Holiday Science Fiction? Balance Research and Family

Life is demanding.

But just think how it was millennia ago? Did scholars work 10-12 hours a day? Most likely not. While we may find it acceptable to work that hard (and even more!) during normal weekdays (and even weekends), the holidays have a different aura and meaning for many of us. Suddenly, we are called to the pit for refueling and servicing. How many will pass it for an additional 20 circuit runs? And what price do we pay in our personal life for our working style? Can we balance it all?? With the holidays just around the corner, how do we make sure we keep our research at a good pace and yet also get a share of our family joy?

On Aims and Priorities

As with most things in life, we adapt our lifestyle to fit our ambitions, aims and priorities. While some researchers put their family life first  (and thus fit their lab work accordingly), there are many that focus so much on their career such that family/personal life is put on a hold. The increasing competition for tenure-track positions in academia and dwindling industrial research positions push many of us to say, "I will work hard now and later I will compensate for the lost time with the family." The only problem is that time can't be earned back and the childhood of your kids can not be experienced or returned. But it should not be a black or white situation – an excellent example is the 2009 Nobel Laureate, Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn, which demonstrated that a stellar career in science is possible in parallel to raising a son. When asked how she managed to keep the balance she commented that "use that good science mind, your good problem solving mind, to figure out how you are going to go about this." new-and-improvedexplore-labguru

Conflict Management

The holiday times are emotional periods for many researchers as many feel the longing to their family the strongest. These longing emotions collide with the dilemma of whether to continue working on that high priority project across the holidays or to take a break and see the family (and rest a bit!). Combine this with many universities shutting down their laboratories to save on power consumption and conflicting demands by the PI, and researchers experience a confusing period. In case you are contemplating what you should do, first check the sources of the conflict – what's on stake at each end. If your PI pushes you into a corner, you might want to negotiate with him/her that you'll work part of the holidays. If it's your own ambition that pushes you to work on the holidays maybe you should check and see what you're missing at the other hand. Don't forget, that you can advance your research well enough if you work in an efficient manner (see 7 Ways You Can Be A More Efficient Researcher) in such a way that you allocate one or two weeks to finish up a set of experiments (if possible) and leaving the last week to spend with your family. In case you need to take a cross-continental flight to visit your family, it might be worthwhile to decide to skip the visit this year but to take it next year. At the end, the graduate or post-doc terms can be stressful periods demanding  great sacrifice and effort - but these are only PART of your life. See that you pass these periods on both feet without losing too much from either side of the career=family equation.