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Every year are published around a dozen of books directly related to my research. By directly I mean on the same topics of my research, normally by authors I am familiar with, and potential reference sources for my current or future research. Some are fairly technical, but others can be of more general interest, or, for example, more on the policy side. I think it is not controversial that one uses "normal working hours" (e.g. whilst in the office) to read these books.

However, my problem is with books that are not directly related to my research, but which pertain to topics that might be indirectly related to it, or which I think might be interesting to explore in order to foster interdisciplinary work, or which are of another sub-discipline I don't research on, or books that refer to academia and science in general, or to teaching. Naturally, there are hundreds of these books published every year, and I do not aim to read them all. But some are of particular interest to me.

Is it socially acceptable for one to use "working hours" to read these books? Or are these expected to be read only outside work, e.g. on weekends, or holidays, or so? What's your experience on this?

Context: I'm a standard "early career researcher" in academia, with both research and teaching responsibilities.

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    You might want to clarify your position....if you are a tenured professor, I can't imagine why you care what anyone thinks, whereas if you are doing research in the private sector, the situation may be quite different. – cag51 Apr 23 at 17:00
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    Actually, @cag51, you don't even need to be tenured as long as you have a regular position in academia. You have a profession, not a job. You can ride a bicycle if it makes you more productive. I agree, though that private sector is different. Read Dilbert, for example. – Buffy Apr 23 at 17:22
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    Do you work a 40 hour work week? – Bryan Krause Apr 23 at 17:57
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    It’s a good thing Richard Feynman never cared about what was “accepted”, or about only using working hours to work on things “directly” related to his research. – Dan Romik Apr 24 at 6:50
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    @luchonacho The reason it matters is that a typical professor-level academic doesn't really have working hours. They don't work 40 hours and then say they are done for the week. They likely don't track hours at all. That doesn't mean they can't have work-life balance, but whether it's okay to spend your 'work day' reading seems to me like it depends on how you define your work day in the first place. – Bryan Krause Apr 24 at 13:37
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It's socially acceptable to do (almost) whatever you want during academic "free time". Ultimately what matters are the results you produce, and as long as you're able to do that most people will not care if you're reading general interest books, drinking coffee, or answering questions on StackExchange.

Of course, if you have assigned duties (e.g. teaching duties) then using that time to read books is not going to be permissible.

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    Thomas Edison was supposedly famous for taking naps during "working" hours. – Buffy Apr 23 at 10:18
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    @AliTaghavi no, academics are often not in their office, or even on campus, for all sorts of reasons. – Allure Apr 23 at 12:23
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    @Buffy Thomas Edison was also famous for not sleeping, which probably explained the naps. "In an 1889 interview with Scientific American, Edison claimed he slept no more than four hours a day, and he apparently enforced the same vigilance among his employees." And expected his employees to do the same. I think most will agree sleeping regularly is better. – BurnsBA Apr 23 at 15:48
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    @Buffy: But this question is not about productiveness, but about social acceptance of a certain behavior. If Edison's working environment and social position in the working place was drastically different from that of the average academic (i.e., the OP), then your point might be a bit moot. – Schmuddi Apr 23 at 16:39
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    @Schmuddi While one receives money with the name of a university on it, the money really starts and ends at the PI. So really, it's what's acceptable to him or her. University and small business/self-employed are not far apart in some aspects. – user71659 Apr 23 at 16:52
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General workplace answer goes something like:

Ask your manager, and be ready to argument for whatever you plan to do. But it is manager's prerogative to specify and prioritize your workplace activities.

Academia is a special case of workplace, so asking is always a good idea. I imagine that worst case scenario would be your boss saying:

Sure, not problem, as long as that doesn't interfere with your responsibilities. And maybe not at your desk, so that people passing by have no desire to stop and chat about the book [in case of open space for example - aaaa]

On the other hand, academia is a special case of workplace so I doubt anyone would care if you read a book even at your desk. Even if it is not directly or even tangentially related to your work. As long as you fulfill your duties.

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    "As long as you fulfill your duties." So, if being a great lecturer is part of my duties (which I think it is), then I should definitely be alright in using my paid time for improving my teaching skills, e.g. through books on education. The problem is that, in my experience, few really care about being a good teacher. Most care about publications. – luchonacho Apr 23 at 17:14
  • @luchonacho the students care. What they think will reflect in course evaluations. – mathreadler Apr 25 at 12:46
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Research is such a variable area that you never know WHAT is coming down the road next. You may not need something right now, but spending some time trying to maintain a big picture when your own work is a tightly cropped photo often pays off. Reading stuff outside your own area will make you a better researcher.

If you're worried about the time you spend doing it, budget that time. For example, set aside a few hours a week for such a purpose. If you think it's important, don't skip this time. Conversely, if you think about 2 hours a week is right, don't spend three or four.

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You mentioned that your responsibilities include teaching as well as research. A good teacher will often go off on brief tangents designed to raise student's interest (although a bad teacher will get lost there). An example from my own field (mathematics) is that I regularly teach a course in cryptography. Almost everything in classical cryptography is technically irrelevant in modern cryptography. Nevertheless, whenever I teach cryptography, I sprinkle my lectures with tidbits from military history involving code breaking, including lesser known ones such as the breaking of the German ADFGX cipher in 1918 and its role in halting the German Spring Offensive. The only way I know about such things is that I read about them, sometimes even in semesters during which I am not currently teaching such a course, in books which are only tangentially related to my discipline. I've never felt it inappropriate to read such books in my office but instead leave them scattered around in plain sight. A certain amount of outside reading is not only appropriate, but is indeed almost essential if you are to be a well-rounded teacher.

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It is perfectly okay to read books at work as long as you are able to do your assigned duties. Once George R.R. Martin said,

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.

I have personally felt it. Reading books gives you the imagination and power of thinking out of the box. You would always find top class CEOs or CxOs reading books during their free time. Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary. Reading your interesting books also provide you overall satisfaction and personal experience which ultimately increases your performance and attention at the job. Moreover, long story in short, The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t. Keep reading and be happy.

Amen!

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    I didn't downvote either, but the "do what provides overall satisfaction and personal experience" statement is a bit naive. There are several things that provide overall satisfaction and personal experience which are unlikely to increase my performance and attention as an academic, and which rightly have no place at the job. Also, the last sentence seems to refer to personal growth, which may be a laudable life goal, but which is not what people are generally paid for, not even at universities. In sum, this answer is a bit too simplistic for my taste, and perhaps also for the downvoter. – Schmuddi Apr 23 at 16:25
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    Welcome to Academia@SE! The question asks about reading in the office and your point (however valid) is about reading in general. This page might help you in writing a good answer academia.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Apr 23 at 16:37
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    Thanks to all of you. I would definitely try to follow guidelines to be very specific. – Samual Apr 23 at 17:18
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    FWIW: The "thousand lives" quote is a somewhat de-cluttered version of one by Umberto Eco. Jojen Reed was a reader :) – darij grinberg Apr 23 at 17:47
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    In the case of GRRM’s books the quote should more accurately say, “A reader dies a thousand deaths …” – Konrad Rudolph Apr 23 at 20:01

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