After reading an interview with a pioneer scientist on Science, I kept questioning myself about how to find a balance between life and work.
In the cited interview, the scientist said she took 5 days off work for the birth of all her three sons. I read a lot about life and work time balance, and one lecture had an impact on me because the person said that there is no work-life balance, since work is part of your life.
Is it true? So, in that case, if you take your time off, you will no longer be considered as competitive as before?
I know that all great and brilliant minds don’t take times off, and most of them say they don’t need it because their job is not a burden, but a blessing. Based on all the hard paths that a scientist will experience along their career, the expensive studies within their home countries and abroad until they achieve their dream jobs, each scientist chooses this path based on love.
At the same time, the competition is there, you must be the best in everything you do. I think the competition nowadays is pretty different from the time where you could discover an antibiotic by a fortuitous accident.
Now, besides the great ideas, you need a lot of money because all the new techniques are really expensive, so you need grants to support your research, your lab, your students, your fellows. To get the grants, you need to prove that you are well-known in the area, showing many good papers in respectable journals.
So, in the very early stages of the career, when a person is trying to get into a good college, the competition already started, and that will dictate your whole career. If you decide you want to be a doctor or a scientist, does it mean you cannot have a time off until you retire? I think the answer will depend on what kind a scientist you want to be. I am pretty sure that Nobel laureates do not take time off. At the same time, most of them had a great discovery in the early stages of their career, maybe during their PhD.
I agree that you have to work really hard and get a good job, a stable one, maybe a tenure-track one. Some people have the illusion that you can slow down after you get tenure, but the reality is that after tenure, you must keep your rhythm going to continue to be as productive as before.
Some places allow a sabbatical year, usually after the 7th year, so you can pick any place in the world and go to work there. That’s great, because you can learn a new culture, work within a new group, but most scientists do not use this time, because if you leave your own lab for one year, there will be prejudice.
How are you going to manage the people in the lab, the students, the financial part, the grants, and the collaborations? Nowadays, I think the most important word in science is collaboration. You can gain some experience abroad, but you may lose some time in your own country.
So, while the future offers so many new techniques and options for discoveries, treatments, and research, it takes a lot of a scientist’s personal time to do something worthwhile.
A 40h/week job does not exist in science–we need much more than that to get everything done. At home, we have to study, analyze data, and think about the next step, because there is always a next one.
Being a scientist is a non-stop job. We are planning experiments, collaborating, writing papers and feeling guilty when we are not doing that, since there is a whole community that depends on those scientific advances. But in my opinion that doesn’t mean you cannot have some time off to enjoy your family, and friends. After some time off, you will feel more energetic, full of fresh ideas, So maybe the time off is a good thing for your career. You might not have a Nobel Prize, but you will have tons of memories with your beloved ones.