kept on a mandated schedule, formal internal reports must be prepared and approved by the target dates, supplies must be acquired in certain business periods, presentations for internal and external meetings must be finalized and approved, proposals for patent applications and future investigations must be generated and finalized, training of new staff employees must be finished during the allowed period, and, all assigned tasks must be brought forward to meet targeted goals set by the commercial employer. Most of these deadlines cannot be postponed or ignored. The fact that industrial scientists often work on more than one project intensifies the number of their deadlines.
Of course, every salaried worker in almost any type of non-science job also has deadlines. This is normal and serves to encourage progress in the job. But, here I am describing something much larger and more extensive. When the schedule of one’s entire job life becomes only an endless series of deadlines, the main question each and every day then is, “What is my next deadline?”. This is typical for the life of university scientists actively doing grant-supported research. It is truly like running on a treadmill and being unable to jump off. If a deadline ever is not met, there always are unfortunate consequences. The traditional solution to this problem is to hire more helpers (e.g., lab coworkers, secretaries, a lab manager/administrator, graduate students); this does not always work as anticipated, since these new personnel also add to the existing pile of deadlines. Common casual attempts to deal with the problem of too numerous deadlines also do not usually work very well (e.g., thinking about new experiments while one is driving to work or taking a train, preparing the agenda for a committee meeting while eating lunch, analyzing experimental data just before going to bed, etc.).
In addition to requiring great discipline, much stamina, and intense dedication, the endless deadlines for scientists often produce some very negative effects. Ultimately, the frazzled working scientist begins to feel that he or she is doing something in a very mechanical manner. Most importantly, the endless deadlines readily conflict with the very important need of all scientists to spend some time simply thinking about their present and future research activities (e.g., how can I make this experiment give clearer results, do I have enough of a certain very expensive chemical to last for the rest of this year or should I purchase more now, should I pay an external service lab to run this assay or is it better to do it in-house, what should I do about my graduate student being a very slow worker?). The numerous deadlines too easily also can result in there being little or no time to spend elsewhere for family life and normal outside activities.
At its worst, the dedicated university or industrial scientist trying to deal with all their job deadlines never has sufficient free time to be able to think and generate new ideas, carefully design new experiments and good controls, dream up new research projects, or take a day off to organize and assemble a new presentation showing results of the latest experiments. The problem of time management created by all these many job deadlines is a major practical difficulty for university scientists doing research, and can also be a major job concern for industrial research scientists. I myself encountered this very large difficulty with handling deadlines, and in response I always used to work on weekends and most holidays! The time crunch induced by the endless deadlines inevitably has negative effects upon the professional work of scientists for advancing the research enterprise.
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