Work Life Balance (or so its called)

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I don’t believe in the term work-life balance, because, let’s face it: being in science is a way of life. Work and life are not opposing terms, especially not if you love what you do. But the concept behind the expression is incredibly valid. It is about not burning yourself out, especially if you have other significant demands on your time and attention than “just” work.

For parent-scientists, there is a balance to strike, no doubt about it. After all, once you leave the lab, you don’t go home to spend time relaxing and doing something for yourself. Usually going home means starting a second equally demanding shift. It is true that these two shifts demand entirely different things from you. But no matter how much one might love what they do at home and in the lab/office/workplace, having to pull two shifts does take its toll. It may surprise you, but the scientists who do science for 70 hours a week and goes home to put his/her feet up, may work much less than their parent-scientist next door, which they see walking out of the building Friday night after only 40 hours/week in the building. They may leave at an earlier time each day, but have to continue to work at home, cooking/cleaning/administrating/tending and mending till late at night for many hours more than a 40 h work-week.

Working parents who are both heavily involved at work and home tend to work 24 hours a day seven days a week, with typically 16 hours on their feet and a 6-8 hour night-shift every day for many years. It goes without saying that they need to seek actively for time to refresh and restore to prevent burning out. Don’t treat your parent-scientist coworkers as slackers – ever, because even though they may barely make it to 40 billable hours in the lab, they probably work over 100 hours a week. And they are painfully aware that the fact that they can’t possibly work even more has an impact on how much they will produce, publish and present. The fact that they may provide less output is particularly the case in comparison to somebody who works in the lab for many more hours than they do, and who then gets to spend the time at home as downtime, reentering the workplace refreshed the following day, and thus potentially more productive, too.

For those of you who pull the double shift, remember this: you are in this for the long run! Both in science and in life. And persistence will pay off over the long term, so never give up and never give in! Sometimes all you need to get back on track is to see that it can be done! So I have linked here a collection of tips given by Scientist-Mothers on “how to have it all. Though women write this for women, I am sure fathers can get their fair share of encouragement here too. “

Finally, society is catching up and starting to strengthen your back with giving provisions for child-rearing times and times caring for elderly parents. There are limited funding opportunities for doctoral students to take some of the housework off their shoulders and the law on strict timelines on funding opportunities, and employment has rules for extensions in place now. Many funding bodies have also realised that working a part-time equivalent and extending the grant period does not decrease productivity per award amount, so let us hope many more programs will follow.

For those of you who are interested in these topics, I have collected a series of resources that can help you strike a balance or take some of the stress or work off your back. There are now programs to help two parents balance the massive load of household and childrearing task as well as the time that needs to be taken off work to care for sick children or to bridge extensive holiday periods. The concept can be extended to non-parent partners and is equally applicable to opposite-sex as well as same-sex couples:

Resources doctoral students with children

In short, DFG funded projects can be extended fro 12 months if a child under the age of 12 lives in the same household as the doctoral candidate (or a baby is born during the time). There is also an option providing money in lieu of time.

In industry, the salary is usually sufficiently high to cover childcare and household help, even for early career scientists. In academia, on the other hand, salaries are a lot smaller, especially on the graduate student level. A position paid at part-time level TVöD 13, which is a typical salary for this stage barely stretches to cover full-time childcare costs and is not sufficient to pay for household help on top of that. The CNV foundation gives extra money so that household tasks can be outsourced, as well as for out-of-hour and backup childcare. This way it prevents excellent female graduate students leaving academia when they can’t afford to stay.

Child-rearing takes it toll on time and productivity, in addition to the time taken off for parental leave. Therefore it is critical to stop or slow down tenure clocks and other professional time limits to keep the playing field level for parents-scientist and non-parent scientist. Many funding bodies have caught up on this and now offer resources for holding, extending or stretching science contracts and science funding.

Resources about extending the qualification phase in the German Academic Fixed-Term Contract Law (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz): (in German, the page has an English translation option)

In short, this rule adds two years per child to the time that Scientist can be employed under the German Academic Fixed-Term Contract Law. Of course, the rule applies to both mothers and fathers.

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