The Work-Life Balancing Act

Recently, several items have drawn my attention to the issue of work-life balance.

The first is a recent report, published by the Center for American Progress and the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic and Family Security entitled “Staying Competitive: Patching America’s Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences.”  The authors were intrigued by a recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences that confirmed that women who receive PhDs in the sciences are less likely than men to seek academic research positions, and were more likely to drop out before attaining tenure if they did take on a faculty post.  These authors wanted to find out why, so looked into the impact of children and family obligations.

Some of their key findings:

  • Family formation accounts for the largest leaks in the scientific pipeline – women in the sciences who are married with children are 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure track position after receiving a Ph.D. than are married men with children.
  • Scientists often make decisions about career paths while still in training, and both men and women report shifts away from the career goal of research professor during the course of graduate school (also confirmed by Cynthia Fuhrmann at UCSF, unpublished data), with the movement of women’s plans being more pronounced.
  • Research intensive careers in university settings have a bad reputation among both men and women.
  • Scientific researchers receive limited benefits such as paid maternity leave and parental leave, and young scientists are least likely to get any of these benefits.

The second item was a recent poll on ScienceCareers in which readers were asked how they plan to balance family and career.  The respondents were mainly younger scientists, especially postdocs (43%) and graduate students (49%), with a few undergraduates and other.  Nearly half of the respondents “expect/plan to have children while still in training”, and more than a quarter of respondents already have children. About a quarter (24.5%) plan to wait until after their careers are established before having children, and 2% don’t intend to have children. This is encouraging – it shows that most respondents think it is possible to balance a healthy family life with a scientific career.

And finally, I see that at the ACS national meeting this spring in San Fransisco, the Division of Small Chemical Businesses is organizing a symposium entitled “Sustaining a Work-Life Balance”.

It seems like this is an issue that more and more people are willing to talk about.  While the term “work-life balance” was first used in the 1970s, until now it has mainly been an individual, or at most a family, discussion. Balancing the different parts of your life – work, family, friends, hobbies….. – is always a challenge, and something that professionals need to think about from time to time.  While it’s impossible to achieve perfect balance on a daily, weekly, or sometimes even monthly basis, on a longer term basis you should be spending your time and energy on things that matter to you.  If you’re not, perhaps it’s time to think about what you can change to make your actions match your personal values and desires.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

3 Responses to The Work-Life Balancing Act

  1. James O. says:

    As a Single father, It has been of KEY importance to find gainful employment that allows the freedom to work with family obligations and still keep up with current trends in the scientific field. This has forced me to take positions away from “the Bench” and go into more managerial prospects. This has also limited the posibilities for advancement. As such, I am greatful to see that as a community we are looking into the difficulties of this kind of balancing act. I look forward to seeing the kinds of solutions that develope.

  2. Thanks Lisa. I look forward to hearing more from you on this subject at the seminar at the San Francisco meeting!

  3. mrted57 says:

    Balancing act! Take time out for your family. My wife and I are empty nesters and I hate it. Believe me this time of year when the kids are back from college I make sure I have time to spend with both of them. I know they probably don’t see it that way.
    My son is applying to Grad school in Mathematics and my daughter is in design school back East.So Lisa,your comments are very relivent
    I currently have four JOBS. I manage a 75 year old family business, run a start up recycled paper company, have an ART Studio and am treasurer of the St Louis Section ACS for the fourth year. I try to make money at the first three jobs. I don’t get paid for being the treasurer.
    No one ever died saying I wish I’d spent more time at the office.

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