Scientists wrestle with some of the biggest, most impactful problems on the planet every day, yet very few have success in establishing something which seems so much easier: a work-life balance. It begs the question: can you be a great scientist while also having a great personal life off the bench?
Scientists are faced with a seemingly endless cycle of experiment conducting, class teaching, grant applying, and manuscript publishing efforts. But where in that cycle do you find time to get off the bench, go home, and see your partner or your kids?
Unfortunately, many scientists in the public and private sectors respond to this question with a resounding and utterly unsatisfactory answer: you don’t.
”I Am a Scientist” vs. “I Do Scientific Research”
Through the years there’s been a steadily growing culture of performance as personality which pushes scientists and researchers to abandon the “life” part of a quality, sustainable work-life balance to allow for more focus and more achievement within their scientific careers. In fact, it’s become such a pervasive, unspoken agreement that many now feel that the world of scientific research is gaining a culture of shame where those who leave the lab before midnight aren’t really committed to science.
That, of course, is ludicrous. But it is also a mindset which is common enough that it has to be responded to before progress can be made in finding your own personal work-life balance.
In the plainest of terms, scientists are people who love doing science, meaning that (in most cases) the bench is a place you enjoy being. That said, it’s very easy to get caught in the work going on in your lab and have your personal life suffer as a result. Whether your research extends from 9 to 5 or from sunrise to sunset you need to be able to fit both your scientific responsibilities and your personal goals into your day-to-day life or both are sure to suffer overtime. How you go about finding that balance however, and what it ultimately involves will be uniquely your own.
How to Find My Work-Life Balance
For a scientist, work-life balancing is a matter of compromise between all the different things that are vying for your time and attention. To do that you’ll need to take an honest look at all the personal responsibilities which your work-life and your personal-life demand.
– Prioritize Honestly
With all these points in mind, begin making decisions about which responsibilities aren’t as important to you as others. (Be sure to keep in mind that these priorities will change over time.) The priorities you consider can include everything from writing your grant applications to picking your kids up from school or simply finding time to laze around with your significant other, so be sure you don’t leave anything out.
– Delegate to Others
Once you’ve identified the responsibilities at home or in the lab that can be trimmed back here or there, don’t hesitate to try delegating those jobs to the people around you. It’s easy to convince yourself that no one will be willing or able to take these tasks on, but spreading these responsibilities out (even for a little while) can be hugely beneficial.
– Respect Your Own Limits
All too often scientists will push themselves through endless hours in the lab trying to reach their findings only to hit roadblock after roadblock along the way. This struggle is so common in the world of science that many researchers including Nobel Laureates treat the bags under their eyes and the stack of coffee cups on their desk as a badge of honor. That said, overworking has been shown to lead to worsening quality of work and worsening health conditions, meaning that neither side of your work-life balance actually ends up getting the attention it deserves if you push yourself too hard in the lab.
– Make Your Rules and Stick to Them
When you’re trying to find the work-life balance that best suits your needs it’s vital for you to honestly follow through with the decisions you put in place. If that means waking up an hour before you need to so you can fit in that run, or closing up your time in the lab precisely at 5 so that you can meet your family for dinner, so be it. You can’t hope to find the perfect work-life balance for you without some trial and error and until you stand by the compromises you’re trying now you won’t know whether or not they’ll suit your schedule over time. Try versions of a work-life balance until you find the one that allows for the best mix of career success and personal satisfaction and don’t be afraid to keep adjusting until you find your perfect personal balance.