Teach the Earth > Early Career > Finding Your Balance

Making Choices: Finding Your Balance

balancing having a life and getting tenure
Illustration copyright Carol Ormand, 2005. Courtesy of Carol Ormand.

If you want to find a balance between having a life and being successful in your career, you will need to figure out your priorities (at work and in the rest of your life) and then establish the habits that will allow you to balance them. Because you are a unique individual, your ideal "balance" may be different from that of your friends and colleagues.

Jump down to Case Studies: Academic Geoscientists * Paul Hoskin's Worksheet * Task (Time) Management * Balancing Your Career with Your Family Life * Mentoring Organizations * Tips from Early Career Workshop Alums * Tips from Other Academic Geoscientists



Case Studies: Academic Geoscientists

This collection of essays by, and interviews of, geoscientists in academia illustrates several different approaches to the process of finding (or regaining) balance in one's life.

Paul Hoskin's Worksheet

In 2007, Paul Hoskin co-led a session on "balancing your life" for the workshop on Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences. In preparation for the workshop, he wrote this worksheet to help participants clarify their priorities.


Task (Time) Management

Finding a balance between your career and your home life, or within either of those broad categories, is largely a matter of managing your time and prioritizing the tasks you "need" to do. Many books and articles have been written on time/task management; here are a few of our favorites.

Balancing Your Career with Your Family Life

Finding enough time for both work and family can be one of the most challenging aspects of balancing your life. Learn about university policies, read what others have done, and find strategies that will work for you.

Mentoring Organizations

  • The Earth Science Women's Network (ESWN) is an organization dedicated to supporting careers and communities of women in the geosciences. Its mission is to connect women to promote career development, build community, provide informal mentoring and support, and facilitate professional collaborations. As of May, 2015, there are over 2500 members worldwide, spanning a diversity of careers in earth and environmental science education, research and outreach in large research universities, small liberal-arts colleges, technical schools, government and non-governmental agencies, industry and research organizations in over 50 countries. Membership has grown through grass-roots member networking and includes women at all stages of their careers: undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, junior and senior faculty, staff and scientists, professionals in a range of environmental fields and women in career transitions.
  • Mentoring Physical Oceanography Women to Increase Retention is a community-based program that provides mentoring to physical oceanographers from late graduate school through their early careers. The overall goal of MPOWIR is to make mentoring opportunities for junior physical oceanographers universally available and of higher quality by expanding the reach of mentoring opportunities beyond individual home institutions. The aim is to reduce the barriers to career development for all junior scientists in the field, with a particular focus on improving the retention of junior women.

Tips from Early Career Workshop Alums

  • Be true to yourself, your values and passions.
  • Find ways to deal with stress: work out, make time for yourself, reward yourself.
  • I read somewhere that one should approach pre-tenure years sustainably - not as a race toward tenure, but as a lifestyle that one can and would want to continue past tenure. I think it's important to live life and to continue to do the things that make you happy (sports, travel, whatever it is...) despite the demands on time and energy that come with a new faculty job. In my experience, maintaining a balance allows me to be much more efficient while at work, and I find that I am more productive (and happier) when I take extra time for myself.
  • Post your ideal schedule where you can see it.
  • Audit your actual time budget to see what changes you want to make.
  • Manage your tasks/time at work:
    • Shut your door.
    • Turn off your computer, your email, your phone.
    • Do your grading at home or elsewhere.
    • Notice when you reach the point of diminishing returns; take a break when you do.
  • The best guide I found for balancing my life and avoiding letting my work life swallow every other aspect of my life has been to block off certain times for work and for personal time, and then to respect those boundaries. For example, my first year I decided that I wouldn't work past 9 PM, so I'd work up until that time, and then I was done and the rest of the evening was mine. My second year, I moved it up to 8 PM, and next year I'm planning to move it still farther forward. Likewise, I block off Saturdays and don't do any work on Saturdays. I've found this approach both helps fight the tendency to put infinite amounts of work into my teaching, with diminishing returns, and allows me some room for the other parts of my life that matter to me. Likewise, during the semester, I block off time for research and avoid doing any teaching tasks during that time. I've found that's about the only way I can get research done while teaching.
  • Give yourself permission to not be perfect; don't beat up on yourself.
  • Don't compare yourself to others; stay away from posturing.
  • Be realistic about your expectations with balancing work and personal life.
  • If you have a family:
    • Find time to talk with your spouse/partner.
    • Set a date night with your spouse/partner; treat this time as sacred.
    • Plan family events.

Tips from Other Academic Geoscientists

  • I will never forget the words of one of my mentors, who said she and her husband sat down at a table and made a list of all the things that had to be done on a routine basis. They then each marked those they liked to do, those they didn't mind doing, and those they hated. Then they hired out all the things they both hated. Frankly I am a love to eat, hate to cook kind of person. I advertised for a student to cook dinners twice a week. They got to eat the dinner and I think I paid them $10 per meal on top of the food. It was worth every penny, and I had several students apply – many like to cook but live in dorms where they cannot experiment. It was SO nice coming home with my son and not having to dash to the kitchen to get dinner on the table. With leftovers, I could go all week without cooking.

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