The issue of work/life balance in science is huge--we're all talking about it all of the time, and it's a frequent topic of articles in career advice-type publications. Based on a lot of conversations (too many for me to find and link them all) it looks like more and more students are opting away from traditional science tracks because of the perception that to succeed in science (particularly academic science) you must give up important parts of yourself. I almost made that decision nine years ago and almost made it again last year: I have many, many interests and loves in my life, and science is only one of them. It's the prevailing one, plus it can support a reasonably normal lifestyle (unlike some of my other interests, which would have me living out of a tiny box of an apartment--or even an actual cardboard box--in NYC or LA, like my friends who did go on to pursue those dreams). However, I am not my whole self without these other things in my life, and I believe that I shouldn't have to try to be.
Part of the revolution in academic science that I want to see is a change in the perception that a life in academia needs to be monomaniacal--that there is no time for anything but science (especially if you also have a family to try to fit into the week). For one, this just isn't true. We let ourselves become biased by our feeling of intensity during the times we ARE under pressure, and that perceptual bias overwhelms our assessment of reality. For two, most people find that productivity does not necessarily correlate to the number of hours spent on something. Being organized and efficient with your time is FAR more valuable than sitting in front of your work for double the number of hours. For example, I submit Exhibit 1A below illustrating the approximate amount of time I spend TRYING to get work done vs. how much work I actually end up doing.
Exhibit A. My activity/productivity levels plotted roughly by day of the week. Note several features: 1) Neither time spent working nor productivity ever reach 100%. b) Actual productivity levels bear little relationship to time spent trying to be productive. iii) Me feeling like I have no time to do anything is actually just me wanting to MAKE more time for sitting around not doing anything.
**A big DISCLAIMER here: HENCE you should all understand that I am by no means trying to imply that I am the queen of efficiency, organization and success--just illustrating the model, and it's just a model after all, right?
Even with how busy I know I am, and how much work I have to constantly do, I still see gaps where I should be able to fit some other constructive, productive activities (meaning activities that do not involve sitting on the couch watching Law & Order reruns and eating chips). So, I joined the local Parks Service pottery club. I last worked on pottery at the end of college, right before graduate school. I had never done it before, but my teacher was excellent and I am good with my hands. I took to it like a duck to water, it just felt so natural and I fell completely in love with it. I made hundreds of pieces in my nine months in three different classes. My favorite class: a soda fired porcelain class where I made some truly beautiful things. I have to say, there are some things I am good at, many things I am not good at, but some things I am DAMN good at. Pottery is one of those. I hadn't had any time or opportunities to do it since, and it's like a part of me has pined for it. Now that I have joined this Potters' Club, for less than a hundred bucks every three months I can go to the pottery studio and make things whenever I want (i.e. after work, on weekends, times I have open in my productivity plot).
I went to the orientation for new members last weekend and felt so, so happy just being there around the equipment and shelves and seeing all the glazing sample tiles and the clay. I'm so anxious to get started, I feel like how my doggie must be feeling when he sees something he wants to chase to give into his racing instinct. I have to admit, I do not always feel like this about my science (although I frequently do). If I couldn't have this part of me, I just wouldn't be myself. Do I need to sacrifice myself for the tenure track? I don't think I should have to. Will it require superhuman efforts on my part to keep up all these disparate foci of my life? Probably. Does that make me crazy for trying it anyway? Yes.
But will it make me a more interesting person and make me happier with myself? Most definitely yes.
So I'm going to try this experiment (like so many before me) in making the tenure track process fit into my paradigm for my life, rather than the other way around. For so many who are in the midst of, or have already been through, this process, this will feel obvious. But for those of us just beginning and those who are looking at where to take their lives in science, this perception is a major concern. Let's see if I can liveblog it (like Isis, drdrA, juniorprof, proflikesubst and others have been doing) over the next few years, to find out if it's really the same on the ground as it looks like from the war stories. Isn't this part of the change we all keep talking about?