Work/life balance tips from neuroscientists

Because you can learn from them

Published September 25, 2013 9:27PM (EDT)

There are two things a male business journalist cannot comprehend: being a mother and being a neuroscientist. And being awesome at both is staggering stuff––so when a Washington University neuroscience lab's discussion about just that crossed our desk, we knew it was work–life gold.

Please see below a few of the most prescient points––and then marinate in the original post (suitably titled "How Does She Do It?") when you have a moment.

Have backup––lots of it.

One of the things about having a high–demand job is that you––and your partner––won't always be available or even be able to predict what your availabliity will be.

Which is why, as Rockefeller University professor Leslie Vosshall notes, you need to have assistance waiting in the wings. She explains:

Have a deep bench of back–up caretakers. If there are no grandparents or other relatives nearby, make sure you have at least three caretakers with enough flexibility to step in when there are child–care emergencies. In some cases, this means you are paying someone on retainer to be available even if you do not use them. It sounds crazy, but it's worth it for the occasional emergency when your husband is already on the road and your flight is delayed and there will be no one to pick up your daughter from school.

If it takes a village, form one.

"We live at a funny cultural moment wherein that normally collective job largely falls on the shoulders of one person," notes Anne Churchland, "the mum."

Churchland, who's an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Long Island, gives us some greater context: For most of history, raising the child was a shared duty––mothers, fathers, grandmothers, siblings were all involved. But nowadays there's parent guilt if you're not constantly with the kids.

Like when her kids were first born:

I drafted complicated schedules wherein my husband and I could offset our work hours to minimize the time our son would be in the care of others. This was fine, but we also minimized time with each other, and my life got much easier when I accepted the fact that, realistically, I needed a lot of help.

Which meant that she'd find caregivers––and feel pangs of guilt when "highbrow parents" spoke poorly of babysitters. But this is something she's made peace with, she says, and is grateful for all the people who are a part of her children's lives.

Which leads us to two regular themes in getting the most out of your time: outsourcing tasks and surrounding yourself with the best people.

University of Texas neurobiologist Ila Fiete says that spending money on services is a boon––though it might take an investment:

Yes, scientists are not rich. But money spent on services has been the money well spent for us. Hire babysitters, housecleaners, gardeners, lawn–mowing services, any logistical help you can manage to outsource.

While University of Pennsylvania Assistant Professor Maria Neimark Geffen emphasizes that it's all in the situation you put yourself in:

You need more hours than there are in a day to do science and raise a family, so choose your institution and your mentors carefully ––they have to be ready and willing to help and to give you the extra time you need. Be sure you really like the people you work with and especially the people you hire into your lab. You need to rely on them much more than you can imagine. Build a strong team at home and at work. And take all the help you can get––you deserve it!

Hat tip: Fairhall Lab, University of Washington



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Fast Company Neuroscience Work Working Mothers Work/life Balance