14

In academia, one is forced to read papers that come out. Some of the papers I read are directly related to my work and then it is reasonable to read them in my working hours. Others are completely irrelevant and I read them just for the pleasure and to broaden my knowledge in other areas. These, I think, should be read in one's free time.

But then there are papers that are not directly related to what I am doing but may turn useful for my work, e.g., they may use a method that might come handy although they deal with a slightly different field. Should I read such papers at work as well or should I read them in my free time? How do I decide where the border between work-related and leisure-read papers lies?

  • 6
    I get some of my best ideas when doing things that are not directly related to my work. I actually make an effort to make time for that, since I view it as part of my thinking process and a way to induce creativity. – Bitwise Aug 14 '13 at 0:14
13

There may of course be differences between different academic cultures and systems but in essence you should be free to read whatever you want. Yes, you will of course need to read some literature to keep yorself up to date with your field to the extent that you can teach whatever courses you need to teach. I assume teaching is something you are ordered to do. Your own research adds the need to read other papers but since you decide your field you also decide what you need to read. If you find other areas of interest (still within your or related fields) then I cannot see that as a problem. There are many aspects of science such as methodology that can be extracted from, for example, neighbouring fields.

In my own case, I find I have a different problem: simply not time enough to keep myself updated to the level I would like. So, reading literature irrelevant to my major field is simply not imagineable.

So in the end the answer will depend on what your job situation looks like and what the expectations are, what you are ordered to do and what is your own initiative as well as what might result if you do not fulfil the goals of your employer.

| improve this answer | |
  • So, do you think it might be a good idea to clarify this point with my supervisor or can I just read whatever I want whenever I want? – Ondřej Černotík Aug 14 '13 at 8:10
  • 2
    I would say that as long as your work is not suffering in any way, it should not be a problem. – Peter Jansson Aug 14 '13 at 8:14
36

A perspective from (theoretical) computer science:

One of the things that distinguishes academia from some other lines of work is that there is no well delineated line between "working hours" and non-working hours. Since you can probably be better paid elsewhere, academics tend to enjoy research. You seem to as well, since you read papers during your free time.

But that is the great thing about academia. Reading papers that you enjoy is work, since as you observe, reading in a field different from your own can nevertheless give you tools useful for your own work. So, I would say that you can read any paper you like during "working hours" and not feel bad about it.

Incidentally, one can always switch areas. If you feel that you are "forced" to read the papers that come out in your area, but there are other areas that you read for pleasure, perhaps you should work in those areas!

(Disclaimer: needless to say, to have a successful academic career, you can't spend all your time reading -- you have to spend some of your time writing! But there is no need to arbitrarily partition the reading into a work and pleasure pile.)

| improve this answer | |
  • 22
    no well delineated line between "working hours" and non-working hours — There is also no well-delineated line between "directly relevant to my research" and "potentially useful later". – JeffE Aug 13 '13 at 20:47
19

In academia, one is forced to read papers that come out.

Not in academia. You are not forced to read anything at all after you get your PhD. As a graduate student, you may have regular reading assignments given by your adviser, but those are just like any other class assignments, so I don't think you are talking of them here.

Some of the papers I read are directly related to my work and then it is reasonable to read them in my working hours. Others are completely irrelevant and I read them just for the pleasure and to broaden my knowledge in other areas. These, I think, should be read in one's free time.

One funny thing in academia (if we are talking about academia and not about an industrial job that pretends to be one) is that you never know what exactly your work is. Any time a colleague may stop by and ask a question, a paper may come for refereeing, etc., which may give you an opportunity (not "force", because you can reject anything you don't want either bluntly or in some fancy way like "Interesting problem but, unfortunately, it is outside my area of expertise") to think of something you've never heard of before. Another funny thing is that there is no work time (except teaching and meeting hours) and free time. You can wake up at 2AM and work like crazy if you have a good idea, or you can lock your office and go for a long stroll in the town if you don't feel like sitting and bumping your head against the brick wall will result in anything any time soon. I read whatever I want and wherever and whenever I want, and suggest that you do the same, provided that you meet your obligations and do not go on reckless reading (or non-reading) sprees.

But then there are papers that are not directly related to what I am doing but may turn useful for my work, e.g., they may use a method that might come handy although they deal with a slightly different field.

Zillions of them! No chance to read them all, of course, but, by all means, look out and around whenever you have a chance.

Should I read such papers at work as well or should I read them in my free time?

Whichever you prefer. I like reading when lying on a sofa and I don't have one in my office, so I read everything at home. Some people prefer to clearly separate the work and the social life, so they do all their reading at the office. There are no rules and no obligations in this respect.

How do I decide where the border between work-related and leisure-read papers lies?

Currently there is no such border in academia. We enjoy the total absence of the "reading police" and the internet made everything (well, almost: the copyright still spreads its shadowy tentacles far and wide but they are cut out one by one every day) available at a click of a button. The real danger is not in the "legal issues" but in the effective management of your time, which is the reverse sign of the freedom coin. But that is a totally different story...

| improve this answer | |
2

My take (for profit company) is anything that clearly improves your domain knowledge in a way that can be tied back to your business.

One funny thing in academia (if we are talking about academia and not about an industrial job that pretends to be one) is that you never know what exactly your work is

This is true in the business world as well. My boss has no idea that we need to consolidate user directories, set up a configuration management system or implement a system that lets us visualize netflow information. He comes to me with problems, I need to read to be able to reply with answers.

So work related stuff is almost always good.

Oh, and xkcd. Anyone should be allowed to read xkcd at work. Except bus drivers, but that should be obvious.

| improve this answer | |
  • It is kind of obvious, that reading work related stuff at work is OK. The question is more about where the border between work related and work unrelated stuff lies. Especially in academia, where one never exactly knows what one's work is, this can be rather tricky... – Ondřej Černotík Aug 15 '13 at 14:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.