August 2012

Balancing act


Let go of the guilt

Photo of Jeanne Garbarino and her familyI first become pregnant during my last year of grad school, and many of my student peers wondered if I was sabotaging all that I had worked for. This line of thinking is grossly unfortunate in that it perpetuates the stereotype that you cannot have children and be a scientific researcher. Also, most grad and postdoc programs are not fully prepared to support women who decide to start a family while in training, and I would like to see that change!

The hardest part for me was realizing and accepting that work-life balance is highly fickle and quite often unpredictable (you can’t do anything about a puking kid on the morning of your big meeting or experiment) and to let go of the guilt involved with doing one over the other. But once someone told me that I need not apologize for doing what I had to do – that goes for work and family – I felt better about my decisions. My advice would be never to let anyone else dictate what is and what is not best for you. If you do let someone tell you how you should live your life, you are basically being bullied. And no one likes a bully. 

– Jeanne Garbarino is a postdoc at the Rockefeller University
and the mother of two daughters.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank all the scientists who took time out of their busy lives to respond to my questions. I would particularly like to acknowledge my fellow scholars in the Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching IV program.

  1. 1. Ecklund, E. H. & Lincoln, A. E. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22590 (2011).
  2. 2. Flint, Ehm K. et al. The Postdoc’s Guide to Pregancy and Maternity Leave and The Postdoc’s Guide to Paternity Leave (2011).
  3. 3. Goulden, M. et al. Staying Competitive: Patching America’s Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences (2009).
  4. 4. Tang, C.-Y. & Wadsworth, S. M. National study of the changing workforce (2008).
  5. 5. Leupp, K. M. Even Supermoms Get the Blues: Employment, Gender Attitudes and Depression (2011).


Photo of Cristy GellingCristy Gelling ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and a writer at Bitesize Bio. Follow her on Twitter at


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THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS! I am not a biologist, but this was passed to me by a colleague. Very nearly all of the challenges I have faced since becoming a parent as a post-doc have been addressed here. I would like to echo other comments in that I am nearly certain I will leave academia, but I am also nearly certain I will return later in my career as a more experienced, confident, and laid-back professional. Two facets of parenthood not included here are the aspects of unexpected pregnancy and early termination of pregnancy. These also present unique challenges. In sum, I would suggest to others that developing a close-knit, diverse network of scientist/parent and parent supporters is paramount to success in both of these roles.


The scientific community as a whole - men AND women need to have this issue brought to the forefront of discussion. Don't even get me started on the lack of jobs, generally poor salary and benefit structure, pressure to get funded, publish 4-5 peer-reviewed manuscripts a year in addition to having to have a real "come to Jesus" moment when it comes to deciding whether or not you can not only afford to have a child much less take time to raise one. Over the past 5 years as a postdoc almost everyone I know, including myself are just clawing our way to get the hell out of science - whether it be academia, industry or government, with the general consensus being that the pressure and lack of opportunities in this economic climate are simply not worth it anymore. Disenchantment is the best word to describe it. R.O.


Thank you for providing air to this issue. The lack of paid postpartum leave is appalling, especially when sick/vacation time is limited as during student/postdoc years. I had one child while a postdoc, and a second as a staff scientist. I've had to realize that no matter what I do, I'm going to feel guilty about shortchanging some aspect of life. Move past it- that isn't productive and won't help you towards your goal, or so I tell myself daily! For me, the biggest factor in success is having an understanding and incredibly helpful partner, especially as he is the one that usually gets shortchanged first. I'd also point out that issues affecting men/dad and women/moms overlap, but are divergent- an obvious example is access to pumping facilities. I also suspect that moms harbor more guilt at being away from their child, but perhaps that is just my perception. Christina B in Oklahoma



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