succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Dilemma of the Hourly Wage Slave
(or why I can't wait to have a job that pays for performance rather than time)

My advisor set me up with a research position for the month of June, and the budget is set aside to pay me an hourly wage for full-time work. I have to call in all the hours that I work, using this horribly insulting automated clock-in system. The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. a) I'm a fairly fast and efficient worker. I'm not trying to brag, but I have noticed that it generally takes me less time to accomplish tasks than those around me. So while the organizations funding the research project I'm working on have placed a dollar value on the analyses I'm running, the only way for me to actually receive that entire dollar amount is to lie about how long it takes me to accomplish their tasks. b) since these analyses require a certain amount of deep thinking, and this inevitably occurs in the background from time to time, I inevitably end up feeling bitter about the whole clocking in system of recording my hours. If I'm in the shower and suddenly realize how to solve a problem, how do I log that time? What's more, it's not just worth the five minute realization, it's the ongoing noodling my brain has been doing, the time spent thinking about the problem while driving to work and grocery shopping and eating lunch, and the 'worth' of my knowledge and experience to solve the problem.

I know everyone goes through these experiences, it's part of the dues you have to pay while working up the research ladder. But I can't help but feel that both parties are getting short changed when research is organized in this way. It's unfair for me to bill my employers when I'm sitting around pounding my head against the wall and not making progress on a problem and it's unfair for me not to get paid when inspiration does strike during 'off' hours. Maybe it's all meant to average out, but it seems much more reasonable to say survival analyses are worth $x to us, regardless of how long it takes you to do them, because the worth is in the work and the results, not the hours. Like a menu. Simple linear regression is $a, complicated longitudinal analyses are $b, etc. etc.


Blogger amelia said...

yes yes yes yes, yes yes yes, yes yes yes, yes yes yes?
yes yes yes yes, yes yes yes yes, yes yes yes yes yes.
(to the tune of "mary had a little lamb")

hourly-paid research work is really strange. it causes, at least it me, a desperate sort of guilt about how "unproductive" i am, which i think results from the fact that intellectual work gets done in dribs, drabs, spurts -- never in eight-hour chunks.

piecework is a bad idea when the product is t-shirts or tennis shoes, but i'm not so sure it wouldn't be both more honest and less crazy-making in academia.

also, why do all the words on your site show up underlined for me lately? is that some weird safari bug?

12:11 PM  

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