Return to Academia, Part 4: The Balancing Act and Career Satisfaction

Time has flown by. ... I gave my very first final exam (for graduating seniors) the last week in April. But where did the time go? I have so many responsibilities and I seriously need to master time management. I now realize that as an assistant professor, managing time will always be a difficult task.

Nevertheless, I have enjoyed this semester. But I have also learned that in order to truly enjoy your professional life, you have to enjoy your personal life too. In this contribution, I want to offer some tips that should help you achieve "the balancing act."

Schedule Daily Activities

Trying to keep a regular schedule can be difficult. Every day, I have several activities that I absolutely must complete. These activities include meetings, lectures and labs, office hours, course preparation, conference calls, and mentoring of students. My day runs much more smoothly if I have prepared a list of activities. I simply cross out each item as it is completed. Crossing an item off the list leaves me with a great feeling of satisfaction. The habit of creating a daily list--and sticking to it--helps me manage my time.

Learn to Say No

Let me first begin by saying that I really do enjoy being involved in a lot of different things. It's one of the best things about my job. However, I am no superwoman and I realize now that I am going to have to learn to say no to things. If you spread yourself too thin, you will not be able to finish important tasks on time. My advice is, do not take on too much.

Make Time for a Social Life

I cannot stress enough the importance of making time for your friends, family, and self. When I decided to become a professor, I often wondered if I could have an active social life. I assumed that if I pursued academics as a career, that I could forget about getting married or having children because I simply would not have the time.

Well, you really can have a social life, and there are many women here at Claflin University who are married and have children. You really can have it all! I make time to go to a movie, see a play, attend a poetry reading, or have a Blockbuster movie night. Being involved in activities outside of your professional environment is good for you, and I do encourage it.

Thoughts of an Ex-Editor--Selecting the Right Career

I am learning a lot about how to make a life as a science professor. But I'm not just learning about careers in science; I'm teaching about them too. Recently, I presented a seminar entitled "My Journey From Detroit to the Carolinas" to first-year students within the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. I wanted to provide the students with a professional "road map." Basically, I addressed four areas: my background, my preparation for graduate school, the graduate school experience, and career opportunities for science majors. I told the students that I have a broad professional background, and I am convinced that if I had not attended graduate school, the opportunities I had may not have been available to me. I stressed the importance of performing well on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), obtaining undergraduate research experience, securing strong letters of recommendation, and preparing an effective personal statement.

About the GRE: I did confess to the students that I performed very poorly on the GRE ... but I still managed to earn a Ph.D. Like a lot of things, it matters, but it's not the only thing that matters, as--in my case at least--it is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Finally, I discussed career opportunities available to science majors. Science graduates can be editors, forensic scientists, patent attorneys, environmental scientists, and science policy experts, among many other careers. I told the students to do an honest self-evaluation of their goals, skills, and interests and use that information to select the right career for them. That's what I did. And if your first career choice doesn't work out, you can always change. That's what I did, too!

After my presentation was over, many students told me they found it helpful. They did not realize the wide range of possibilities available to them. If we want our students to be successful, we must provide them with the tools they need to succeed. One of those tools--one of the most important--is good information about career choices.

Sibrina Collins was editor of MiSciNet from 2001 to 2002. She is now assistant professor of chemistry at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina.. Please e-mail her at

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers