Biophysicists Finding Balance: Father’s Day

June 21 is Father’s Day in the US. In honor of the occasion, we spoke with Biophysical Society members Antoine van Oijen, Wollongong University, Australia, and Enrique De La Cruz, Yale University, about what it is like to be a biophysicist and a parent, and how the two roles impact each other.

Antoine van Oijen 

How many children do you have? What are their ages?

My wife and I have two wonderful daughters; Femke (9 years old) and Lotte (6 years old). I am considering having a male pet to achieve gender balance. Maybe a goldfish.

vanOijen_with_kids

At what stage of your career did you have children? 

I had just started my research group at Harvard Medical School as a tenure-track assistant professor when we had our first child. My wife was finishing up her PhD research, so it was quite an intense time. My department was very supportive of their junior faculty members and made sure that they were given all the resources and help necessary to combine top-notch science with other aspects of life (such as starting a family).

Has your career been influenced or changed by your role as a parent? How?

Time management and perspective. Having kids has taught me how to be much more efficient with my time. It also made me realize that life is much more than just science. My wife (also a scientist) and I have made recent career decisions that were steered by our desire to find a nice balance between work and life. Having kids I think played a huge role in this process.

How has your career been influenced by your own father?

Yes, very much. I’m a first-generation student with nobody in my extended family having gone to college. My dad was the oldest child in a farmer’s family and was pulled out of school at the age of 12 to work on the farm. He’s a very bright guy and never has had the chance to enjoy a traditional education. His encouragement over the years for me to get the most out of my education has made a huge impact; it certainly makes me realize how fortunate I have been.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a biophysicist and a parent?

The most challenging aspect of being a scientist while being a dad is the traveling. While I enjoy going to conferences and interacting with my colleagues in the field, I do end up spending a fair bit of time away from home and missing my family.

Have there been any benefits to being both a father and a scientist?

One obvious practical advantage is the freedom in planning my work day and being able to be fairly flexible where it comes to school activities (and chauffeuring for play dates!).

Would you encourage your children to be scientists?

I don’t think I would actively encourage them becoming scientists more than any other career path. However, with mom and dad both being scientists I see a huge bias in our household! We both enjoy talking with our children about the world around them and how you can use science to understand that world. We have already had our oldest daughter request science kits as birthday presents…

How would your children describe your work?

They joke that I am working on poo… (we do quite a bit of E. coli work in the lab)

Any advice for other fathers or prospective fathers pursuing science careers?

Starting a science career can seem to be an intimidating process. Getting your PhD, publishing in top journals, landing a job as a lab head, getting tenure. And all that within a decade or so, just when you’re supposed to start a family! My advice: there’s never a perfect time to start a family, so you may as well just do it. It’s a wonderful experience to see your kids grow while you are growing with them.


Enrique De La Cruz

How many children do you have? What are their ages?FathersDayEnrique

I have two boys – Ezra (7) and Lucien (4).

At what stage of your career did you have children? 

I was an untenured professor when Ezra joined us; tenured when Lucien came along.

Has your career been influenced or changed by your role as a parent? How?

Undoubtedly so.  I am certainly able to detach myself from work more readily.  I also manage challenges and “crises” in the lab with a more level head.  In addition, my ability to prioritize and manage time at work has significantly improved, despite additional burdens and constraints.  Bottom line, quality time at home and work demands efficient time management, and being a parent forces you to strengthen this skill.

How has your career been influenced by your own father?

My father immigrated to the US from Cuba as a young man in his twenties.  He worked as a welder and in a factory in Newark, NJ.  Along with my mother, he imprinted in his children the importance of education.  All were encouraged, possibly expected, to study – anything.  Clearly, this had a major influence in my career, though not necessarily in science.  I owe that to my teachers and mentors.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a biophysicist and a parent?

Trying to use logic and reasoning with small children.   It is only marginally more effective than with adults.

Have there been any benefits to being both a father and a scientist?

Science offers the opportunity to travel throughout the world.  Having the opportunity to share these experiences with my wife and children has been priceless.

Would you encourage your children to be scientists?

I hope that I will encourage my children to pursue their dreams and interests.  If one or both of my boys wanted to be a scientist, I would be delighted.  That said, I honestly do not have a preferred career path for either of them.  I only hope that they will be excited and happy with their choice.

How would your children describe your work?

I asked, and they said, “Daddy goes to work and sits on a computer.  Sometimes he plays with his friends from work.  They play science.”   Well… they are not that far off!

Any advice for other fathers or prospective fathers pursuing science careers?

Your children need you… and you need them. Raising children can be among the most exciting experiments you will ever perform.  The results are unanticipated, and offer far more insight than you could ever conceive beforehand.

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