Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Balancing act

It had been quite some time since I wrote a formal mission statement. This may seem absurd or hokey or whatever to many people, but I am much more focused and productive when I have some clear idea of what, where, and who I want to be, even if it’s not entirely clear how I’m going to get there. Having experienced some significant events and reached some major goals (i.e. completing Ph.D. and starting a postdoc at a highly reputable institute) I realized it was past time to reevaluate my mission. During the process of writing my mission statement early yesterday morning, I realized some important things about myself and my goals-things that I probably knew all along but had never really expressed and that reaffirmed my choices thus far.

I used this mission statement builder to focus and guide the process. One of the modules addresses balance, which they define as "a state of fulfillment and renewal in each of the four dimensions: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional." I've been thinking this morning about balance-and the lack thereof-in the lives of grad students and postdocs.

I've attended these 'women in science' panel discussions (by choice) a couple of times-you know, the ones where four or five female PIs at the university are put in a room with a bunch of female grad students, postdoc, and junior faculty to discuss the challenges of being successful as a woman in science (I have more to say on this topic, but I'll save it for another post). Inevitably the discussions digress into the family-work life balance issue: When should I have kids? How do you balance your family and career? And so on.

Here's the thing: Life is a balancing act, with or without kids. I'm not saying that children don't change/complicate the mix. But life is about balance. And balance is something that many folks in science seem to lack, and I would wager this is the major-if not sole-cause of burnout in science. I harken back to my conversation with Ronald. On occasion in our conversations, I will mention heading to the gym or going for a run during the work week, and Ronald will comment as to how he would love to do that but work takes up too much time.


I love science. I think about it a lot. I enjoy being in the lab. BUT I need other things too. I need to keep myself in good physical condition. I make time for it because when I feel good, I can work longer hours (as necessary), and I am more productive during the hours I work because I'm not run down and thinking about how terrible I feel. My husband and I reinitiated a regimented schedule this week. It means being up before the chickens, but it's working. I've already put in 20 productive hours in 2 days, well on my way to 50+ for the week. And I've still gotten out of work early enough to have time for a quick dinner, a workout, and some quiet meditation time before heading to bed early to get enough sleep to start again the next day.

Not everyone would like my schedule. Different people have different temperaments. I get that. But if you want to be happy and successful, you damn well better figure out how to make time for things other than science while still being productive in the lab.

I'll step down off my soapbox now.