I have a postdoc position in my dream lab with PI, who leads the field and has very cool projects for me. The thing is, I have two small kids (youngest is 3 weeks old) and I live one hour away from my prospective place of work. I have a great nanny and a wonderful daycare, but I am still worried if I can pull off the lab work and all the writing and not abandon my children. Anybody in the same boat? Tips for survival?
I'm a postdoc and I work maybe 40-45 hours a week.
Things that make this work:
- I don't check my work email at home. I did that in the past, now I don't. I never missed something (although once in a while a colleague will call with something really urgent).
- I don't do everything around the lab. I clean up my own stuff in the lab, and I will do my "chores" but I'm not going to be involved with buying stuff, reorganizing stuff, salespeople, "better" kits / reagents, saving money, discussing the who-does-what etc.
- I don't do all the experiments I can do. I can think of many things that are very interesting, but some are just more interesting than others and you can only do so many. Maybe at a certain point what you can think of still fits in the time you have (and you're going to work more to do it), but in the end there are only 24 hours in a day, so you have to start cutting at a certain point. Why not now?
- Related: I don't write long papers. I gather the proof, make a point, find the holes, plug them and that's it. I don't do certain experiments "because everybody does them" or "because 4 methods to prove we made a known compound is better than 2". And your "interesting side-phenomenon" will probably be moved to the supplementary info.
- And the most important one: I don't expect working more is getting me ahead. Good papers are. Smart questions are. A keen eye is. Collaborating with great researchers is. Of course you need to spend the time and effort and be productive, but there's no A for effort, nobody is going to think you're a better researcher because you did 20 experiments this week and even publishing a few more papers isn't going to make a difference.
I'm not in exactly the same boat, but mine is related. I'm working on my dissertation while working in policy research full-time and adjuncting a class, while having a 3 year old at home. My commute is only about 30 minutes though, lucky for me.
The key for me is drawing a line, beginning with my daughter's play time. Sacrifices have to be made, and that includes some family time, but you never sacrifice ALL of it. I plan to play with her either for a bit in the morning before work or a bit in the evening before bed, plus have one full or nearly-full day on the weekend. Occasionally I get two days on the weekend, or both a morning and evening play time, and all the better if that happens. But I never cross over the line of one day on the weekend and either a morning or an evening on other days.
Once you've decided on a (realistic) hard line for your family time, the rest becomes the standard juggling of work. Your two hours of commuting each day is unfortunate, but I assume if you could have cut that down already you would have. Can you spend it on mass transit, where you could get some work done?
To echo what a lot of others are say, I think the key is really to be present in what you do. You can't have/do everything, so treasure as much as you can because it really is amazing.
Personally I consider the time I spend with my young daughter (1.5 yrs now) to be more important than the time I spend in the car and at work, and as such, I try to be completely present when I'm with her (no fiddling with emails, checking twitter, etc.).
I shifted my working day earlier, so I can leave before my daughter wakes up, and get home in time to spend the evening with her, performing some of the rituals (play, dinner as a family, bathing and reading to her before bed). This has also helped with the commute (down to 1 hour each way, traffic makes it much worse).
I still work longer hours than I should, and the commute is an annoyance, but I don't feel guilty for leaving on-time (and my daughter is the best excuse to leave). I love my work, and have had to make compromises to the amount of work I commit to, but with a consistent day, I am regularly more productive than my colleagues (if only for keen task management and time-boxing).
I recommend you spend the commute on you. You don't get a lot of time to yourself, so spend it doing something relaxing and something you enjoy. I find it's a good time to listen to audiobooks for pleasure, or music, rather than trying to cram in studying or research.
I imagine this might be a question where you will get different answers depending on the norms and legal context of where you live. In particular, my impression is that the United States has much less support for taking time off and flexible work arrangements after having a child, than Australia (where I'm from) and many European countries.
For example, the standard approach in Australia would go something like this. The primary carer (usually the mother) would take maternity leave after the birth of a child. The duration varies a lot from parent to parent, but 4 to 12 months is quite common. When returning to work, it would also be common to come back to work on slightly reduced hours (e.g., perhaps 3 or 4 days per week; although full time is also common). Australia (and presumably many other countries) support this approach with various paid parental leave schemes and anti-discrimination legislation that requires employers to not discriminate based on parental status, birth of a child, and so forth. Such legislation and associated organisational policy (particularly in the university and government sectors) generally supports flexible work practices where possible.
The benefit of such approaches is that it makes it easier for primary carers to have some consolidated time with their children in the first year (and also makes breast feeding easier). Going back part-time also helps to shape a compromise between having a work life, earning money, and having quality time with your children.
Of course, there are many other considerations for families: financial, career progression, and personal interest considerations. Furthermore, the support of the university or post doc adviser in allowing for an initial period of time off and then potentially reduced hours is also an issue. In particular, because of the fixed-term nature of post docs and the nature of post doc funding, there may or may not be implications for the capacity to take leave or transition to something less than full time. And even where in principle it is allowed, post docs may be concerned that their CV will suffer or their supervisor may not feel that their contribution is as valued which may have implications for subsequent post doc positions.
More generally, it seems that universities, academics and funding bodies should take on the obligation of facilitating parents (and particularly mothers) in managing academic careers with parenting responsibilities. This is particularly important given the timing of post docs in people's lives. Not that this necessarily helps you, but I think that there are issues in Australia with this and the resulting reduction in the number of women who pursue an academic career, even with the legal and regulatory context. My casual impression is that it is much worse in the United States.
In terms of practical tips, it's tricky to make suggestions without coming across as trying to be prescriptive about what a good parent should do. But perhaps, if you want more time with your children, enquire about taking time off after the birth of a child, and enquire about flexible work arrangements (e.g., 3 or 4 days per week). Would your post doc be extended based on time off and pro rata-ed for the days you work?
I'm not in the same boat, but I'll still venture as a one-time hour-and-more-long commuter: Seriously consider moving close to your university/research institute.
Since you're a post-doc, you're going to be moving anyway; and since your children are small - I'll assume all are under, say, 3 or 4 - attachment to friends, kindergarten or school is not an issue for them. You might have to settle on the quality of your accomodations or pay more than you expected, but you will be a lot less tired - IMO and YMMV. Also, while some people can "power commute" and do things on the way, my experience is that trying to do so is more tiring than anything else. Do invest some of that extra time in sleeping, though. One of the dangers is being overworked and exhausting yourself; perhaps counter-intuitively, do less than you think you can manage rather than the utmost - like others have said, this will help you "be present in what you do".
Another suggestion is to figure out what everybody else is doing. I mean, there are bound to be other post-docs or doctoral candidates with small kids. What arrangements do they have? I'm sure you can learn more from their specific experience than from the inspecific advice of people here on the site.
Finally, where is Mr. Dad in this picture? I believe it's a father's responsibility to be nearly-or-as-involved in the rearing of and the caringfor his children as the mother (*) - even if you've separated, and regardless of whether you're married. So unless you feel he's a terrible influence on your kids, try to get the father more involved and be with them more. Comments suggest that maybe he's away on business a lot; if that's the case - well, he should be away less. You should not be the one shouldering all the responsibility.
I am worried if I can pull off the lab work and all the writing and not abandon my children.
My mother, J, saw very little of her mother, S. The few times they did see each other, J had to keep her distance so as not to mess up S's clothes and hair.
There were several servants in the household, and they made sure the children were bathed, clothed and fed.
Whenever J became close to one of the servants, S would fire that one. Which was incredibly damaging to little J, as you can imagine.
You're not going to be like S, right? If you allow your children to be close to you, and to their nanny, they'll be okay. (Yes, you will miss them and yes, they'll miss you.)
Tips for survival?
Don't skimp on sleep.
Arrange something in your office so you can take a short nap if needed. It could be a piece of cardboard, a camping mat and a pillow.
Consider co-sleeping (if it's comfortable for you, and if it doesn't affect your quality of sleep).
Both require lots of work, time, attention, and love. Doing both means that you can't do both 100% - In other words trade-offs will have to be made. But I think you know that already! Children grow so very fast and the first couple of years are incredibly important to their emotional development. How they "attach" in these years (more so for the newborn) will go a long way towards how they relate to others as adults. Attachment styles include: Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent/Anxious, and Disorganized. Obviously Secure attachment is the hope for all of our children. Can the career wait... at least for a couple of years?