Category Archives: work-life balance

Why it annoys me if people say academics should work hard

I am annoyed and I think it is not because I can’t figure out how to hang our curtains that I just picked up from the store. It’s also not because our internet is very slow because the cable that goes into our apartment hasn’t been put in place correctly. (Sorry to my husband who I just called being annoyed with the things mentioned above, I found out I’m not annoyed because of that). I’m actually annoyed because of this blog post I read this morning. It’s about how you need to be the best post-doc in order to become an academic PI.  (it does actually have a bunch of good points about how to write efficiently and don’t waste too much time trying to get things to be perfect).

Sure, it should be possible for someone to work 37.5 hours per week and still get senior positions in academic science;  it should be the case.  However, I fear it is not.  And what incentive does the academic science have to change?  What universities have are a workforce who happily work their 37.5 hours per week and then stick an extra 10-20 hours per week on top voluntarily.  A workforce who don’t take their entire annual leave allowance.  A workforce who work when they are sick and rarely take time off.

So yeah, you need to work hard. I don’t think this is unique to academia. As I tweeted in response to this, I think academics aren’t special snowflakes who work for love instead of money. They are people too. And I think in every profession, the best people are at the top. The best soccer players probably are the ones who practice while others sit in front of the TV. The best garbage men are those who walk those extra two steps to get the garbage that people put a bit further away from the street. And the best academics are perhaps the ones that work 80 hours a week and never take vacation. But does it help anyone to keep repeating that? To keep saying that if you don’t work hard you won’t succeed? As someone who just took a month off in order to make sure our new place gets organized and our kids are supported while moving to another continent, I can so: No, this is not helpful at all. It just makes me feel like everyone is passing me left and right while I am busy being a mom and a wife and a very proficient IKEA-furniture-builder. I think we need to hear more of that: of how to be more than just a scientist and be very successful at it too.

So I’d much rather read things like this: You don’t need to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia!



Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, efficiency, leaving academia, life in the lab, parenting, postdoc, role models, science, women in science, work-life balance

Advice for productive #naptimescience

Being still partly on maternity leave (I work 1 day a week in the lab, husband 4 days a week so Little Brother doesn’t have to start daycare until we are in the homecountry), I do most of my work as #naptimescience. This is tricky because you never know when it ends: sometimes you get a long stretch of productive time, but other times you have just laid out everything you needed to complete a task and then the baby wakes up and you have to stop. I guess kind of the same as for faculty as you never know when the next desperate grad student or disgruntled post-doc will run into your office to show you some ugly Western blog they just did. What I try to do to be productive during these unknown amounts of time is break things up in the smallest unit possible. When I have to write something I make bullet points of all the things that I have to write and then break the bullet points up into even smaller units. This way, I can take one unit at a time instead of being right in the middle of a lengthy discussion when the baby wakes up and then not know where you wanted to go next. When I do something else, like analyze data, do stats or make figures, I try to take notes of what I have been doing so that if I start again during the next bout of naptimescience I can pick up right where I have left off.

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Filed under academia, baby, disgruntled postdoc, life in the lab, maternity leave, postdoc, science, work-life balance, working mom

If I stand for too long I faint

Both pregnancies I’ve had this annoying thing that if I stand for longer than 30-40 minutes, I get lightheaded and am on my way to fainting. I don’t know why this happens, because my blood pressure does not drop very low; last time when my midwife measured it, it was a very average 120/70. Usually this is not a big deal, because if I sit down for a little bit it goes away. But sometimes there’s nowhere to sit, for example when waiting in line at a very busy restaurant that just opened. This happened a couple months ago and I was put on a chair by a colleague just before falling to the floor. Or when waiting in line at the airport, but then I can usually move my legs enough to prevent actually fainting. 
Another occasion where you have to stand for this amount of time is when giving a talk about science. That happened yesterday. My talk went very well I think, but a couple minutes into the questions I felt kind of lightheaded. I was hoping it would go away but I felt myself get more and more dizzy and was hoping people couldn’t see anything… At some point, when I realized I wasn’t done answering questions anytime soon and I just had to sit down. So I did, mumbled some apology for it and luckily the two fellow post-doc moms that I knew in the audience looked very understanding. I felt embarrassed, but I guess fainting in front of an entire audience would have been worse. I finished answering questions and the PI that invited me said he was impressed that I came to deliver my talk at 7 months pregnant, so I guess it wasn’t a big deal. But I did leave the talk feeling a bit embarrassed about the situation.

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Filed under giving a talk, networking, pregnancy, work-life balance, working mom

#PubScience #scimom edition

Yesterday I stayed up past my normal bedtime to participate in #PubScience organized by @DrIsis and @MTomasson. We talked about being a parent in science, and you can watch the episode here and below (do it! It’s a lot of fun and an interesting conversation).
I had to leave about an hour in because BlueEyes woke up and needed some comforting. And then I fell asleep, because as I said: this was past my tired-pregnant-self bedtime. Talking about being a scimom.
What I wanted to clarify is that when I talked about one of the parents stepping back to make sure the other can excel in their job, both Dr. Isis and Dr. Rubidium said that that was a very privileged situation being able to take a step back. I agree that parents that have to work double shifts at McDonalds in order to be able to support their families probably have a way harder time than us academics do. But while there are usually people that have a harder time than others in whichever aspect of their life, for me this is still an issue in my life and therefore worth discussing. I see people around me where one of the parents decide to take a step back, taking a job where you are not expected to travel to meetings, you are not expected to work late nights to make deadlines and you don’t need to be in the lab on the weekend because your experiments require that. By doing this, they give up the dream of becoming a tenure track scientist. Even though I think doing this will increase the chances for my husband (and the other way around) neither of us is ready to do this.
Also, while we were discussing all this, on twitter some people were wondering if, after hearing all this, they were ever going to want to have babies. I have this to say about that (and I may have said this before on my blog or anywhere else): For me, having a baby was an entirely different desire than wanting to be a kick-ass scientist (preferable in academia). I know I would be very sad if I would be forced to leave science because I cannot work hard enough/publish enough papers/get enough grants, but I would have been heartbroken if I didn’t have kids. So for me it’s not kids or career, it’s kids and then see how far I can get in my career.


Filed under baby, birth, blogging, parenting, Pub-Style Science, twitter, work-life balance, working mom

The upside of academia

I have an awesome summerstudent (the same as last year) who is trying to decide whether to go to grad school or med school. And every time we (the disgruntled postdocs in the lab) talk about science, about how little we get paid and how dire the funding situation is and how hard it is for us to transfer to an independent position, he leans more toward med school. Without realizing it, we’re creating a disgruntled summerstudent… So today we listed all the things that are pretty great about academia and about going to grad school now. I thought I’d share them here too:
– the relative flexibility of academia is great. My friend who is a pediatrician has an awful time when her daughter is sick and she has to go to work. She needs an enormous network around her to be able to combine the demands of her job and caring for her daughter. Whereas in academia, whether you have children that are sick or parents that need extra care, it is a lot easier to take a day or even some time off to do that. I understand that this is different when you’re teaching, but right now this is one of the aspects I really enjoy. 
– it’s good to start grad school during lean times. When I started grad school (in 2005), the times were great. There was a lot of funding and the lab that I was in grew exponentially for a couple of years. Now, when I’m at the point where I should transfer to an independent position, the times are tough. If you start grad school now, chances are that in 8-10 years, when you’re at this point in your career that I’m at now, the times are going to be better. And instead of being used to all that wealth in the lab (as I was), you’re used to lean times and things can only get better.
– you come out of grad school without additional debt: going to med school in many cases means getting in a ton of debt, whereas in grad school you get paid to go to school. And even though MDs probably end up making more, the looming liability lawsuit or even a very unfortunate accident that renders you unable to work can leave you in huge debt for the rest of your life. 
What do you think is great about being in academia or going to grad school?


Filed under academia, disgruntled postdoc, life in the lab, work-life balance

Like a deer in the headlights

I often think about what kind of qualities a scientist should have. I think a scientist should be curious, adventurous (science-wise, not necessarily bungee-jump-wise) and inventive. But lately, it also seems like an important part is to be resilient to stress about having an insecure job. As I said before, whether or not I will have the position I want in the homecountry depends on whether I get a grant (any grant) before next year when we are moving back. This type of insecurity, that I know almost every scientist faces, does not make me work better. To be honest, it stresses me to the point that when I have to write a grant, I can’t because I keep thinking: ‘this has to be awesome, or else’. I think some people excel under pressure, but I’m currently not one of those.
You have to understand that I was raised in a country that has a lot of social security. Everybody has healthcare – and with that I mean real healthcare, not the one where you have to co-pay 20%, leaving you bankrupt after an expensive procedure – and it’s a lot harder for employers to fire people with a contract than in the US. Deep down, I did not envision being older than 30, not knowing where I would work next year or whether I would be able to afford a house.
You also have to understand that wanting to get a grant funded to secure a position seems to be my type of nesting. Being pregnant has amplified these feelings enormously, because I seem to want to imagine what life will look like when this prospective baby is born, and moving countries when he or she is only 5 or 6 months does not really help in this process.
It would help if Dr. BrownEyes would have be a millionaire, or at least have a job that we would know he could keep and that would bring in money, but he doesn’t, because he’s also a scientist. This is great, and his enthusiasm for science is one of the things I like about him, but it doesn’t help in my anxiety about getting a job.
So does this make me a bad scientist? It did for a while, because I really felt like a deer in the headlights trying to write grants and papers, but now that I know that I can at least get bread on the table doing another post-doc that gives me some room to breathe, and to be good and creative while writing grants again. But why aren’t there more scientist-jobs for people who don’t love insecurity about grants and their future (and the future of those in their labs)??


Filed under finding a job, imposter syndrome, postdoc, pregnancy, work-life balance, working mom

The part-time paradise

My home country is the country in Europe where most people work part-time. Nearly half of the workforce (both male and female) work part-time (meaning less than 38 hours a week). And if that is broken down for gender you can see that 75% of women work part-time.
Source. I couldn’t find this figure in English, but the X-axis shows the percentage of working people, and my homecountry is the longest blue line all the way at the bottom.
You might say: ‘Oh nice, there are so many jobs that people can do part-time and they get to spend more time with their family’. True, but the downside of this is that daycare providers often also work part-time. This means that if you are one of those few mothers that want to work full-time, you will almost certainly put your child in a daycare where it does not have one steady care provider, but different ones for almost every day, making it much harder for your child to form a bond with their care provider. 
And that is not even the worst part of it. Because the reality is that because so many women work part-time, it is almost seen as a crime when you have children and decide to work full-time. Almost no child goes to a daycare 5 days a week, and if you ask if that’s a possibility, the answer we got was:”I guess, if you insist”. I won’t even get started about the judgmental looks and comments from other mothers. It is just not done. 
So can you science part-time? I think you can, because as a matter of fact a couple of my mentors from grad school (both men and women) worked four days a week. Some of them worked 4 times 9 hours (technically full-time but with one day to be home with their kids), others worked 4 ‘regular’ days. I’m not saying that these people did not work at nights and on the weekend, because I’m pretty sure most of them did. And I guess in about a year from now (if all goes well, we get some kind of grant, etc etc) we will try for ourselves. Both Dr. BrownEyes and I are considering working 4 days a week, so that BlueEyes and prospective baby can go to daycare 3 days a week, just like their fellow homecountry kids.


Filed under academia, cultural differences, daycare, science, work-life balance, working mom