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Research is Tough for Dads Too

A new survey finds that men as well as women scientists struggle to find time for family and life outside of the lab.

By | March 12, 2012

image: Research is Tough for Dads Too Flickr, paparutzi

FLICKR, PAPARUTZI

It’s not just women who find it difficult to balance family and lab-life. The preliminary results of a survey conducted by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) showed that 39 percent of men were unhappy with how their work impacted their home-life, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The results of a survey that reached more than 4,000 researchers worldwide showed that both men and women are being driven to consider alternative career options. Although more women—48 percent—said they were also unhappy with the strain their work-life put on the home-life, a large percentage of men felt the same stress, suggesting that the problem with research is not a “female problem,” but one that relates to workplace requirements.

"Let's stop pointing the finger at women by putting a 'baby' Band-Aid on the problem and solve the real issues," Janet Bandows Koster, AWIS executive director told The Chronicle.

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Avatar of: Cadrin

Cadrin

Posts: 2

March 12, 2012

The problem is not directly related to workplace requirements but to what it is required to get research funds. 

Avatar of: FJScientist

FJScientist

Posts: 52

March 12, 2012

I agree completely. But what is the solution?

The essential driving force is that there are more persons wanting to pursue research as a career than there are funding opportunities available. Those persons are in competition for limited funds since not everyone can be funded. The proverbial rat race occurs. Inevitably some lose out in this competition and must seek other career options.

The essential problem is that the necessities of maintaining funding make our research work a top priority. Whether that trumps family life is up to the individual to decide. Those who find the strain on their other interests (home life or even other hobbies) not worth the effort sometimes find it necessary to drop out of research. 

Is this unique to research? No. Entrepreneurs starting and maintaining their own businesses even more routinely make such choices. Like an entrepreneur, we make our own decisions that impact upon our ability to succeed. It is up to us to decide what must be done to continue and to act accordingly. And yes, part of that may include working harder at the expense of our other activities, including home life.   

Brutal, to be sure but what are the alternatives? Guaranteed funding for life for those lucky few with the right connections to land a plum job? This is the norm in some societies but does it represent the best way forward? It depends on where your opinion lies on the multiple scales of merit, fairness and humane lifestyles for those in the field.

Finally, allow me some observations based on years of experience as a scientist. I know that I might anger some with these comments. But I really hope to provide advice to help most in their agonizing choices.

Always be aware that there is a subpopulation of humanity extremely driven to do science. They do not mind at all working over night and 12-16 hour days, by choice. It is their hobby and their life. They are driven to do so. 20-30 years ago, that description fit most everyone in science. Since then, science became a career choice for a larger number of people. That includes those seeking a 'more balanced' life as a scientist for which 12-16 hour days is decidedly not the choice. But they remain in competition for research funding with those more driven. 

All is not lost though for those without that insane desire to pursue science at all costs. I often see very successful scientists working eight hour days. First of all, you must be capable--there are many who work 16 hours/day and accomplish nothing. They don't last long in the field and nor should they (which is why I am against long-term funding for the lucky few hand-picked in a random fashion). Secondly, pick a research field that is amenable to conducting 9-5 experiments in which you can produce enough data to be successful. Thirdly, don't pick a type of study in which more hours equates to more data. If you are limited by the amount of time it takes, say, a mutant mouse to grow, there is an equal constraint upon your competition--they can't outwork you. It's now up to you to outsmart them. Fourth, science is not all competition. Collaboration makes for the best science. Make sure your research is of value to others who will work with you to further all of your efforts. But also try to make sure that this collaborative relationship is balanced--a collaboration in which you do all of the work is ultimately not rewarding for you.

I hope this helps out some of you. Balancing research with home life is not trivial. We all do research because we love it, But some love it more than others. The key is to recognize this reality and fit your research to your other needs.   

Avatar of: David McLeod

David McLeod

Posts: 1457

March 12, 2012

As a field biologist, research happens both in the lab and in the field.  Trips to the field are fantastic, but weeks or months away from family puts a strain on relationships and loads additional stress/responsibility onto the spouse at home.  That said, I can't imagine not doing the field work for it is there that I find new questions and renew my motivation for the work that I do when back home.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 12, 2012

The problem is not directly related to workplace requirements but to what it is required to get research funds. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 12, 2012

I agree completely. But what is the solution?

The essential driving force is that there are more persons wanting to pursue research as a career than there are funding opportunities available. Those persons are in competition for limited funds since not everyone can be funded. The proverbial rat race occurs. Inevitably some lose out in this competition and must seek other career options.

The essential problem is that the necessities of maintaining funding make our research work a top priority. Whether that trumps family life is up to the individual to decide. Those who find the strain on their other interests (home life or even other hobbies) not worth the effort sometimes find it necessary to drop out of research. 

Is this unique to research? No. Entrepreneurs starting and maintaining their own businesses even more routinely make such choices. Like an entrepreneur, we make our own decisions that impact upon our ability to succeed. It is up to us to decide what must be done to continue and to act accordingly. And yes, part of that may include working harder at the expense of our other activities, including home life.   

Brutal, to be sure but what are the alternatives? Guaranteed funding for life for those lucky few with the right connections to land a plum job? This is the norm in some societies but does it represent the best way forward? It depends on where your opinion lies on the multiple scales of merit, fairness and humane lifestyles for those in the field.

Finally, allow me some observations based on years of experience as a scientist. I know that I might anger some with these comments. But I really hope to provide advice to help most in their agonizing choices.

Always be aware that there is a subpopulation of humanity extremely driven to do science. They do not mind at all working over night and 12-16 hour days, by choice. It is their hobby and their life. They are driven to do so. 20-30 years ago, that description fit most everyone in science. Since then, science became a career choice for a larger number of people. That includes those seeking a 'more balanced' life as a scientist for which 12-16 hour days is decidedly not the choice. But they remain in competition for research funding with those more driven. 

All is not lost though for those without that insane desire to pursue science at all costs. I often see very successful scientists working eight hour days. First of all, you must be capable--there are many who work 16 hours/day and accomplish nothing. They don't last long in the field and nor should they (which is why I am against long-term funding for the lucky few hand-picked in a random fashion). Secondly, pick a research field that is amenable to conducting 9-5 experiments in which you can produce enough data to be successful. Thirdly, don't pick a type of study in which more hours equates to more data. If you are limited by the amount of time it takes, say, a mutant mouse to grow, there is an equal constraint upon your competition--they can't outwork you. It's now up to you to outsmart them. Fourth, science is not all competition. Collaboration makes for the best science. Make sure your research is of value to others who will work with you to further all of your efforts. But also try to make sure that this collaborative relationship is balanced--a collaboration in which you do all of the work is ultimately not rewarding for you.

I hope this helps out some of you. Balancing research with home life is not trivial. We all do research because we love it, But some love it more than others. The key is to recognize this reality and fit your research to your other needs.   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 12, 2012

As a field biologist, research happens both in the lab and in the field.  Trips to the field are fantastic, but weeks or months away from family puts a strain on relationships and loads additional stress/responsibility onto the spouse at home.  That said, I can't imagine not doing the field work for it is there that I find new questions and renew my motivation for the work that I do when back home.

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