Initial Publication Date: September 20, 2006

Dr. Rachel Beane

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME

Most of the information on this page is from an interview conducted by Carol Ormand on February 23, 2006.

Rachel Beane is a professor in, and chair of, the Geology department at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin is a highly selective, small liberal arts college. As a professor there, Rachel teaches three courses (with labs) each year, manages four research laboratories (all hers: a rock preparation lab, an SEM lab, an optical mineralogy lab, and her research lab, which has sample preparation facilities), maintains an active, externally-funded research program, and involves undergraduate students in her research. As chair, of course, she has additional responsibilities, including such things as revising the curriculum, preparing and managing the departmental budget, coordinating teaching schedules, and organizing departmental events. Rachel is also married, with a two and a half year old son—born, incidentally, just before she and her husband both went up for tenure. (They were both successful.)

Balancing work and family life

A few years ago, Rachel was a typical assistant professor, working until midnight and available for students at all hours. Now, with a husband, Eric, and a two and a half year old son, Zander, Rachel feels a much stronger need to balance her personal and professional responsibilities.

Bowdoin offers several different options for parental leave. Rachel and Eric, who is a professor in the computer science department, both chose the "no committee work for a year" option. This still left Rachel with the regular teaching load, managing multiple labs, and a very active research program, in addition to being the mother of a newborn. In addition, Rachel has a chronic illness; the pregnancy was very taxing for her, physically, and she needed to recuperate from it. Obviously, something had to give. Rachel made several adjustments.

For the first two years of motherhood, Rachel arranged her work schedule so that she could teach and do research in 3 days per week, while Zander was in daycare. Of course, she also did some work from home. This schedule allowed Rachel to maximize her time with Zander, and also gave her body some much-needed rest. She also let other people (both staff lab managers and student employees) take over the some of the management of her research labs. During this time, Rachel notes, her research publication rate decreased, and she did not attend professional meetings, although she continued to be very successful getting grant money. Even now, as chair of the department, Rachel only works at school 4 days each week, though she sometimes works on Saturdays.

Now that she is chair of her department, Rachel has made a few other adjustments, as well. She has chosen to give up her leadership role in a couple of groups she started with friends. After having Zander, she and friend started a play group in town. Rachel and another friend also founded a book group. Now, with her responsibilities as chair, she finds she doesn't have the time to organize and advertise activities like that. She still participates, but without as much responsibility.

Making choices

Although she now has more "demands" on her time, Rachel feels that her life now is much more balanced than it was when she was single. That's primarily because she now makes the time to have a personal life. Where she used to sometimes stay at work late into the night, now she feels every minute away from Zander acutely. Rachel cherishes the time she spends with her family, and is loathe to give it up. Even going from having Zander in daycare 3 days a week to 4 days a week was an emotionally difficult step. Also, she and Eric are careful about using their vacations to take real vacations.
"I don't want to miss one more minute with my son."

In order to enjoy more time with her family, Rachel has made some changes in how she approaches her work. For one thing, she finds herself saying "no" a lot more. She asks herself, "What do I absolutely have to get done, to be satisfied with my work? How efficient can I be at doing that?" She finds herself spending less time chatting with colleagues than she did in the past. She readily admits that those informal conversations can be quite valuable, but she doesn't make as much time for them.

Another conscious choice that Rachel made was to shift her research from distant field-based research to SEM work and local field research. Now she doesn't have to be in the field for a month at a time. This shift paralleled the development of her interest in microstructures, but was also particularly convenient for a new parent! The great thing about working on the SEM is that Rachel can start a scan, leave it, and return to do the analysis later. She has incorporated Maine field research in the field intensive courses she teaches in the fall and in summer student research projects.

Advice for new faculty members

Rachel offers several pieces of advice for new faculty members:
  • Prioritize: consider what you need to do, yourself, both personally and professionally. As a new faculty member, try to focus your time and energy on the things that matter most.
  • There are always multiple ways to do research and to teach a course; sometimes you just need to pick one, and go with it.
  • Do things that make you happy and that you care about. The result will be enthusiasm that shows in the classroom, in research and in life.