Work/ life/ friends/ family/ grants/ science/ blog balance

Edinburgh weather never ceases to amaze me. Last week, everyone was sitting around in the Meadows having barbecues and this week it either snowed or hailed everyday!

 

Updates
This month has just flown by! I feel like I cannot account for my time since February! There must be some sort of conspiracy to speed up time that I was not made aware of… This month has been full of wonderful visits. At the beginning of the month, my friend from home came to visit and we got the chance to explore the cobbled streets of Old Town in the rain. And just last week my dad came to restock my freezer with home-cooked food for a lovely visit haha. It was nice to have people from home around. It was also strange to hear how my accent has changed over the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, everyone can tell I am from North America, I have not picked up the Scottish accent (much to the dismay of my best friend’s family), but I have picked up the vocabulary. I say trousers instead of pants, football instead of soccer and I try to make a conscious effort to pronounce the H in herb.

In my September post I spoke a bit about applying for additional funding for my 4th year. The results of that studentship applications came out and -drum roll please- I was not successful in my application. Oh well… On the bright side, this gives me extra motivation to get my PhD finished as soon as possible to go on to bigger and brighter things.

 

Collaborations
My supervisors and I have a longstanding collaboration with a group in India. In fact within my first month in Edinburgh, I was already included in Skype meetings with our Indian collaborators and their findings have dictated a large part of my work- which proteins to probe for, which assays to do, etc. Just this week, 2 PhD students from India have come here to learn new assays. I will be introducing one of them to the fabulous world of live-cell imaging and all things microscope-related. This will be a sort of microscope bootcamp, she has to learn the ins and outs of everything so that she can go back to her own lab in 3 months and set up the microscope, stimulator and perfusion. It will be quite a task to teach her everything I know about imaging and to teach her how to troubleshoot any problems she may encounter while setting up and imaging in the lab in India. This is going to be a great experience for me to go over all the imaging basics and remind myself of all the details that I may have forgotten.

 

NatureJobs
Last month, NatureJobs has a contest running to get the chance to blog at The NatureJobs Career Expo. I decided to throw my hat into the ring and write a blog post for consideration for the contest. Out of the possible subjects, I chose to write about whether or not scientists can have work/life balance. Although I did not win the contest, I want to share my insight. Here is my submission:

 When I told a postdoc in my lab that I intended to write an article suggesting that scientists could indeed have work/life balance, she looked at me and asked: “Are you really the most qualified person to write that?” It is true that as a PhD student, I do work ridiculously long hours and weekends in the hope of a breakthrough result that will pave the way to my Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. That being said, I still manage to travel, go to the gym regularly and have a few hobbies, making me the ideal candidate to write this.

I think that work/life balance is possible for scientists, however not in the traditional sense. A scientist’s work hours are rarely nine-to-five. This means that we cannot compare our work/life balance to those who do only work eight-hour days and who can leave their work at the office at the end of the day. If we do this, we will be miserable.

Let it go… or not
Firstly, I do not think that the work and lifestyle that we attempt to balance needs to be the dichotomy that it is made out to be. As scientists, it is often hard to completely tear ourselves away from our research. I think that it is completely fine to always leave science (work) on the back burner, gently simmering, even outside of a lab or science setting. In fact, it is quite unpleasant to actively try to push something out of your mind while attempting to enjoy life.

Homeostasis
The “balance” in work/life balance does not mean 50% work 50% lifestyle, family, hobbies, extracurricular activities, etc. As scientists, we need find a homeostatic set point between our lab work and our life outside of the lab and try to maintain it. This does not mean that we are able to make that spinning class at the gym at 5PM or stay out late on the eve of a new experiment, however we can still have a life. It is quite an effort to follow a rigid, fixed schedule particularly when experiments can be so unpredictable. Hobbies that can be done on one’s own time-unstructured hobbies- are ideal for scientists.

No working hard and playing harder
There is no need to compensate for working too hard. During quieter weeks, there will be plenty of time to make up for it. It is important not to worry about work/life balance. The more we worry, the more we overcompensate. The more we overcompensate, particularly by trying to spread ourselves thinly and equally between “work” and “life”, the greater the chances that we realise we cannot do it and go on to do one or the other and lose everything that we have been working toward.

In conclusion, unfortunately, unlike in our lab work, there is no recipe or protocol that will provide us with our own personalized, ideal work/life balance. This requires optimization, which is something that we, as scientists, happen to be very good at.

 

And with that kernel of Katherine’s infinite wisdom (and yes, I apparently think so highly of myself that I am referring to myself in the 3rd person), I wish you all a happy Saturday!