Society of Women Engineers at UIC (Grad SWE) hosted a panel discussion on the topic of how female faculty members manage work/research in academia and their personal life. In this meeting, our guests were four faculty members from different departments of the college of engineering. They gave us an idea of the challenges they face. What they talked about helped us to learn how to achieve our goals, identify some of the issues and imbalances in our life, and learn some techniques to reorganize and maximize our time to achieve our goals. Here is the summary of their introduction and what they currently teach and research on as a professor in UIC:
Let’s get this straight, there is no work-life balance in Academia. It’s just not possible! What is possible, however, is to find a way to manage your work and your private life in such a way that you feel happy about both and at the same time maintain your health. This means you cannot be perfect in every aspect of your life but you should try to be the best whole person that you can be. It might seem easier said than done, but it is achievable.
One important issue that Professor Berger-Wolf, from computer science department, mentioned is that generally, scientists love what they do. From her point of view, the biggest reason why it is hard to balance work-life is not because you cannot say no to your job to do all that other stuff, it’s because you quite often don’t want to. In short, you should keep in mind that even though you love your research and what you do, you shouldn’t die for it. In order to do a good job continuously, you need to have enough energy and motivation, i.e. be well rested, fed and excited.
One thing that can help you keep the balance is thinking advance, especially when your work includes some experiments. For instance, make sure the lab is ready, well-stocked, the equipment is booked, calculations are done and so on. I guess we’ve all been there: running around, fetching things, making solutions and rearranging the double-booking only to find that our experiment collides with a meeting. Therefore, it might be a good idea to have a hierarchy of plans.
Another issue that was brought up by Professor Ozevin, one of the faculty members at civil and material engineering department, was that she had her own fixed schedule, from 9 a.m to 5 p.m, which helps her work efficiently. This is actually a good point. You should have a routine schedule for yourself. It does not mean that you should never work long hours or on weekends. On the contrary, it is important to be flexible in the academic area. But the point is that you should not overkill yourself. Working efficiently does not mean you should work a lot, or too fast. It means you should work on the right task. It is fine to have fairly ambitious goals because it can help you to increase focus and avoid distractions, but there is a fine line between ambitious and impossible. Do not set really high goals that are impossible to achieve, that would just cause you disappointment.
Professor Smida, from electrical and computer engineering department, talked about one of the challenges she meets in academia and that is the fact that women are still kind of minority in engineering fields. Professor Valdez-Jasso, from bioengineering department, added to this by providing some more extended examples. She said that her male colleagues sometimes tiptoe around her, or they don’t know how to approach. It is sometimes hard for her to fit in among her colleagues or it is an awkward situation for her. Moreover, sometimes students make some inappropriate remarks about her looks.
In conclusion, we heard about balancing work and life in academia from four of the faculty members. As mentioned earlier, the most important thing to bear in mind is that we do not need to be perfect in everything in our life. We should just find a way to manage our work and private life so that we feel satisfied with both of them.