The work-life balance beam:
Advice from someone who quit gymnastics at age seven
As a senior faculty member in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (I still have a hard time considering myself as “senior”, although my aching back and constant need to touch up my gray hair reminds me otherwise), I’m often invited to participate in round-tables, workshops and career development panels regarding my decision to pursue an academic career. I love sharing my twisted academic journey with trainees of all levels (a topic for another time), but invariably, the conversation turns to how one manages to maintain a work-life balance with all of the pressures of an academic life. Before I had children, I used to have all sorts of great answers to that question. “Plan date nights!” “Take the time to see a movie at least once a month!” “Have at least 1 evening a week when you don’t check email or go on your phone”. “Go out dancing at least once a week to burn off steam!” “Go to the gym every day!” Even when my children were infants and toddlers, I could offer helpful suggestions on how to maintain research and teaching productivity while working around their sleep/feeding/play schedules…
Now that my darling children are hitting double-digits, I can’t help but laugh when somebody asks me how I maintain a work-life balance. I don’t laugh maliciously (I’m too nice a person for that!), but rather out of incredulousness (apparently, that’s a word because I’m not getting a red squiggly line). Throughout my academic journey, I’ve discovered what I consider to be many interesting scientific things. However, throughout my academic journey, I’ve also discovered that a work-life balance has morphed into a mystical creature that sparkles with the morning dew that can only be glimpsed from a distance and then is gone into the forest of life. Now, I don’t say this to be pessimistic or discouraging! Oh contraire….my children are the reason that I’m not six feet under a pile of journal articles right now trying to write 3 grants at once, while simultaneously grading exams and analyzing data from 14 undergraduates in the lab. My children are the reason why I can find the time to write an article such as this (although, they are also the reason why I submitted the article 3 days past the deadline!). My children have certainly forced me to view my work life with a new perspective and that has had an extremely positive influence on my overall well-being. That all being said, by no means is my life balanced – at least not on a daily basis, anyway.
Karen K. Szumlinski, Ph.D., ACNP Career Development Chair
Psychological and Brain Sciences Molecular, Cellular Developmental Biology
University of California, Santa Barbara
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