June 18 is Father’s Day in the US. In honor of the occasion, we spoke with Biophysical Society member Seth Weinberg, Virginia Commonwealth University, about what it is like to be a biophysicist and a parent, and how the two roles impact each other.
How many children do you have? What are their ages?
My wife Gabrielle and I have 3-year old twin girls, Hannah and Meredith.
At what stage of your career did you have your children?
My daughters were born about three months before I started my first faculty position. It was a very hectic time, finishing up the last few months of a post-doc, moving, and then starting up my own research group.
Has your career been influenced or changed by your role as a parent? How?
I like to think that my experiences raising twins has made me more patient with my own students. Having become a parent and starting my own lab at roughly the same time, I have thought more about my role in preparing the next generation. Especially being the father of two daughters, I have become more aware of how important it is to promote opportunities for women in science.
How has your career been influenced by your own father?
My own scientific career has stemmed from my desire to understand how complicated systems work, and much of that desire originates from my father. My father was a science and engineering teacher, and from a very young age, he encouraged me to make learning and being curious into activities that were fun.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a biophysicist and a parent?
Being away from my family to attend meetings and conferences is definitely challenging. As much as I enjoy seeing and catching up with colleagues, it is still difficult to be away from my family during trips.
Have there been any benefits to being both a father and a scientist?
In perhaps a subtle way, my daughters have inspired my interests as a scientist. My daughters are fraternal twins, and since their birth, I’ve become more interested in ‘nature vs. nurture’ types of questions. I’m constantly amazed at how different my daughters are, despite their nearly identical childhoods (so far at least). As a scientist, I’ve become interested in understanding how important randomness is in our biology and trying to understand how one system can generate different behaviors in response to the same input.
Would you encourage your children to be scientists?
I don’t plan to encourage them to be scientists any more or less than other specific careers. I hope to encourage them to pursue careers that they will enjoy and find fulfilling. Although, with my own career and my wife as a nurse, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both pursued some career in the biomedical sciences.
How would your children describe your work?
I asked my daughters what they think I do at work. One said, “Monkey!” and the other laughed.
Any advice for other fathers or prospective fathers pursuing science careers?
Pursuing a science career is challenging – constantly being pulled in multiple directions and never knowing for sure if you are doing things right. Being a parent is pretty much the exact same thing, so as a scientist, you are as prepared as you can be (which is to say, you are never really prepared)!