Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

HairdoneThe age-old woman’s issue: work-life balance. First, this is clearly not a “woman’s issue,” yet it is still labeled as such. Men make these choices, too. BUT, it feels different. I feel like, when I say I am leaving early to do a family-related activity, it is frowned upon, and I often do not reveal why I am leaving early. But, my male colleagues often use personal excuses for leaving early or not showing up to work and they seem fine with using these explanations.

Second, we have discussed many of the big work-life issues on this blog. For example: When should you have kids (see these blog posts: flexibility, grad school, pre/post tenure, postdoc)?  Should you take a job when you don’t have one for your spouse (see our posts on two-body problems: problems, surprisenegotiations)?

This weekend, I was thinking about the little work-life issues. Many of these issues are not about kids or family at all. Many times they concern myself – my personal well-being and how I don’t do things for myself because I am prioritizing work and other life choices first. I was thinking about it because I have been trying to dye my hair for about 2 weeks. The process takes about an hour, and I did not seem be be able to find that hour until today.  Here are some of the other things I prioritized over my personal activity: hanging out with my kids, making a figure for a paper, working on a grant report, writing this blog… You get the idea. And these other things are more important than dying my hair, so I was making the right choices, but I also want and need to dye my hair, too.

I always find the personal stuff hard to schedule and hard to prioritize such as hair, eye, dentist, and doctor appointments, or going to HR to fill out non-essential, but helpful, paperwork. Unless I am actually sick, I never go get regular check-ups. I should, but it seems like a waste of time. I go to the eye doctor once every 2-3 years and only because my glasses have broken and are hanging off my face.  I try to schedule a lot of this stuff in the summer, but that is also when I am busting my butt to get my papers out and get research done and traveling to conferences, so it still isn’t ideal. Are others like this? Am I a weirdo because I don’t keep my life on track?

I would think that it was just me except I have also been thinking back to my advisors, and I remember weird stuff coming out of their mouths. For instance, I had a graduate advisor who once told me that it was annoying when students (me, I was the only student) went to conferences because they not only missed 4-5 days from the lab for the conference, but they always had to leave early to do laundry and pack. My advisor also used to not go to the bathroom and do a sort of pee-pee dance. Maybe my advisor also didn’t want to waste time evacuating her bladder. I also had a postdoc advisor who told lab members that they should schedule dentist appointments on the weekends. I don’t even know any dentists who are open on the weekends.

So, maybe I was “raised” to be this way. I do try to be careful around my students so that I do not affect them the way I have been. I don’t want them to not go to the doctor or dentist. I don’t want them to not urinate because they feel they are wasting time. And I want to stop feeling that way, so I continue to fake it in the hopes that some day I will not feel weird about taking the time I need to clean my clothes and pack before a conference. (I am sure my fellow conference attendees also prefer I wash my clothes before the conference).

So, what about you? Do you have weird tendencies to be self-depriving spurned by an internal feeling that you are not working hard enough and still need to prove yourself? I do, clearly. I should say this is better after getting tenure. The removal of the feeling that you are going to lose your job if you don’t work hard enough hasn’t stopped me from working hard on science, but it has allowed me the freedom to go to the dentist. But, these feelings are clearly ridiculous. I try to stop them and “act normal.”

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Comments on: "Work Life Balance – Other Stuff" (4)

  1. I have a hard time scheduling time for routine doctor appointments too, I just have other stuff I’d rather be doing. I sometimes postpone bathroom breaks because I’m in the middle of something physics-related. But then I do stuff like reading blogs to procrastinate. And I always make time for lunch. So, kind of a mess. 🙂

  2. HusbandOfScience said:

    Place your own mask on before helping others, as they say.

  3. Senior Trailing Spouse said:

    It is also hard for me to prioritize my own health, but I’ve been trying to be better about this. I had a long time where I was slowly and surely getting unhealthier from working too much, not sleeping enough, and taking care of the kids — I gained weight, was sick a lot, and had lots of kidney trouble. Then my older sister (who is a PhD engineer and also usually put kids and work before her own health) was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years ago. That was kind of a wake up call for me. This coincided with the time that I moved to be with my husband, so I decided that one of the things I would do with the newfound flexibility in our lives was try to make more time to be good to myself.

    It is still hard for me to make time for doctor’s appointments and exercise, but I am better than I was before, and it has made a huge difference in my health. I also started picked a primary care doctor and started going to her for yearly physicals — like you, I had never gone for well visits as an adult. But it has been helpful for me to get positive reinforcement from her on watching my weight, exercise, etc. I’m also turning 40 this year, so I figured it was important to get annual physicals to make sure I am getting all the preventive stuff you are supposed to get as an adult (boosters on vaccines, screening tests, stuff like that).

    I think another problem we may have is that, in academia, our lives are “unsettled” for long periods of time. We know that we will move for grad school, postdocs, and then for our first job, which we know may also be temporary if we don’t get tenure. Whenever we move, you’ve got to find new dentists, doctors, get on a schedule for seeing them, get your old records transferred over, etc. It often did not seem worth the trouble for me. But we would not do this to our kids — somehow, we make the time to find them new pediatricians and research daycare/school options as soon as we move.

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