Scientists : Between Career and Life

I have just came back from a scientific meeting. Interestingly, for me personally, the most important take home message is not really about the scientific stuffs itself, but somehow totally different thing.

During the meeting, one of the aspects (outside science) that was widely being discussed was : “Is it possible for successful scientists/academics to also have successful personal (marriage) lives?”. The answer is yes and no. It depends on you and the people surround you.

That was a scientific meeting targeted for young scientists. Therefore, the age range of the audience was mid 20s to mid 30s. The age where we start to think about managing between career and personal life. If you think that Europeans do not really think about marriage until they reach the age of late 30s or early 40s, perhaps you are wrong. Nowadays European’s young generation have a tendency to settle down and get married at a “relatively” younger age compared to the generation before us.

There was a female professor who was invited to give  a talk about this matter during the meeting. She is a successful academicians, medical doctor, a wife, and a mother of 3. Can you imagine that? The key, according to her, is choosing the right partner.

It is not easy to get along with people who are working in science and/or academics, because we really do not have fix working hours. As our career progresses, we are expected to work even during holidays and weekends. At the moment, as a PhD student, my schedule is not as crazy tight as my professor for example. But, I have a plan to stay in this field. Therefore sooner or later I will have a life similar to other people who work in this field. Of course I want to build a family and having kids one day, but I also have another big passion in science. Accroding to what the professor said, it is impossible to balance those two separate aspects. The only option is to integrate them.

I talked to some female scientist fellows I knew during the meeting. Most of them are already married and one of them is about to get married. One of them clearly declared not to stay in this field after she completed her PhD. Two of them are quite successful medical doctors/clinical researchers whose husbands are working in industry (and have fix working hours, obviously).

The similar situation also happens to my Indonesian colleagues. Most of them who successfully manage between their career in science/academics and their families are the ones whose husbands are working in fields outside science.

Perhaps I should consider looking for guys who are not working in science/medical field. 🙂 This might be a bit of trouble at the beginning, as probably we will have different point of views towards many things. But, I think, sometimes we need to sacrifice our egos in order to reach a happy life. Right?

The classical case that commonly occur to me : whenever I manage to get to know guys who are working outside science field, their first common reaction right after I told them about my usual activities is “you really don’t have a life outside work”, “you work too much”, and “can you still manage to have fun?”.

I am telling you, this is the life of a scientist. It takes a man with a big heart, patient, and full of compromises, who can deal for a long-term period with my life. They are rare, but I believe there are still those kind of men out there. I am not being selfish here. As I get older, I think one of the means of creating a family is having kids. When there comes a time for us to be parents, of course we must allocate enough times to spend with the kids. If both us and our partners have no fix working hours, then who will take care of the kids?

Recalling the experience of that professor who gave the talk at the meeting yesterday, she  made an agreement with her husband. During weekdays, the kids are under her responsibility. One more important aspect : family comes first. No matter what.

Well I still do not know what will happen to my life, personally,  later on when I am really in that situation, but at least now I have a little bit of insight.

disclaimer : this opinion is from a female scientist’s perspective. the situation might be easier (or not?) for male scientists.