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Feature Index: Work and Life in the Balance

a man typing on his laptop with his kids hanging on him

There's a reason you clicked on this article. Maybe you're a new parent, bleary-eyed and overwhelmed with the daily race between home, daycare, and the office. Perhaps you're a postdoc working an average of 100 hours a week in the lab and trying to figure out how to turn your mind off so you can get a good night's sleep. Maybe you're trying to please everyone at your new company by taking on everything thrown at you--but somehow it's just not as easy as the veterans in your group make it seem. Or perhaps you're a new faculty member with a lump in your throat because you spent the weekend polishing a manuscript or writing a grant application or grading essays while your spouse took the kids to the zoo alone … again.

Whatever your reasons, you should know that you're not alone. "I'd like to meet somebody who doesn't have problems with work-life balance," quips Nancy Costikyan, director of the Office of Work/Life Resources at Harvard University. A trip to the self-help section of your local bookstore or a walk past the local salon/spa's advertisements for numerous antistress therapies illustrates that we're a world of stressed-out people with a lot on our plates.

For many scientists, work-life balance means career and family. For others, it's job and social life. Regardless of the type of balance you're seeking, it's tricky to manage and takes a lot of self-discipline. In this week's special feature on work-life balance, our correspondents talked to people who seem to have mastered career and home life, who have a healthy social life that keeps them intellectually fresh at the office, and who have made their jobs work.

The key thing to note: These people work at their work-life balance--it doesn't happen on its own.

Here's a peek at this week's articles:

We've covered a great many issues in Science Careers articles, but we've never tackled working part-time head on. For her debut article for Science Careers, Laura S. Malisheski talked to 11 scientists who work part-time or have otherwise made adjustments to their schedules to be in the lab less and at home more. "It was interesting. Everyone I talked to who knew someone who worked part-time said, 'Sure, it can be done.' Everyone who didn't know someone who worked part-time said, 'No way, it can't be done,' " Malisheski says.

Part-Time Science in Perspective tells the stories of some of those scientists, highlighting the pluses (more time at home and more efficient use of time, to name two) and the minuses (less face time in the lab and less time for the informal chitchat that's important for collegiality and relationship-building, for example). The article touches on funding issues for part-time scientists as well.

In Reclaiming Life From Work , Contributing Editor Elisabeth Pain talked to two amazing scientists who have completely different scientific careers and completely different approaches to work-life balance. Developmental biologist Thomas Lecuit combines a successful scientific career and fatherhood by keeping work and family completely separate--and that means not even working from home in the evenings or on weekends. Tectonics researcher Yani Najman finds her balance by working hard and playing hard. She thrives on the travel she gets to do for her research, recharges with vacations filled with biking, walking, or skiing, and doesn't waste time on things such as watching TV.

Pain also talked to several experts about strategies for finding your own work-life balance. "It requires a good understanding of what is important to you, of your strengths and weaknesses, and of the conditions in which you work best," she writes. The article features helpful lists of tips and resources on work-life balance.

Work-Life in Industry: Thinking Outside the 9-to-5 Box addresses how industry and corporate employers are catering to today's work-life demands with flexible work hours, tuition reimbursement, on-site daycare centers and fitness centers, sabbaticals, and on-site courses.

Contributor Sarah Webb found that companies use these policies both as a recruiting tool and to keep their workforce energized and committed. She also talked to industry scientists who were able to take advantage of these policies, whether it was to spend more time with family, get another degree, or simply to recharge.

Finally, you can hear some of the folks in these articles tell their own stories in Science's weekly podcast . (Click here to link directly to the podcast file.)

Work-life balance is a struggle no matter who you are or what your career stage is. If you're looking for something different from this week's offerings, check out some of the links below. If you'd like to chat about your own situation or ask others for advice, check out the Science Careers Forum or join Science Careers’ José Fernández and the Science Careers crew on Facebook. I wish you good luck and good balance.

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