Woman in science- motherhood and career management

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Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Claudine » Wed Nov 03, 2004 8:13 am

Dear all,
I am now finishing my PhD (few months to go). I have an excellent research CV-resume. I will be 30 yrs soon and I wanted my children early (need energy and patience and do not want to wait to start a job to have kids), so I had my children during my PhD (oldest 2 years old, youngest 9 months old). Did not have much of timeoff, but manage well. I did my complete graduate studies in 6 years including children. My worry now is since you have 5 years to make post-doc after doc, and that post-doc means average 50-60 hrs a week, how can a woman manage to be a good mom (be present before elementary school start), and not forget about the importance of a great post-doc to have a nice career, when the kids start school? In the scintific world now, is a PhD sufficient to have a career with some thinking challenge and managing liberty (not technical work) or is a postdoc mandatory for this type of job? Any idea how to be a super woman in this field (with at least 5 hrs sleep per day; I tried less but was not sufficient)? How not to waste a so nice resume with respect to my family?

Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Larry » Wed Nov 03, 2004 11:54 am


My wife is in the almost exact position as you. We just adopted an 11-month old child and she has about 2 months left in her Ph.D. Her thesis committee was quite adamant about her setting up a top-tier post doc position as soon as she graduates. However, she has decided to take a few months off after she finishes to spend with our child. She is planning on setting up a post-doc *during* her "off" period, so that she can continue her career afterwards. We've talked a lot about different options. What I find most disconcerting is that academic professors don't present any other options than an immediate top-notch post-doc position. Careers are important but so is family. Obtaining a balance of both is difficult, but I don't think it is impossible.


Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:38 pm

Hi Claudine,

There have been a number of excellent articles about this topic in NextWave. I hope you have access to read this one, which is written with a British viewpoint but so many comments are in common with a career in the USA:

Mixing Motherhood and Science

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“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Drew Parrish » Thu Nov 04, 2004 8:56 pm

Claudine, I don't think you have to be a superwoman - just organized, efficient, and in possession of a supportive spouse.

I see a lot of postdocs come in and spend 12 hours seven days a week - but have you noticed how much time some of them spend checking email and reading Plan your day in your head on your way to work, and then just get it done. Be organized, be efficient, and don't waste time.

Also, unless you're still breast-feeding that 9mo. old, there's no reason you should be required to have more child responsibilities than your partner. It has to be an equal partnership, and if you have a supportive spouse then finishing that blot late on Tuesday and spending a Saturday morning in the lab won't be a big deal.

In a lot of ways, being a postdoc is an ideal job for a parent - you have almost complete flexibility!! There's a field trip with daycare that you want to help out with? Take the morning off and then get a babysitter that evening so you can do your research.

And finally, one of the best tips I was given when I was having a baby in grad school: learn to outsource. If you can hire someone to clean the house occasionally that's going to be a few more hours that you can spend quality time with the kids.
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Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Adrienne » Fri Nov 05, 2004 3:43 am

Everyone that I have known to work as a Post-Doc in an academic institute in the USA has worked minimum 12 hour days, 5-7 days/week. Maybe a post-doc in a biotech/pharmaceutical company would give better life work balance? Also have you considered doing a Post-Doc overseas where the work hours are much less. i.e. 9-8 hour day, 5 days per week (it's possible to organise with your employer to work 4 days/week). Examples include UK, Europe (Sweden, Switzerland, France, etc) and australasia (e.g. Australia and New Zealand). Good Luck!

Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Chris » Fri Nov 05, 2004 11:11 am

I just want to make a comment about the work hours for postdocs. People on this forum continously say how it is nearly impossible to do a postdoc without working 60+ hours/week. I would like to argue that it is definitely possible to find a postdoc with better working hours than this even in an academic lab. I am a postdoc in a very large well respected lab in a top tier university. During my interviews, I asked the other postdocs enough questions to guage the culture of the lab. In many labs, it's the quality of work you produce rather than face time that determines your status and success.

Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Drew Parrish » Fri Nov 05, 2004 11:45 am

I agree with Chris - sure, your advisor wants to see your face sometimes but it's really about productivity. I got a science paper from one year, 40 hours a week and my advisor was definitely not complaining about my poor work ethic.
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Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Susan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 12:48 pm

I'm wondering if there is any discrimination between the sexes in the biotechnology/pharmaceuticals industries? I detect this on the academic ladder (see it affecting people here) and I'd much prefer to be treated as a professional, even if I want to have children at some point. Can anyone comment?


Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby Launi » Mon Nov 08, 2004 1:13 pm

Dear Claudine,

Somehow the discussion has drifted from your original question of motherhood and career management, but I will attempt to refocus the discussion back to you.

I'm glad you raised this question, because I also from time to time worry about how will children impact my success as a scientist. I am currently starting my 3rd year as a postdoc and recently had a son this past January. I have learned from others and my own experience that you CAN be a good mom and still have a great career. It depends on your definition of "success" and what you feel is priority for your life. My #1 priority is family, so I tend to limit the days that I must stay late in the lab to an absolute minimum. Does this impact my productivity? YES!! Will it take me a bit longer to publish than the childless people in my lab??? Maybe...maybe not. We are really not much different than the person who is childless, but may have to care for an elderly parent.

Basically, everyone has "something" that requires their time outside of Science, some more than others. I've found that it's not always the science that's difficult, but how to manage and balance your life outside of science that can leave you sleepless at night. I can offer you a few suggestions of what I have learned:

1. Don't try to do it all by yourself. Use friends and family, available. I am blessed to have a retired mother-in-law who looks after my son whenever needed. Perhaps you may have a person whom your trust in your circle to assist in babysitting duties?
3. Find other scientist like yourself with children for support. If possible, select a supervisor/advisor with children and similar family values. I have one and it has made ALL the difference in my transition into motherhood.
3. And most importantly, as someone in this thread mentioned, you must be organized, focused and come to lab ready to work. I've found that I've become more productive after the baby than before as a result of setting weekly goals and deadlines.

I'll end here. But if you'd like to talk more, feel free to email me. Perhaps there may be a "scientific mom" support group forum that someone knows about out there.

Hope this was helpful,

Woman in science- motherhood and career management

Postby jonnie » Tue Nov 09, 2004 11:31 am

I must say you sound very modest (not). 50-60 hrs a week get a life, quality not quantity, get in get the job done and go home, try achieving the "work life balance", surely its work to live, not live to work. "super woman in this field" utter rubbish. Anyway what about dads doing post docs. Simple message, get over yourself & sort out your priorities.

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