Professional compulsory activities I am referring here falls into the following two classes:

  1. The activities that need to be done very quickly.

  2. Activities given by supervisor to participate in a voluntary activity.

I frequently encounter the professional compulsory activities. Former are more frequent than later.

Examples for first one includes: Evaluating copies of students within a day, preparing teaching material for students of a course took by my supervisor within a day, preparing grade sheets within half day etc.,

Examples for second one includes: Attending to an outstation workshop for a few days, attending webinars at non-lab timings etc.,

The issue involved in allowing them is break in my personal time table and sacrifice in my personal activities etc., I am not at all comfortable with them as I want to spend time according to my own preferences in non-lab hours.

Those professional compulsory activities always break my productive cycle of work and forces me to spend time.

Is this a common phenomenon in academia or am I entertaining those activities instead of saying a strong NO?

Note: The announcement for first class of activities are not in my hands. Superior authorities announces deadlines by personal calling, mailing etc.,

  • 2
    Where are you based? This sounds a lot like work culture in particular countries. It depends on the context. Saying No will be much more difficult in Japan than Australia for example.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 13, 2020 at 14:24
  • India, but interested to know global view. @TomKelly and actually, it is difficult here also...... The effects may propagate....
    – hanugm
    Jun 13, 2020 at 14:26
  • 1
    It's certainly extremely common. Is it desirable? Maybe not. Only you can decide how to prioritize things in your own life. Jun 13, 2020 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


This is a US specific answer, perhaps, but yes, some of the things you describe are done, but it requires some perspective. For example, if you are working as a TA in a course there may be requirements on the timing of getting grading done so that feedback can be given to the students in a timely way. These may be university requirements, actually, but could be made by an individual. But I would expect to be told of these requirements early on so that I could schedule my other activities, work and life, around them.

The second kind are also done, if less frequently, but I'd expect to have some notice and I'd expect them to be rare. While you describe them as "voluntary", others would call them "professional". They take time and effort, but can pay you dividends as well. A professor may treat them as part of your professional training.

But imposing chaos on your life is bad. You need advance notice and the opportunity to schedule.

I'll note also, that professors have such requirements thrust on them as well, especially until they earn tenure. And even afterwards, the educational mission of the university has to be kept moving forward.


I’ll give an answer based on my experiences of academic research in Australia and New Zealand compared with Japan and other East Asian countries. What is expected and what is considered “voluntary” varies considerably and I think these represent different extremes with working in North America or Europe being somewhere in the middle. Of course, individual departments or even laboratories have different working cultures.

In Australia and New Zealand you can freely say no to these things if they’re at short-notice and affect your personal life. Especially if you have a long commute or young family it is understandable to maintain regular working hours. You will be expected to attend conferences, teach undergraduates, write grants, and review papers. However you will usually be given ample time to manage your workload around these responsibilities. Any opportunity to entertain visiting guests or attend seminars is entirely voluntary. Of course this can be great for networking or professional skills but is your choice not to attend.

In East Asia (I think Japan and South Korea) are the extreme here, things are very different. It can be very difficult to say “no” to these things. The working hours are generally much longer and often overtime is considered the only resort to meet deadlines. Due to hierarchical culture, subordinates may not be given much notice. This is unfortunately something that does occur frequently in working environments in this part of the world. This extends beyond research activities and includes participating in events hosted by your institution, hosting visiting speakers, and attending things like the Christmas or New Year parties. In Japanese workplaces, not attending these “social” gatherings after working hours can be considered very disrespectful. These are not “rare” in Asian countries, some labs do this kind of gathering several times per week.

Either way you must consider your situation and what’s appropriate. When applying for a new position I think it’s important to discuss these concerns ahead of time and agree of expectations. If possible talk to other members of the lab to find out what it is like. It varies considerably but does occur to some extend in many research positions. I think this kind of workload only increases in more senior positions with more responsibilities, which is why some is delegated to you.

What you can do is expect that some tasks like this may come up from time to time in the future. You need to decide whether it’s best for you and your working relationships to be assertive and set limits or to allow time for it. Managing your time and workload to be productive is incredibly important in an academic career. Regardless of how common it is, you need to learn to cope with the stress that this causes. I too try to plan ahead and try to maintain balance with my personal life so I understand this can be frustrating.

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