05 janeiro 2020

Trabalhando no feriado

An analysis of submissions to two top journals showed that scientists in the U.S. were highly likely to be working during holidays.
A study found that more than a tenth of U.S.-based researchers who submitted manuscripts and peer review reports to journals did so during the holidays.

By Dalmeet Singh Chawla

Dec. 18, 2019

Jay Van Bavel, a social neuroscientist at New York University, is vowing not to work during the Christmas holidays.

A few years ago, Dr. Van Bavel had agreed to conduct peer review on a couple of manuscripts before the end of the semester. But he got really busy and ended up having to do one on Christmas Day and another on New Year’s Eve, while his family was visiting.

“I felt like I let down myself and my family,” said Dr. Van Bavel, who gets asked to conduct peer-review 100 to 200 times a year. But he says he has now learned his lesson, and is not planning to do any work in the Christmas holidays this year, except perhaps the odd email.

If Dr. Van Bavel holds to his vow, he’ll beat the trend of many of his colleagues. While you might be setting an out-of-office message and backing away from your keyboard as the winter holidays set in, many researchers in academia can be found working straight through the season. Scientists based in the United States are, in fact, the third most likely to work during holidays, behind only their counterparts in Belgium and Japan, according to a study published Thursday in BMJ.

The study — aiming to quantify some of the overwork and burnout experienced by researchers in the sciences — examined nearly 50,000 manuscript submissions and more than 75,000 peer-review submissions to BMJ and its sister journal, BMJ Open. More than a tenth of U.S.-based researchers who submitted manuscripts and peer review reports to journals did so during the holidays.

At the same time, researchers in China lead the world in working on weekends, where more than a fifth of academics submitted papers and peer-review reports, followed by those based in Japan, Italy and Spain. More than a tenth of researchers in the United States turned in studies on weekends, and more than 15 percent conducted peer review.

Scandinavian nations had the best work-life balance. Scientists in Sweden were least likely to work during holidays, and those in Norway generally kept their weekends free.

Adrian Barnett, a statistician and metascience researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who co-wrote the analysis, thought of conducting the analysis while submitting a paper on the weekend.

“This is a real marker of how hard I’m working,” he said.

The study has shortcomings. Among them, it only accounts for manuscript submissions and peer review, just two of many tasks on an academic’s plate, for instance.

“While this study provides a starting point to demonstrate that academics are indeed spending time working on weekends and holidays, it does not delve deeper into the types or amounts of work that academics may be doing on weekends or holidays,” says Valerie Miller, assistant director of postdoctoral affairs at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Barnett acknowledges these shortcomings, although he noted that these markers were most easily traceable because academic publishers time-stamp electronic study and peer-review submissions.

Dr. Miller is currently conducting a survey on the work of postdoctoral researchers, who are usually considered to be early in their careers. A study conducted by the Young Academy of Europe earlier this year found that around half of early-career researchers there work more than 50 hours a week. Other studies have also reported a mental health crisis among graduate students, with large numbers saying their Ph.D. is the cause of their mental condition.

Another limitation of the BMJ study is that it can’t distinguish between researchers’ career stages, and only includes scientists working predominantly in health and medicine.

While submitting a study can lead to a publication that is valuable for an academic’s career, peer-review can be a more thankless task.

Some countries, like Italy, Spain, France and New Zealand report higher percentages of peer-review activity on weekends than manuscript submissions. Dr. Barnett suggests that academics find themselves lacking the time to perform this labor during their workweek because it’s often not considered “actual work.”

As a measure of how peer review is regarded, a survey published earlier this year found that around half of just under 500 researchers had during their careers ghostwritten peer review reports on behalf of senior faculty.

“Peer review is central to the scientific mission and ought to be re-centered in our evaluation systems, not something to be done in an academic’s ‘free time,’” said Rebeccah Lijek, a biologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts who led the ghostwriting study.
It’s also getting more difficult to recruit academics to conduct peer review, a report released last year showed, and a small batch of reviewers seem to be doing a disproportionate amount of peer review.

Dr. Lijek thinks Dr. Barnett’s findings are only the tip of the iceberg: “What’s still under water are the many hours of labor performed by teams of junior researchers that precede submission.”

Dr. Barnett feels that academics are forced to do too much.

“We’re pushed to produce more so that universities can rise up the league tables,” he said.

With that in mind, Dr. Van Bavel is trying to take a new approach in his lab.

“A few weeks ago, I had a lab meeting where we created a work life balance policy to minimize the pressure to work on the weekend,” he said.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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