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SunnygirlDiana

Typical Hours for Inorganic, Physical, and Biological Chemists?

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Hi guys. Quick question:

 

In my undergraduate years, I worked in an organic methodology/catalysis lab, and from what I heard and experienced, organic chemists have a reputation for working very long hours each day (usually about 10-12).

 

For those of you studying at universities with a top 30 research program in chemistry, and are in Analytical, Inorganic, Biochemistry, Physical, or Theoretical chem labs, how long is a typical graduate student's average workday?

 

I was just curious if it was really true that only organic chemists would work these really long hours even at the top universities! xP

 

Please let me know, thanks!! :)

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Hi. Yes that's true, but I was just wondering how long the TYPICAL work day is for physical, theoretical and biochemists in particular, or if it is really that clear cut (because a lot of theoretical chemists work remotely, for example).

 

At least at my university, the only people who i see consistently work 12 hour days are the organic chemists. It is very rare that I saw analytical chemists, physical chemists, etc work very very long hours....but this may be due to other factors such as their advisor being nicer haha. Also, the chemistry program at the university i come from is not so good so there is also the possibility of the students here being "less intense"

 

In any event, I'd really appreciate if any non-organic chemists could share with me the length of their typical work day, and even better, some insight into what kinds of experiments and things they do each day! Thanks again!

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It can vary greatly depending on advisor. For most a typical day is 8-5, 9-6, like a regular work week, but the time frame is somewhat arbitrary. The time spent in the lab really depends on the work being done. I have peers that spend all day, not 18 hours, but the entirety of the day in the lab. But they are not doing work every minute of it (not even close), they would just rather spend their time at school then at their apartment, which is their choice. It is a question of time management. You do not have to "live" in the lab and I would recommend asking potential advisors on future visits of their work expectations. Obviously the majority of your day will be spent at school, it is a job and should be treated as such. But I personally wouldn't get involved with a group if you were expected to be in the lab ALL the time (12+ a day). A lot of students work on the weekends, for some it is mandatory. Analytical/physical/computational spend a lot of time on the computer (well it really depends on the project), and you are correct that a lot of that can be done at home. I personally will not work for someone who requires 12 hours a day as I have a family and care about spending time with them. You can accomplish a lot of work in a 10 hour day, a lot, you have just to manage your time wisely and work hard when your there. There will be times too where you put in a very long day, maybe 18h as mentioned above, it happens. But be realistic, the idea of doing back-to-back 18h shifts is a little unreasonable (by the time you got home, showered, ate, your looking at 4h sleep and consistently that would have a huge affect on your work). But for some, they might enjoy it. Like I said, this is a very important question to ask future potential advisors (it isn't inappropriate) and also group memebers, but take everything with a grain of salt as they will be trying to get you to go to their school.

Edited by Whisky-with-a-Y

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For the kinds of institutions that you applied to, 10-12 hours for 6-7 days a week is probably on the lower side in terms of average workdays in "wet" chemistry labs from my experience and observation (having worked in a synthetic inorganic lab at one of the institutions you applied to as well as doing my undergrad research in a synthetic inorganic/catalysis lab at east coast university). In organic chemistry at these top institutions, the average is probably closer to 14-16 hrs. For synthetic inorganic, the average might be slightly less, but that varies with group and advisor. I would counsel against choosing a sub-discipline based upon the work week; do what you love and then it wont matter. But my bias is for inorganic! For me, its just more fun-I love synthesizing metal complexes and working with inorganic spectroscopic techniques, I love doing detailed mechanistic studies, etc....

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Interesting thread topic - like you I have typically seen organic chemists working the longest hours in my department and the department I'm in right now is respected, but by no means as intense as top schools. I tend to be a person that likes clear cut working and non-working hours. I'm willing to work longer closer to deadlines, but I don't want to work for someone who will ask me why I wasn't in the lab at 2 am. 

 

Unrelated, but this just reminded me of the PI at my school who apparently has remote access to all of his student's work computers so he can see if they go on Facebook or Twitter during the day. A postdoc in my lab called it an invasion of privacy to his face but he just shrugged it off lol. Not working with someone like that either.

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Hi guys. Thanks for all the responses! 

 

 

 Obviously the majority of your day will be spent at school, it is a job and should be treated as such. But I personally wouldn't get involved with a group if you were expected to be in the lab ALL the time (12+ a day). A lot of students work on the weekends, for some it is mandatory. 

 

I tend to be a person that likes clear cut working and non-working hours. I'm willing to work longer closer to deadlines, but I don't want to work for someone who will ask me why I wasn't in the lab at 2 am. 

 

Yes, I agree with you guys in that I don't exactly want to be somewhere where my advisor expects me to be in lab ALL THE TIME. 

What I notice in general though is that no one is exactly "counting hours" in grad school,...that even though people approximate how many hours they "work" each day, they really just mean how long they are in lab each day. As Whisky said, a lot of people are "working" 15 hour days but are probably sitting at their desks browsing the internet, or eating, or reading papers for at least 4 of them. So you don't strictly have to follow that -- as long as you manage your work well, and get enough things done at your own pace, that is sufficient. No one will be hovering behind you to see how many hours you have stayed.

 

However, as fancyfeast said, I also like to know general working hours, just because it still gives an indication of what the advisor's expectations are like in terms of productivity.

 

I would counsel against choosing a sub-discipline based upon the work week; do what you love and then it wont matter. But my bias is for inorganic! For me, its just more fun-I love synthesizing metal complexes and working with inorganic spectroscopic techniques, I love doing detailed mechanistic studies, etc....

 

At this point, I'm pretty much committed to doing something that AT LEAST involves synthetic organic chemistry, mostly either organic catalysis/methodology or biochemistry. I don't exactly count hours when I work either, and whether I feel it is a good time to head home or not isn't really based on how many total hours I spent in lab as much as how much work (how many reactions) i got done that day. I was just posting this question out of pure curiosity. It just always seemed weird to me that organic chemists had to work more on average just because it's not like the other chemists aren't just as busy as us! Perhaps it is that there is more downtime on average for non-organic chemists in terms of waiting time for reactions, waiting for GCs to run, or for ordering things, or in the case of biologists, maybe in waiting for their cells to culture or their primers to arrive? Or maybe it is that organic chemistry experimental procedures just involve more intensive lab work -- for example, even if you are waiting for your reactions to run, you can always be columning, or extracting, or distilling, recrystallizing something etc and each of those things takes a significant amount of time....In any event, I have no idea, it is all just speculation and it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me haha!

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I spent 5-10 hours in the lab per day, 5-6 days a week during my MS in physics (experimental condensed matter physics) and expect to spend the same right now for my PHD in chemical physics (still finding groups).

 

Only 3-4 of those hours are actually doing experiments. The experiments are not that hard, in general, especially with commercial instrumentation. Fabricating the samples (cleaning, deposition, photolithography) is hard. Programming your instrument is hard. Analyzing them on the computer is hard. Programming a model is hard. Writing the papers are hard.

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work smart, plan your experiments carefully and intelligently. I've seen plenty of 3rd, 4th year students come in 6 days/week for 10 hrs/day and still have no papers published. Some established professors aren't willing to publish findings that aren't significant enough to get accepted to very good journals even though the materials are good enough for a decent journal. 

Edited by Quantum Buckyball

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work smart, plan your experiments carefully and intelligently. I've seen plenty of 3rd, 4th year students come in 6 days/week for 10 hrs/day and still have no papers published. Some established professors aren't willing to publish findings that aren't significant enough to get accepted to very good journals even though the materials are good enough for a decent journal.

I've seen this too - in my own lab even. Is the reason for lack of publications that far into ypur degree always due to the PI not wanting to publish in a lower tier journal or can you really get that unlucky with a project? I want to avoid this issue for myself lol.

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I've seen this too - in my own lab even. Is the reason for lack of publications that far into ypur degree always due to the PI not wanting to publish in a lower tier journal or can you really get that unlucky with a project? I want to avoid this issue for myself lol.

 

Yes, I've known 3 people on my floor had to change their project completely because research progression was way too slow.

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I've seen this too - in my own lab even. Is the reason for lack of publications that far into ypur degree always due to the PI not wanting to publish in a lower tier journal or can you really get that unlucky with a project? I want to avoid this issue for myself lol.

 

I've seen both cases in my lab.

 

Some students really are that unlucky -- one guy didn't publish a first author paper until his 5th year of grad school...which means all his reactions/projects failed his first four years. My advisor is the kind that will publish in any at least somewhat respsectable journal (maybe impact factor 3 or greater). On top of that, a lot of people in my lab can kinda just get away with being "drones"....i.e. my advisor engineers and designs the ideas behind the projects, and then just gets the grad students to run the experiments...so a lot of people in my group could possibly get away with never thinking of their own ideas for a project for five years and still publish....so in that guys case, even with both his input and hardwork AND my advisors ideas, he didn't succeed in getting a paper til the fifth year....

 

(Note: I think luck is still overemphasized at times...there is definitely a SKILL and hardwork component to this, and I notice that the most talented chemists generally either find a way to make their crappy projects work....or know when it is a good time to give up a project and move onto something new and more promising. So that should make some of us feel better knowing that we can actually do something about it and its not all about luck!!)

 

For some of the big, more established guys, Quantum is right in that they are kind of picky where they publish and won't unless it ends up in at least JACS or Angew Chem....in that case, let's hope that the advisor is a prestigious name, famous guy, and so can help you secure positions in industry / academia after your graduation through connections....in that case, sometimes it doesn't matter that you publish a lot, as much as your famous advisor just likes you and is a nice guy. Besides, graduate school is a means to a job, and the reason why people wanna publish a lot of papers is so they can get one -- if your advisor has enough power to help you do that despite not having a lot of pubs, you're still in the green!

Edited by SunnygirlDiana

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I'm in applied organic rather than total synthesis.

My PI has gone on record as saying he doesn't care if we only work 2 hrs a week, as long as we're productive (publishing, getting data).

But really, people only count hours when justifying g a lack of productivity- if your putting our papers and getting results for grants, no one (well, no reasonable PI) will look at the hours. They check the hours you're putti in when there is a lack of data.

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I'm in applied organic rather than total synthesis.

My PI has gone on record as saying he doesn't care if we only work 2 hrs a week, as long as we're productive (publishing, getting data).

But really, people only count hours when justifying g a lack of productivity- if your putting our papers and getting results for grants, no one (well, no reasonable PI) will look at the hours. They check the hours you're putti in when there is a lack of data.

 

omg yes

 

This guy on my floor kept telling first year students that he works 70+ hrs a week =.= and 80% of the time he's just doing protein purification....I mean...really......purification is not a real experiment unless you're dealing with membrane proteins.......just saying..... :rolleyes:

 

My coworkers always give me the crazy eyes whenever I say, "this is a data-driven lab"

Edited by Quantum Buckyball

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There's also the "work smarter, not harder" thing going on. 

 

Doing 10 hours of experiments a day to yield data on one or two, vs planning out your experiments better and getting useable data from all of them and spending less total time in the lab is fine, and generally healthier all around. 

 

Some PI's are looking for graduate students to be spare hands.They don't really care if you think/design your project, they want data, and they want you to gather that data. These PIs generally want you to work more in the lab, as more solid hours means they get more data. Not to generalize, but some of these PIs also don't care nearly as much about developing their graduate students as independent researchers. They just want data. 

 

Other PIs want their students, especially senior students, to come up with their own projects, design experiments, and show they are independent researchers. These PIs are likely to realize that working 80 hour weeks..... doesn't mesh very well with trying to keep up with the literature and take time to think through your projects. They're less likely to want to you to spend 80 hours a week in the lab, and more likely to want you to stay rested, sane, on top of things and work efficiently. 

 

Just some thoughts.

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Some PI's are looking for graduate students to be spare hands.They don't really care if you think/design your project, they want data, and they want you to gather that data. These PIs generally want you to work more in the lab, as more solid hours means they get more data. Not to generalize, but some of these PIs also don't care nearly as much about developing their graduate students as independent researchers. They just want data. 

 

Other PIs want their students, especially senior students, to come up with their own projects, design experiments, and show they are independent researchers. These PIs are likely to realize that working 80 hour weeks..... doesn't mesh very well with trying to keep up with the literature and take time to think through your projects. They're less likely to want to you to spend 80 hours a week in the lab, and more likely to want you to stay rested, sane, on top of things and work efficiently. 

 

Just some thoughts.

 

The first paragraph is a pretty accurate description of what I have done in my undergraduate lab. The second paragraph gives me so much hope for my future. Are you speaking that second part out of experience?

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Yep. It was my main consideration in choosing both a school and a group.

I've gotten to design my own projects, write large portions of several grants, and set up several new labs. It's been a fantastic experience, and one that makes me so much more ready and prepared for managing a research group of my own.

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Yep. It was my main consideration in choosing both a school and a group.

I've gotten to design my own projects, write large portions of several grants, and set up several new labs. It's been a fantastic experience, and one that makes me so much more ready and prepared for managing a research group of my own.

Awesome!! It sounds like you've definitely been around the block then! The potential PI i am looking into for grad school has a reputation for having high expectations in this regard and being big on training independent scientists, so it should be an enriching experience for me as well.

I'm just curious though. What did "setting up several new labs" entail for you? What kind of responsibilities did you have? Seems pretty involved...

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Honestly, it depends on multiple factors:

 

1) Your professor and how much time he wants you to work. This is the minimum.

2) Your desire to work. This is your maximum.

 

Aside from the minimum, I personally did not see either organic or inorganic or physical groups "spend" more time than one of the other. While some people say you have to "synthesize" for 12 hours or something, it may sound more time consuming than it actually is. I've seen many organic and inorganic students set up reactions and just leave for a few hours to go to the gym/enjoy themselves outside. I personally have been in the lab synthesizing and working in a glove box for 24+ hours (Hitting about 40 hours one day) with only 4 hours of that time being outside of the lab and department. I also have a friend that never leaves his room, but does a ton of computational chemistry on his computer in his room.

Edited by NoOneLikesAs

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Depends a lot on your PI and your motivation. I am in a catalysis/electrochemistry lab and people usually work 10-12 hours a day. Not all of it is spent doing busy work. You set up a reaction, you let it go, and much of the other time is spent analyzing data or reading up the literature or planning up the next experiment. Other activities involve building/diagnosing/repairing instrumentation, or preparing/doing group meeting. Other times people will be writing up a manuscript.

 

This counts an hour each for lunch and dinner, usually.

Edited by loginofpscl

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Im in theory and I work about 40 hours (productive, no disruption) a week, not counting meetings or mentoring undergrad students. My boss doesnt care if Im in the lab or not, as long as progress is made.

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