Research science differs in few ways that matter when it comes to the political, economical and social power structures of the workplace. Even including the fact that the powers that be use the implicit and explicit argument that we are in a unique environment placed outside of normal job-space as a tool to pull the usual exploitative, hierarchical shenanigans. (I should say "necessary" shenanigans. Do not, DearReader, confuse my analysis of the situation with an objection to capitalistic social structures per se. Consider it rather an exhortation to consider science a career path that requires many of the same bandaids and workarounds that we've found to improve other workplaces.)
My rather sustained focus on careerism issues is easily fitted into a larger picture of my understanding that science is just another job in many essentials. One of these essentials is, of course, the relationship of the industry to its labor force.
In a recent discussion, our grumpy Uncle S. Rivlin has been pursuing his thesis that native American scientists are lazy, whiny lame-o's who are being bested by hard working immigrant labor:
I've said it before and I'll say it again, American students (undergraduate and graduate) and postdocs are spoiled whiners. Many of them have no work ethics, no self discipline and no real plan and direction of how and where to go in their future. This is in contrast to the majority of foreign students and postdocs who come to this country and over-achieve significantly compared to their American counterparts. Most foreigners experienced tougher hardships than any American student, they originate from families where there is greater respect to the parents and the elderly, and where the university is a place you go to study, not to party.
Wow. Strong stuff. Can he get even more inflammatory?
...as is the case in most American universities today, you can easily distinguish between the hard-working, over-achieving Chinese students and the spoiled, whining American ones. Moreover, the results of this hard work can be seen in the list of authors on many publications in scientific journals of high IF.
Except I agree. Sort of.
This is the history of our country. Nativists and reflexive bigots aside, it is indubitably the case that some significant segment of new immigrants to the US come in and work their tails off to succeed. Making sacrifices and doing jobs that the native born disproportionately refuse to do. This has been going on for hundreds of years. The offspring of prior generations of hardworking immigrants are our native born who are now, well, whining about the current immigrants. Because they, in the security of already being advantaged by being US residents for at least a generation, can afford to have....airs.
Look, I don't mean in a bad way. It is a good thing that US citizens are relatively comfortable, on average. That we can afford to be snooty about what we will and will not do to earn a living. That we can afford to have conceits about lifestyle, as opposed to sacrificing all to succeed vocationally or economically.
And saying that immigrants disproportionately work their tails off doesn't mean that some significant fraction of nonimmigrants doesn't also work their tails off and sacrifice. A large number of non-immigrants do work hard. Most certainly.
Academic science careers differ very little from the general plan. Some grad students and post docs keep their noses to the grindstone, work insane hours, are wackaloon productive and succeed accordingly. Some trainees are, for reasons multihued and varied, less committed to the workplace because of other lifestyle choices. And their career success is shaped accordingly. It is not a direct relationship between hours worked and career success, far from it. There is a correlation, however.
So what? Is this news to anyone?
You want to have "balance" and other things like hobbies, family or a "life" you are going to have to accept that things are going to be harder and less certain in your academic career. This is obvious, right?
I am pretty upfront about the fact that I make the "balance" choice in my career. I advocate for fairness and opportunity for those that want balance in their lives, I think this is a societal Good. But never think that I ignore the fundamental reality that those that dump everything into their scientific work are going to, on average, be more productive. One thing I try to slip in now and again is that when you make balancing choices it is imperative that you understand the risks to career that you are running.
And we should face facts. On average, immigrant scientists are going to be more likely to prioritize work over "balance". Not exclusively, let's not get into that ignorance here. When you have substantially overlapping distributions, the group identity tells you next to nothing useful about the individual in front of you absent more specific performance information. Sol's intemperate comments are just reflective of the general trends of workplaces that we've seen over and over and over again in the US. Get. Over. It.
Now, the practicalities are devilish and detailed. We're in a deep hole economically and in such times there is an argument for a degree of nativism. "Buy American" when it comes to your postdocs and Assistant Professors, if you will. I'm not sure the general principle of globalism versus parochialism in economic recovery is going to be settled in labs. But labs should certainly be seen as part and parcel of the general picture. Whatever is good for the Big Three automakers ought to be good for the Ivy League.
Fascinatingly, it was Uncle Sol hissowndamnself who in prior discussions was pointing out that excessive focus on science careerism was actually a BadThing for science itself! And unfortunately this is indeed one darkside to immigrant scientists if they have their balance shifted so far to the "success no matter the cost" direction that it tips over to the cheating and data faking side. Careful, careful here people. I'm talking on average and we should realize that my point generalizes to anyone who tips over so far to the side of "success" by any measure that cheating becomes acceptable. I'm just saying that if being kicked out of the lab for lack of productivity means being deported back to a place you are keen on never seeing again, this may change the importance relative to going back to Peoria. Again, averages people, averages.
Okay, enough blather from me. Did I have a point? Yeah. Sol is totally right that immigrant scientists work harder than domestic trainees.
N.b.: Let's try to keep away from any overheated rhetoric about particular ethnic or country-of-origin classes in the comments please.