Posts Tagged 'work-life balance'

New ways of doing science, Yamana Science and Shifting the Effort/Award Ratio

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the first annual (I hope) Unsummit, organized by Yamana Science.  Yamana was founded by mom, scientist and powerhouse Kennen Salinero, and describes itself as follows:

“Yámana Science & Technology is an organization that envisions a science culture where both people and ideas flourish in the presence of effective support, balanced lifestyles, and thriving workplaces.”

The Unsummit pulled together a creative group of scientists and organizational thinkers to dream up and hopefully one day act upon a new way of doing science – from basic cultural changes in the way science is carried out to practical changes including work-life balance.  It is all related really.

If you are devoted to science and to change check them out and begin to take charge of what we do and how we do it.

 

Creativity in Science Careers: why I love AAAS

When I first started this project I was warned by Fran the editor that by suggesting there are many options for scientists other than the straight and narrow path to academia, I may hit some nerves. I had agreed with her and even wrote about how the “science establishment,” needs to be more open to different career options. But maybe we were more pessimistic than need be (although to some extent this is what happened with the recent Nature review of the Motherhood book – more on that here.)  This month, through a number of “outlets” the AAAS and their journal Science clearly show their support for scientists who venture off the academic track, and it’s refreshing to see a major organization be so supportive and creative.

First, was the April 3 Science Editorial by Bruce Alberts who writes:

“A recent survey of more than 1000 of these young scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), reveals an unusually broad range of career aspirations. Less than half select becoming academic researchers like their mentors as their first choice. One senses that we are reaching a tipping point, where students who prefer to work in the world of public policy, government, precollege education, industry, or law will no longer be viewed as deserting science. Faculty and students can then begin to talk honestly about a whole range of respected, science-related career possibilities. This is crucial, because we must promote the movement of scientists into many occupations and environments if our end goal is to effectively apply science and its values to solving global problems.”

Read it and cheer!

Next up is Science Careers upcoming Webinar, Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away from the Bench,  and finally, a really interesting NewFocus Profile (in Science) on Jorge Cham, researcher in neural prosthetics turned successful cartoonist, who amuses and reveals the life of PhD students and advisors through comics (see his blog at or check out his books.) Cham is quoted as saying about his career shift,  ” ‘if you have the drive and creativity, you can forge your own path,’  and ‘you can choose your own definition of success.’ ”  My thoughts exactly.

My dad always said do what you love and you’ll succeed. For many it’s a luxury to be able to do what they love, for most scientists that’s exactly what they’re doing.   We just need to appreciate and support all the different ways scientists do what they do.

C&EN review and career paths….

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this whole book process is that you’ve got to do a lot of promotion. Cornell’s been great – but for books that’s just not enough.  Even though I’m not promoting just myself but 33 other women – its not something with which I’m comfortable.

But sometimes others do the promotion for you – and I’m happy to announce a great review of Motherhood published in last week’s Chemical and Engineering News. I’m particularly pleased because 1) I’ve always liked this publication for its in depth analysis of various issues in toxicology, and 2) because I felt that the reviewer, University of Oregon chemist Geraldine Richmond, really got what I was trying to convey in both the intro and conclusion to Motherhood. That is, there are many different ways of contributing to science, and that maybe the traditional definition of success in science could be revisited, with so many workers (men and women) contributing to many different sectors – other than academia.

But for scientists, particularly for women scientists involved with improving “pathways to the professoriate” this can be a touchy subject.  I recall a conversation with the editor when first submitting the proposal. “Some people won’t be happy with this,” she’d said, followed by “but that can be good.” Meaning controversy sells books.  One thing I worried about while pulling this whole project together, which depended on the 33 other women scientists, several of whom not only pursued the professoriate but who are actively seeking to help others find their way, was that I make my position clear.  Publications like Parenting and Professing already existed. I wanted this to be different.

While this hasn’t been particularly controversial – there are undercurrents.  Last week on a conference call about a future Motherhood-related panel, one participant voiced her concern that by advocating integration of these other particularly part-time career choices into the scientific mainstream, we may be backsliding.  I truly understand this argument – and there’s not a day (well OK, maybe a week or a month) that goes by without my wondering if by choosing to do the part-time non-academia thing, while my husband does the full-time PI thing, I’ve helped to perpetuate the status quo.  Though the status quo has shifted from what it was decades ago – perhaps back then I wouldn’t have even been able to hang onto any semblance of a career – the fact is women just aren’t entering the professoriate in numbers that reflect those stepping into science with degree in hand.  And it’s something of a catch-22 for some of us, to really change, to make research and academia more amenable to parents, we need more science moms (and a few dads and husbands wouldn’t hurt either) who are truly interested in changing the academic system.

Or maybe we just need an economic disaster. Four day weeks, reduced work-time, less focus on grants, hands-on-faculty, a return to valuing teaching – who knows what might shake out?

Advice wanted for re-entry: hosed out of the pipeline at mid-career

I am posting this for Gen, a scientist who recently wrote to this site about her career, seeking advice from readers:

“As an NSF predoctoral fellow in the life sciences, I climbed pretty high up the ladder at a soft-money research institute.. It was crazy trying to balance a toddler, two pregnancies and a new baby with what has been called an “extreme” career as a laboratory head. However, I did contribute a number of significant, recognized papers to my field.

As an independent investigator I earned four research grants (2 federal and 2 private) over the course of ten years. I was awarded a five year R01 just after having my second and last baby (at age 42–don’t think it is easy–I was just lucky)! I was an Associate level researcher before my lab was shut down because my R01 wasn’t renewed after two tries. During this time I had two sons and a miscarriage. This contributed to a “productivity problem” that grant reviewers have been eager to point out as a reason not to renew my grant (we all know there doesn’t need to be much of a reason to deny a grant these days). I published three papers on a single R01 grant as my only source of funding, with only one post doc in the lab. Two more papers nearly ready to submit. Well, at least you can say I was efficient?

Now what? I have been out of work for nearly a year. I have some well-recognized publications and the colleagues I have contacted stated they regard my work highly and are really sorry that I am no longer engaged in my research.

I do want to return to my former career trajectory and become a full professor in 5-7 years time, but with certain modifications. I believe that I will need about three years to regain my publication “quantity”: my publication “quality” is excellent. I currently have a small grant, with funds I can make last for 2-3 more years. I can probably get work as a “research track” faculty member (i.e. superpost-doc) in someone else’s lab. I’m not currently competitive for a faculty position because I am a 50 yr old woman and it seems that most places would prefer a younger, “hotter” new investigator. Is it a good idea to take a downward step for a few years while my youngest (age 8 still needs Mom a lot? If so, can I get back on track…ever?

Any advice would be tremendously appreciated!”

Motherhood media

I’m happy to announce that the video of the first Motherhood Panel, held at the Cornell University Bookstore is now available. Tune in (though I’ll warn you it’s long!) and hear Joan Baizer, Marilyn Merritt and Gina Wesley-Hunt, along with Cornell faculty dicussants Shelley Correll, Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Lisa Fortier, Margaret Frey, and Barbara Knuth, talk about motherhood and science.

On another note in addition to Ellen Galinsky’s excellent commentary on motherhood and work (Ellen is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute) Motherhood the Elephant was also highlighted on a recent broadcast of Hartford CT’s WNPR Navigating Motherhood and Work episode of “Where We Live.”

I’m afraid I didn’t do the book and the contributors justice. No excuses but nerves got the better of me! Now that I have the luxury of letting my fingers do the walking across the keyboard (where my brain has some time to think) I feel I can better respond to host Diane Orson’s excellent question, “what did I learn from the other scientists.”  I mentioned patience, particularly from those who navigated the motherhood/science path before me. It is certainly possible to have the desired career along with the desired level of input into the day-to-day family care – but maybe not both at the same time (of course depends of the level you desire!) Sometimes somethings got to give – and sometimes there are opportunities in the future you’ve just got to plan, keep a hand in the game and be patient.

I’d also add the confidence to ask for what you want. Several contributors pointed out that flexible hours, extended maternity leave, the ability to work from home didn’t just happen. They asked.

Finally (though there are many other good lessons learned) I think it’s that success in career/science really is what you make of it. Don’t wait for external validation. Though it’s nice when it comes, for many, particularly those who work independently or who have chosen non-traditional paths, it may be a long time coming!

News on the balancing act from the EU

I was scanning the ScienceCareers site today and came across an interesting blog entry – Career vs. Family: An ESOF Smackdown, by Katie Travis. For those (like me) who don’t know, ESOF is the European Open Science Forum.  Having no experience with work-life balance in Europe and elsewhere around the globe – I’d always assumed that motherhood was greener on the other side of the pond.  I’m not referring to wooden toys and cotton diapers – but rather I’d always assumed that the desire to combine work with family was better developed and appreciated over there.  Maybe that’s not so.

Writes Travis, “I heard something I haven’t heard expressed out loud in a while: Women do need to choose between a career and family.”  Baffled by women who suggested that women must choose, Travis kept looking until she found other perspectives, one offered up by a physician, field researcher and mother of four who she writes is “…. a “trailing spouse”–her husband’s diplomatic job takes the lead and takes them around the world. She’s got a self-described service mentality, so even though her husband’s career has been the most consistent, she’s applied her expertise in whatever region she’s in. “I believe it’s my responsibility to prepare myself to say yes to opportunity,” Tokola says. She adds that she’s managed work-life balance by having a husband who’s 100% supportive and by having outside help with childcare.”

For more of Travis’s observations, check out her entry Career vs. Family: An ESOF Smackdown.

Topic of the Week: Ask for what you want, you’re worth it

One theme that came up several times throughout the book and in a recent comment (again by Andrea Kalfoglou) is that women need to ask for what they want. As an independent worker for years – I’ve got less experience with this one. The only two times I did ask – it was for long-shots. The first time, I asked for part-time while applying for a job described not only as full time but as 50-hrs of full-time.  But – just asking that question prompted the employer to consider moving the job to an office closer to my home. The other was while applying for a faculty job – although I’d been warned to get the interview and then negotiate if offered the job – I knew I couldn’t in all honesty apply for a full-time position when I knew my goal was part-time.

But, as several contributors suggest, when you ask for something reasonable the response is often reasonable.  One contributor to Motherhood negotiated four days a week in the lab/office and one at home. Another asked for, and got longer maternity leave.

Writes Andrea (elsewhere on this blog)

“Draw your line in the sand and stick to your guns. Ask for what you want whether it’s three months maternity leave, better pay, or part-time employment. I was able to get all three simply by asking. When I asked four mentors about negotiating for more pay, the two women told me “don’t rock the boat.” Guess what the men said? “You always negotiate!” You’re probably worth it.”

So, don’t be shy, speak up.