Scientists juggling work and family life: it’s not a girl thing

I’ve just had an article on scientists juggling work and family life published in ASBMB Today, the magazine of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. My goal was to share the stories of early career scientists (i.e. grad students, postdocs and untenured faculty) who are dealing with these issues right now, as opposed to the retrospective advice of superstar scientists whose kids are safely dispatched to college, and who no longer have to carry around spare sweaters to cover up baby vomit.*

I also deliberately included both men and women in the article because the issue of work/life balance is nearly always cast as a “women’s issue,” when this is actually an issue for society as a whole. Women clearly bear the brunt of the problems that I mention in the article–uncertain and inflexible career paths, inadequate or unclear benefits, time poverty–for the simple reason that they typically spend more time on child-rearing than men do. This was obvious to me in the responses I got, with male respondents often sounding more upbeat than female respondents (disclaimer: small sample size). But, this doesn’t mean that men don’t suffer too. For instance, the study I quote at the beginning of the article (“Scientists want more children”) also found that:

the effect on life satisfaction of having fewer children than desired is more pronounced for male than female faculty, with life satisfaction strongly related to career satisfaction.

I know men that are angry at the fact that they are expected to leave child rearing to their female partner for the good of their career. I know men that are angry that their partner feels forced to choose between work and family. I know men that feel guilty that they’ve somehow got the ‘balance’ of work and life all out of whack. But if you leave all this stuff about men and women aside, everyone in society suffers when we demand that people choose between work and family. Think of all the collective tiredness, grumpiness, guilt and regret we are creating, the lost talent and the damage we’re doing to the progress of science. I don’t have kids and I’ve recently quit bench science, so don’t take my opinions as those of a woman/parent/scientist. Take them as the opinions of someone that wants to benefit from scientific research.

*Actual advice offered by a respondent.



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