The Career Series: 10 Tips From A Scientist Mom
Our family picture on the wall is a pleasant reminder that we love each other unconditionally, we live in chaos and fun, and we are committed to being the best versions of ourselves for the goals of our family. I have much to learn as a wife and mom balancing this joyous scientist life and I am by no means an expert. I am constantly striving to improve myself and offer a few tips I have utilized to survive (and thrive!).
Stay proactive and organized.
A little prep goes a long way, as does staying organized. Keeping a family calendar of upcoming doctor appointments, birthday parties, or any events will help you immensely for streamlining your life. Just as you prep for a week or month’s worth of experiments, planning ahead at home will make your family life flow much more smoothly.
Teamwork conquers all.
You know the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” Well that holds true, especially with two children…two villages…and so on. Teamwork goes a long way in a lab, with your mentor, your family, pretty much every aspect of your life. You simply cannot do it alone. We value all the help that we receive and are so very thankful for it all.
Work hard, play hard, rest hard.
Oh and work hard you shall! Harder than you ever thought your body could work. You might even forgo the play for just straight rest. Enjoy moments of rest and play with your kids and use these times as a mental break from all the chaos you encounter during the day. We recharge nightly with laughter, games, playtime, and reading.
Take time for yourself.
Investing in yourself is the gift that keeps on giving. Happy wife, happy mom, happy life! I make time to go shopping, mountain biking, get my hair and nails done, and read. These daily breaks fulfill my creative outlet, relax me, and enable me to come back full swing to the role of wife, mom, and scientist. I am infinitely more creative and productive professionally when I have invested in my emotional, physical, and mental health first.
Delegate and stick to a schedule.
As a scientist, research productivity (read: publications) is often the result of finely-tuned intra-lab collaborations. The same goes for home- we have found that “divide and conquer” is the only way to approach the work-life chaos. We are also flexible since life happens, and take up the slack when one of us is obviously busier. It’s also incredibly helpful to stick to a schedule especially with kids— it helps maintains a sense of order in what can otherwise seem like “survival mode.”
Stay continually thankful.
My wise owl husband constantly reminds me that “comparison is the thief of joy.” As a fierce competitor, athlete, and type A, I thrive on comparisons because that is, after all, the root of competition. And who doesn’t like to win? However, I am constantly reminded that staying thankful is the only way to avoid the discontent that comes with comparing oneself to the super-moms, super-scientists, and super-wives. Staying thankful for your own accomplishments and life is essential for maintaining inner peace and work-life balance.
Invest in your relationships.
Whether this be your marriage, partnership, friendships, or family relationships, investing quality time into the emotional bank account of your relationships will yield large dividends. Quality time with others is a valuable piece of your mental and emotional sanity. Phone calls, intentional lunch breaks, weekend trips, nightly chats with your spouse or parent— all of these connections will relieve your stress and sharing a few laughs is the very least you will benefit. I am always relieved to find others going through the exact same thing, and even more pleased when they offer possible solutions, coping mechanisms, or even just a hug and laugh.
Master the art of multitasking.
You don’t sit and stare at the centrifuge when your samples are spinning do you? Just as you would in lab, multitasking between the day-to-day events not only helps to pass time, but also peels the layers of stress you feel from your overwhelming to-do list. Be present at work, but if you have a 20 minute break, call to schedule your kid’s doctor appointment, pay a bill, or maybe even eat. At home, when your kids are playing, put on a load of laundry, take a quick shower, and plan out the week’s meals. Every minute counts!!
Stop trying to have it all.
I am always reminded of the saying “You really can have it all, just not at the same time.” Perfectionists want everything to be perfect and all at the same time—family, marriage, career, genius kids with perfect outfits, and its just not realistic! Stop beating yourself up and accept that you are doing the best you can- your three first-author manuscripts will come, but for now, reading to your kids, playing with them, and just being present are so much more important.
Find a supportive mentor.
I can’t emphasize how important it is to find a mentor (the A++ version of a boss) who supports your creative genius, ambitions, and desire to have a successful career. It will truly make or break your work-life balance. I have been blessed to have one of the most supportive mentors I could ever dream of. If you’re unsure how your mentor or boss will react to your plans to start a family as a graduate student or postdoc, be proactive and positive. It is helpful and effective to outline a detailed strategy with your research goals during pregnancy, maternity leave, and the months following.
Heather Hambright is a graduate student in the Cancer Biology track. She was recently awarded a F99/K00 (Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award) by the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. Read more about Heather.