Quote: Why do academics work so much?

Fascinating quote pulled from a post by the Thesis Whisperer on addiction and its relationship to drive, risk-taking, and laziness in academics. See the full article, Why do academics work so much?

I used to think that this fundamental laziness meant that I couldn’t be addicted to my work, but now I’m not so sure. In his article “Addicts are Superhuman” Tom Matlack claims that being an addict and being lazy are not mutually exclusive. Matlack draws on research about addicts who manage not to kill themselves (what a cheerful topic) by Prof David Linden. Apparently addicts have problems with dopamine pathways which means, as Matlack puts it, they “want pleasure more, but like it less”. Matlack goes on to claim that “greatness doesn’t cause addiction, but addictive qualities actually cause greatness”.

Matlack’s argument rests on an attitude towards risk. Addicts are risk takers in pursuit of pleasure, but are less satisfied when they get it. If you have an addictive personality, and work is your pleasure, then your tendencies can be harnessed on the production of new ideas. I have to acknowledge that, for myself at least, this rings true. The ‘high’ that I get, for example, from publishing a blog post or getting a paper accepted in a journal, doesn’t last very long therefore I am always restless, looking for new ideas to get my next ‘hit’.

How does laziness figure in this formula? Matlack adds in a rider:

“The obsessive character trait is often combined with an ADHD-like (or in fact, diagnosed ADHD) hyper focus followed by non-focus or, in fact, an inability to change focus or keep everyday things in perspective”

Hyper focus followed by non-focus? This describes my long holiday experience perfectly! Since I read this article I’ve been wondering if all of us academics are wired a bit strangely. Hyper focus and risk taking are certainly traits I see a lot in my co-workers. Maybe this is part of the reason why we work so much?

This rings true for me as well. What do you think?


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