On this year’s National Women’s Day, I really wanted to blog about work-life-balance in academia. But it was a public holiday and I had to play with my 1-year old son most of the day. I have to admit, we did end up “working,” going to a local wolf sanctuary to help one of my students out with her research. It was a beautiful day, and my family had a great time (including the incident with the peeing on my pants. Note the correct preposition).
And yet, it was also a day of choices. Five, six years ago, a public holiday would have given me more time to get my own academic work done — habits instilled by years as a postgraduate student. I would routinely grab an hour here and a day there, just to get some things off my to-do list and perhaps finish a paper or two. I figured that this was and always will be the way to stay ahead of the academic game.
Then I met the love of my life, became a wife, a lecturer, a Principal Investigator, a subject coordinator, a grantholder, a dog-owner, an aunt, and a mother…A beautiful life, with way too much on my plate.
I have energy, I have intellect, I have zero free time.
Under similar circumstance, some academics would simply continue throwing themselves into their work and get on with things, putting in 60 h work weeks to stay ahead of the game. And to be honest, that was my instinct too. Luckily, I married a nag, who insists that I step away from my books when I get home. Luckily, I fell in love with my baby boy, who is determined to eat any electronics and books I hold in my hands. So, now, we stare at the sky and dig in the garden when I return home. And I do it rather early in the afternoon, otherwise we’re both in a mood.
I put in the extra hours by waking up early (though not quite as early as the #past3amsquad). And I’m becoming better at saying No, sticking to the things that are important in my work and my life.
This seems simple, right?
It’s actually surprisingly difficult to maintain; it’s a decision that I have to keep on making every day. Right now, my colleagues are attending conferences where I desperately want to be; I see the speed at which some of my seniors publish (30 papers a year, are you kidding me?); I become jealous of some of the insightful and productive collaborations my peers are forming simply because they have the time to make connections. I need to remind myself every single day that work-life balance is really work-life choices (wisdom I overheard at the Young Scientists’ Conference last year).
There is research to support my decision: working academic mothers are (in the long haul) more productive than their colleagues. Parents in academia are becoming more and more vocal about the support they need, as well as the invaluable contributions they make. And for me, the simple truth is, I don’t want my gravestone to read, “She was a great scientist.” That is not enough.
What I want to tell you here, is: balance is a choice, and it’s yours to make. Even though you are competing with people who spend 24/7 in the laboratory, and who laugh at the thought that you can achieve success while having a life. Even though in South Africa you may really be in the minority with that kind of mindset. The narrative is changing.