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Death by tenure track

A 45- year old Japanese chief engineer working for Toyota had worked "nights and weekends and often traveled abroad" for six months. When he died of heart failure, a local Japanese government agency ruled that his death had been caused by overwork, reports an article today in the Washington Post. Apparently death caused by working too much has become so common in Japan that they have a word for it -- karoshi.

The thing is, this description -- working nights and weekends and often traveling abroad -- reminded me of so many of the professors I talk to. Could it be that academia is quietly killing tenure-track professors?

I've never heard of any statistics that indicate that academics go to an early grave. I do see a lot of people, especially pre-tenure, who suffer from what are probably stress-induced illnesses.

Perhaps there is no increased incidence of karoshi in academia because the tenure track has an ending. Your body says, "Hang in there; there is hope; this will end." Or maybe the relative break that the summer semesters provide allows the body to recover.

Either way, the fact that it is generally accepted in Japan that overwork can kill you provides a cautionary tale. Work too much, for too long, at your own peril. Learn how to balance your life, so karoshi won't get you.


  1. I'm from the US and I'm not sure that this would ever be a prescribed form of death here. While I understand that it probably happens, I'm not sure anything like this would happen.

  2. Let's hope it's not prescribed! There are definitely laws against prescribing death. :)

    Although this is a spam comment, I approved it because it's so funny. You go, Tom!

  3. I find it very sad that 'overworked to death' is common in Japan. However, I have had several Japanese coworkers and they literally never stopped to take breaks or anything. It's a different culture for sure than the US work culture. I hope that this kind of thing can be frowned upon in the future.


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