Thursday, December 19, 2013

Work-Life Balance

A video of a panel session of two young(ish) professors, talking about work-life balance. I used to work in the same lab as Corey Bradshaw, and have even published with him. He is a straight-speaking person who says what he thinks, so you can be sure that what he says in this session is his honest opinion. That being said, I do have some conflicted feelings about this discussion.

On the one hand, I respect and envy their academic achievements. On the other hand, the sacrifices they have made to get where they are are just terrifying, and strike me as selfish. When Tanya Munro talks about dragging her two tiny babies to a conference, or skipping their end-of-year performance, or both of them talking about leaving their kids at home for the evening again, I can't help but think that that is just so much macho bullsh*t. For me, family comes first, there is no choice. My daughter is smart without being conceited, brave without being reckless, strong without being over-bearing, loving, caring and empathetic, without being clingy. She wouldn't be those things if she didn't have an extended family around her who were fully engaged in her upbringing. I'd rather be a "less-successful" academic, than risk losing what I have with her. She'll grow up soon enough, I can put more energy into my career then. Certainly I could achieve more if I sacrificed more, or if I slept a lot less, but if I worked an 80-hour week, I would die. It's as simple as that. One of the last things my father said to me, just a few days before he died, was "you're not a machine". I refuse to risk depriving my wife of her husband and my daughter of her father.

Another point at which I disagree with Corey is when he mentions telling his post-docs "Start publishing papers or I'm going to have to sack you". I think this is a poor management technique: if someone isn't performing, you as a manager must coach them to lift their game. Management by fear is a poor technique and just breeds resentment. Life may be too short to work with a*holes, but it's also too short to accumulate enemies.

The idea that everything you do should lead to an obvious paper is fine for someone who in only doing research, but personally I couldn't live without undergraduate teaching. I need the surge of energy I get from standing in front of a class and explaining complex concepts. I really love it when someone "gets it", when their face lights up with understanding. Even though I spend most of my time now in management, I'd never take another position where I wasn't teaching.

Finally, everyone's circumstances are different, so you shouldn't compare yourself to others. Tanya Munro may have met her husband during her first year of university, but I met my wife at 28, married her just before turning 30, and had my daughter, finished my PhD, and started my first post-doc at 31. I had problems with my PhD topic, I had health problems, and I had to work to support myself. Now I'm 40 and my career path is finally starting to settle down. I may have achieved less academically than them, but so have most people. What, really, does comparing myself to them achieve? Nothing, except perhaps to make me feel badly about myself.

One thing I do agree with is that you have to find your own balance, your own way. I think I've found mine, and I'm happier for it. The video is well worth the time to view it, if only to gain some perspectives from successful academics.

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