“Your Life, your science: getting the balance right for you”
The Babraham Institute hosts a “My Life in Science“ seminar series as part of the LIBRA project. It aims to provide inspirational role models of scientists who have successfully negotiated ‘life’ challenges in their careers, to promote the benefits of maintaining a good work-life-balance and to encourage exchange about the challenges of trying to achieve these goals.
What “Life” actually means and how you integrate it with your work is a personal decision. It strongly depends on your values, your personality and the circumstances that you are in. What is balance for you? How do you recharge and where do you get your motivation from? Of course answers to these questions will be highly diverse. For example, life can mean caring about other people and indeed yourself. It may be the joy of parenthood balanced with exciting research, as Adrian Liston from the Translational Immunology Lab at the VIB in Leuven, Belgium tells us. The title of his story - “Baby and me, plus an ERC”- already points to two of his strongest values: gender equality and work-life-balance. Projected onto parenthood this means equality between parents from day one onwards. It will be “Good for you, good for them, good for your child, good for your relationship”, he says. The role model you provide to your children will influence how they will perceive gender equality later in life. In Adrian’s case, both he and his wife are working full time. The arrival of a baby suddenly changes the perceived roles of partners from “Love of your life to logistics co-manager”, he says. This does not need to be a bad thing. It requires a brushing up of time management skills and the ability to prioritise strictly. Avoiding perfectionism and “saying no” are valuable skills, as they enable priorities to be put into practice. Adrian also stresses the mutual benefit of delegating to staff. In addition, one often neglected priority should be your own well-being: “Do things for you. Being a parent should not mean being miserable.”
Factors that help to achieve a good work-life-balance should be a consideration when applying for positions. After doing his PhD in Australia and a postdoc in the US, Adrian moved to Belgium. This decision was not only based on the scientific excellence of the new work place, but also on factors that would support the whole family. Examples are childcare, education and appropriate sick leave (education of the child’s immune system comes at a cost…).
Being a parent even inspired Adrian to carry out some intriguing research (DOI: 10.1038/ni.3371): “How hard is parenting? Harder than severe gastroenteritis...” (link). “For 3 years I had a baby with me at every [working] dinner and the reactions were polarised”, he says. So setting the right priorities while sticking to your values might not always be appreciated and for sure is hard work, but it can pay off.
This seminar series at the Babraham Institute together with those held at the LIBRA partner institutes provide a unique set of perspectives on this complex topic. Feelings about work-life-balance impact on intrinsic motivation - the driver of creativity, an essential factor for scientific progress. If we understand a healthy work-life-balance as an inner attitude, we might be surprised what it can do for our career.
Read more about BI activities.