biophysicalsociety

Biophysicists Finding Balance: Mother’s Day 2017

Advertisements

May 14 is Mother’s Day in the US. In honor of the occasion, we spoke with Biophysical Society members Eva-Maria Collins, UC San Diego, and Sarah Veatch, University of Michigan, about what it is like to be a biophysicist and a parent, and how the two roles impact each other.

Eva-Maria Collins

Collins speaking at the 2017 Biophysical Society Annual Meeting with daughter in tow.

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

We have a 3 year old boy and a 10 months old daughter.

At what stage of your career did you have your children? 

I am currently an Assistant Professor at UCSD and had both kids here while on tenure track.

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

Without a doubt! When pregnant with our son I started worrying about handling chemicals while doing experiments in the lab. Realizing that we know way too little about how different chemicals in our environment affect brain development, we started a new research direction in my group developing planarians for high-throughput developmental neurotoxicology screening. In addition, my priorities have shifted. While I still love my work, my kids always come first.

How has your career been influenced by your own parents?

My career has definitely been influenced by my parents in the sense that they were always supportive and encouraged me to follow my dreams. Although my mother was a housewife (I am one of 6 children) and my father worked in administration, they both supported me at every step along the way – and still do!

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

Time balance between work and family life. Feeling guilty a lot for not spending enough quality time with either. I am sure a lot of parents feel this way and being in academia, we actually have it very good in the sense that our job is relatively flexible and allows us to take time off to take care of our family when we need it. I also was able to bring both kids to work with me the first 6-7 months of their lives. This was wonderful, because I could experience their every milestones and share videos of it with my husband who works in industry and did not have that opportunity.

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

Yes! I have gotten more effective with my time, I had to learn to say NO more often, to prioritize my projects, and to let things go that are less important and know it’s OK to do so. I also think that I have become a better mentor for my students as a mother.

Would you encourage your children to be scientists?

I don’t really care what they’ll become as long as they are passionate about what they will be doing and help make this world a better place. I hope to follow in my parents’ footsteps in this respect to make sure we’re always there to support them while simultaneously giving them the freedom to shape their own lives.

How would your children describe your work?

The youngest doesn’t talk yet. Our 3 year old loves coming to work with me because he can ride an elevator and see some fork lifts or other big trucks. I don’t think he cares too much about what I actually do yet.

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

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to make a choice between having a family and having a career. One can do both and one does not have to wait until after tenure. It’s not easy to juggle both, but with a supportive partner and the right mindset (not everything has to be perfect all the time!), being a parent and a scientist may actually bring out the best in you for both worlds.

Sarah Veatch

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

2 boys, they are 2 and 5.

At what stage of your career did you have your children? 

As an assistant professor — but a note that my partner carried and breast-fed both kids, so I’ve had it easier than many other mom scientists.

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

I don’t think so.  It is common in my university for Assistant Professors to have small children.  I think the biggest difference for me before and after kids is my shifting of priorities.  Family is now right up there with my work in terms of importance and time commitment, and before kids I could get away with prioritizing work over just about anything else. I think that the biggest changes are that I sleep less now and have less ‘down’ time with friends and my partner.

How has your career been influenced by your own parents?

A lot.  My father, who died when I was young, was a scientist.  My step-father is a scientist, and my mom is a medical doctor who is also very invested in science and the scientific method. Being a scientist is very valued in my immediate family, and I think that this made some of the sacrifices made to take this career path were easier to justify to them.

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

I think that my biggest challenge both before and after kids is having only finite time and finite mental energy to accomplish all that needs to be done.  Including kids in the equation just makes my time doing science even more valuable and appreciated.

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

My kids (and probably all kids) are amazing – they help me to see the world from different perspectives, they pick up on everything, and they demand my attention in a way that requires that I let go the problems of the day (being late on that review assignment, debugging code or troubleshooting that experiment, etc.).

Would you encourage your children to be scientists?

I want to foster critical thinking in my kids, and I think this naturally lends itself to scientific thinking.  I think that being a scientist is the best job in the world (for me at least), and I hope that they can be fortunate enough to find a career that brings them as much joy as I experience.

How would your children describe your work?

My 5 year old son said (roughly) that “momma learns by looking at cells with a microscope”

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

I am not sure that the advice differs from people pursuing science careers – Find what you love, work hard to stand out, and tell people about your successes.  There are never enough hours in the day to do everything even without kids, so you always have to choose to focus on what matters most at the moment.

Advertisements