Female Science Professor wrote yesterday about the concept that "serious" scientists should be "monomaniacal" about their work, in the sense of elevating science above all other pursuits in life, and spending virtually all of one's time and effort on science to the exclusion of all else. In response to one of her many asshole male colleagues' comments that "he wished more women grad students had 'monomania' when it came to research/Science", she rightly points out that this is a pernicious idea, and one that serves to reinforce shitty gender norms:
You can work hard and be intensely interested in your research without being a monomaniac. I certainly don't expect monomaniacity (monomaniacness?) from my own students. Surely having a balanced life in grad school is a healthier way to be and better preparation for a happy life after grad school.
I've said it before many times: It's not the women who should change, it's the culture. No one should have to be a monomaniac to succeed. In my gloomier moments, I think that Academia won't change significantly until it becomes more diverse, but it won't become more diverse until it changes significantly, but it can't change until it becomes more diverse, and so on.
The idea that monomania is necessary for success in academic science raises two issues.
One is defining success in academic science. For some people, success requires "beating" everyone in a perceived competition for "best scientist EVAH!". For others, success requires commanding sufficient independence and resources to be able to have fun running your own research program and getting recognition from your peers for running a creative productive operation. If you define success as the latter, the pressure to shoulder an extreme workload--like that of Dr. Wackadoodle Twelve Fucking R01s"--is much less.
The other is determining what is required to achieve that success. My experience is that as one's workload on a particular life's pursuit, such as science, increases beyond a certain point, the benefits begin to drop off precipitously. Each person needs to find that point, and know that going beyond it is counterproductive. One can be much more productive overall in life by apportioning one's efforts to multiple pursuits. When PhysioProf was a post-doc, he spent ~20 hours per week pursuing a profession completely separate from science. If anything, I am convinced that this increased my scientific productivity.
This has a corollary for how to manage a lab. I am much more concerned about the morale and enthusiasm of the people in my lab than I am about exactly how many hours they put in. This works well, and my lab is extremely productive.
One commenter at Female Science Professor's blog stated that she was going to exit academic science because she didn't want to have to give up the entire rest of her life. THIS IS BALONEY!
If you are in a reasonable position that doesn't require a massive amount of teaching, being a successful principal investigator requires substantially fewer hours per week than it does to be a successful grad student or post-doc. If you are creative, a good manager, and can read and write reasonably well and reasonably quickly, there is absolutely no reason you need to work more than 40 hours per week to be successful.
Of course, you can work more and be even more successful. But if your standard of success is the second one I listed above, then a normal workload is more than sufficient. If you can stick out the heavier workload required of a grad student or post-doc, you can then ease off quite a bit as a PI.
Frankly, my experience has been that those academics who glorify "monomania" are stupid boring old fucks who have always had to work much harder than anyone else to make up for their lack of intelligence and creativity. And these assholes understandably get pissed off when they see other people doing just as well as or even better than them, but having a lot of goddamn fun doing it!
The whole point of being an academic scientist is that it's a fucking hoot, not to impress some stupid entitled asshole who became a PI when any white dude who got a PhD was pretty much guaranteed a tenure-track faculty position. Those of us who have made it more recently are simply brighter, more creative, and more well-rounded, and these superannuated "monomaniacal" fuckers don't like it. I say fuck 'em!