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Work life balance. and if you're female?

  1. Feb 12, 2007 #1
    I'm a woman, I study physics, I love science and I get freakishly excited at the prospect of doing research. I am seriously considering it as a career. But then, I look around and damn, the vast majority of my professors are male. They work a lot, do exciting research, and most manage to have kids and a wife at home.
    I see our few female physics professors and, yeah, they're all childless.
    My uncle is a University prof, as is another distant relative: they both have very talented wives, who sacrificed their own career in order to have a family.
    And I wonder, is this even possible for me? Can I have a career in science AND a family? Should I dump my boyfriend (who’s considering staying in research himself) for a man who’s happy to be a stay at home dad?

    I once met a woman prof (in psychology) who told me it’s either kids or science for women. Not both. How can a woman work 15 hour days consistently in order to stay competitive with her male colleagues and have a family at the same time, while everybody around her has a spouse who’s busy caring for the family life.

    I really don’t know, what my question is, I guess I’m just asking for input, opinions and experiences from older members. I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to weight my options and damn, I really feel discouraged to stay in research.

    **Edit: I should probably add, that I will refuse to argue over the brain capabilities of girls in physics or any such nonsense.**
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 12, 2007 #2


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    Do what you love. If and when you want kids, you'll find a way. Don't close any more doors than you have to or earlier than you have to.
  4. Feb 12, 2007 #3
    Kids... who needs them?
  5. Feb 12, 2007 #4
    There's a few female researchers around who have families...But you'll find that most of them have established themselves before they do it. They're either in longterm postdocs or have tenure. So the family comes a fair bit later than would ordinarily be the norm. I suppose it's different for everyone though and accidents do happen :)

    I'm still in grad school, so I can't speak from personal experience...Only from what my colleagues chat about over morning coffee :D
  6. Feb 12, 2007 #5


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    It sounds to me like you need to decide in a responsible way what you want to do. If you feel like you want a family, approach that from a position of knowledge. Why would you want children? What do they represent, perhaps an experience you can't get otherwise, or clay to be moulded, or simply the chance to do what everyone does?

    Would you feel that you missed something, some vital essence of life, by remaining childless? Could your potential children ever mean more than the unique research you could do? Should they? There are millions of children in the world, but not too many women professors. Why follow the mundane path?
  7. Feb 12, 2007 #6
    Its not like you want to get pregnant now is it?
    So why worry whether you will or wont later on. Just hit the physics now, follow your path and see where you end up
  8. Feb 12, 2007 #7


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    Funker, don't you ever feel like a ship at sea, following the wake but not knowing where it'll lead? Why not rather lay anchor, consult the map and plot a course?
  9. Feb 12, 2007 #8
    I think thats one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. There's nothing mundane about having kids. I think there are alot more people that regret choosing career over kids than people regretting choosing kids over career. Maybe I'm just naive but I daresay that there are few parents that have regretted having their kids and probably get cramp up at the thought that they ever might have chosen their career over having them.
  10. Feb 12, 2007 #9
    Haha, you don't know what my parents say :tongue2:
  11. Feb 12, 2007 #10
    Taken out of context
  12. Feb 12, 2007 #11


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    Actually, I saw half of a movie last night, called "Baby Boom" with Diane Keaton. It is about a career woman who is landed with a very young girl relative and tries to juggle the career and parenting but her career is compromised, and then I stopped watching, but the point is that I think it gives a really good portrayal in the first half of an intellectual society and I think it looks great. Especially since it was made in 1987, it looks like another world compared to the reality today of wars and terrorism and a society geared to the young.

    The introduction to the movie:

  13. Feb 12, 2007 #12


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    Cool! :cool:
    That is often the case, but doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
    Yes - find a worthy man. Don't compromise.
    :uhh: The fact that you ask if you should dump the boyfriend is not a good sign.
    Find a worthy man. (Didn't I just say that?)
    Find an area of research which interests you and become the best at it - THE expert!

    On the family side - you have to determine what is important to you.
    Me too!

    I have some female colleagues who are PhDs in NASA and DOE. One just had first child (a son). The husband helps out and NASA accommodates her schedule. I know several women in the local community who are scientists, engineers or managers and they seem to manage career and family.

    In my organization, we have a woman who is a PhD structural engineer, who IIRC has two children. As far as I know, she manages a family and a career quite well - and she is a fine engineer. A good company will support a good employee.

    Best wishes and good luck! :smile:

    Go for it! :approve: :tongue2:
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
  14. Feb 12, 2007 #13


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    My current supervisor, who only came to the university three or so years ago (I believe this is her first professorship), had a child last summer. She's back at work now, and her child stays at the daycare on campus while she's at work. Her husband is also a postdoc in the department, so it's not like he stays at home with the baby. They don't work 15 hour days, mind you - I think they leave around five? Perhaps there's simply not all that much competition in what she does. Of course, she also has graduate students who have done a lot of work building the machines, who typically run the experiments, etc..
  15. Feb 12, 2007 #14


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    IMHO, the advice you're psychology professor gave you is the best advice. I would also give you the same. If you're ever gonna take a course in child psychology (which you should if you plan on having kids), it will become apparent why you cannot do both.

    Some people will be quick to say that the advice your prof. gave you is wrong and harsh. But these are the same people who never took child psychology class. You must understand that having a child is not a 3 hour a day [part time] responsibility. Even my mother, who is also in the teaching profession, was a stay at home mom for the first few years on my life (which are the most important years).
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
  16. Feb 12, 2007 #15
    i think alot of it depends on the kind of researcher and parent you want to be. i mean if you want to be a scientist on the level of say lisa randall from harvard, it would be really hard to put in that much work into research and still be a GOOD mother (or father for that matter) because the job is so intellectually demanding and you will probably be emotionally unavailable for your kids. i think it wouldn't be a problem if you were say part of the faculty of say a liberal arts school where the output demand of faculty is less intense.
  17. Feb 12, 2007 #16
    You are a bloody joke. I bet you spend your whole life chasing the wind.

    Anyway, having kids is very noble.
  18. Feb 12, 2007 #17
    My aunt is a chemical engineer and she loved her career so much, didn't get married until 39, and now is having kids and could care less about her job, she loves her children and regrets not having them earlier but they are her number one priority now.

    I agree, i think people regret not having a family and choosing a career over it, then later in life become lonely and empty.
  19. Feb 12, 2007 #18
    It seems strange to me that someone would think about having kids this early... family shouldn't be part of your plans when your young.
  20. Feb 12, 2007 #19

    Math Is Hard

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    The way I figure it: you don't necessarily get to pick when you'll meet Mr. Right and when you'll have your kids. But you can decide when you'll go to school and what you'll study. So focus on the things you can plan, and all the rest is gravy. You might meet the love of your life this summer - or 20 years from now - who knows.

    Last winter, a biology researcher and teacher I know wasn't even thinking about having kids. Ka-boom! Now she's the mother of twins. And she's still teaching and researching, and even directing the undergraduate research program at my university.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
  21. Feb 13, 2007 #20
    You make a good point, but I think most women in their early-mid twenties feel the urge (alot of this coming from pressure from their friends and family) to find a good guy and settle down with a family while they are still at their peak attractiveness level and the effects of aging haven't really set in yet. I mean, lets be honest, there arent many guys who are going to stick with a woman through the tumultous grad school/post-doc phase where they could relocate 3-4 times before finding a steady job. And most wanna-be scientists don't find a steady job until they're in their thirties, and there aren't a whole lot of successful guys on the market for 30-something women that aren't making doctor/lawyer money when they could probably find somebody richer or younger.
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