NextGen Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer this question:

What one change would most improve work-life balance for scientists? In the 4 October 2013 issue, we ran excerpts from 15 of the many interesting responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those 15 essays (in the order they were printed) as well as the best of the other submissions we received (ordered alphabetically by author name).

Would you like to participate in the next NextGen VOICES survey? To make your voice heard, go to

(Can't get enough NextGen? See the results of previous surveys at Future of a Generation, Definition of Success, Experiences that Changed Us, Big Ideas, Experiments in Governing, Science Communication's Future, and Science Time Travel.)

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Essays in print

Recess! Do you remember the utter joy of running with reckless abandon while laughing and grinning unabashedly from ear to ear? As adults we may not be able to recapture the simple joy and innocence of childhood playtime, but we can at least partake in physical activity to give ourselves a healthy break from daily responsibilities. To improve work-life balance and overall well-being, exercise during working hours should not be merely tolerated, it should be expected. We've done the research. Nothing else comes close to bestowing the broad benefits of a solid exercise routine; we can protect ourselves against aging-related cognitive decline, prolong the vivacity of our immune systems, strengthen our bones, and empower our mitochondria, as well as reduce our risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers. We've gathered the evidence, now let us set an example. Let us not be the obese nutrition scientist or the oncologist who sneaks a cigarette; let us be the ones who deal with stressful lives by building our physical strength and mental fortitude through fitness. Importantly, let us not feel guilty for doing so. No longer should we have to sneak out of lab like thieves in the night to get in an hour's swim or feel obligated to stay late to make up for time "lost" at a lunchtime yoga class. Principal investigators, I call on you to value healthy lifestyles enough to insist that your employees and trainees make time to exercise during the day!
Kelly Downing
Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, Department of Vascular Surgery, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
E-mail: downing.kellyp{at}

"Those who research atomic bombs don't earn as much as those who sell tea eggs." This Chinese Saying originated in the early 1980s, but still prevails nowadays in Chinese scientific community. It ironically describes the situation of low salaries for Chinese scientists. Almost no real increase in scientists' salaries is in sharp contrast to the rapid rise in China's house prices and cost of living during the past decade. The poor salary system thus is pushing scientists to spend much more time working rather than being with family. To get extra income, in China, many scientists are busy attending various meetings, establishing or maintaining close relations (guanxi) with government officials, indiscriminately applying for grants from different government agencies, and anxiously producing more and more papers. Chinese scientists now publish the second highest number of scientific papers and are becoming the world's dominant producer of scientific research. China's scientific output, however, does not match quality research. On the other hand, more time on work means less time on life. The work-life imbalance puts Chinese scientists under high pressure. A sharp increase in scientists' salaries, I think, will most improve work-life balance for scientists, especially for young scientists in China. With sound and satisfactory salaries, Chinese scientists will have plenty of time to do interest-driven high-quality research, while sharing time with their children and other family members.
Fengbo Li
State Key Laboratory Breeding Base for Zhejiang Sustainable Pest and Disease Control, Sericulture Research Institute, Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, 310021, China.

Age restrictions when applying for grants or positions should be eliminated. Each of us has different personal circumstances that result in us taking more or less time to complete a Ph.D./postdoc or to apply for a group leader position. Having to plan each single step of your life is not living. Having to decide what is the most appropriate time to have children so that you can still apply for a grant is too much planning. Let the scientist live and enjoy without some many deadlines and time limits and you will get better science. Because discoveries cannot be planned.
Ana Lozano
Max F. Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna, 1030, Vienna, Austria.
E-mail: ana.lozano{at}

To improve work-life balance in the sciences, a cultural shift is necessary that provides more space for creativity and places less emphasis on efficiency for efficiency's sake. Recognition of the importance of creativity in the sciences and related fields is what drives the "STEM to STEAM" initiative (see It is also an essential reason for awarding tenure and sabbatical to established researchers in scientific and other fields. For early-career scientists, creative intellectual space can be hard to come by. Short-term postdoctoral positions combined with increasingly vast amounts of data and journal articles to keep up with, and expectations to produce many articles oneself leave little room for messing around with truly novel research ideas (or even some false starts that might prove helpful in the future), let alone spending time with family and friends. How can we make a cultural shift toward giving ourselves more space for creativity, such that we might spend more time in the workplace pursuing new ideas, and consider time spent away from work a critical way to "recharge"? One concrete proposal would be to shift toward longer-term (5-year) postdocs and grant cycles. This would give early-career scientists more flexibility to pursue original ideas, and to take time for home life, exercise, even full nights of sleep. These healthy habits could then carry through to later career stages. Author's note: I am writing this late at night on my daughter's birthday, with less than 6 hours of sleep ahead of me before I travel tomorrow…
Anne J. Metevier
Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators, University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA and Department of Physics and Astronomy, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, USA.
E-mail: ajmetevier{at}

Make "No" part of your vocabulary. Especially as a young scientist I was eager to prove I could handle everything (from publishing my papers to organizing social events) until I realized I could not if I also wanted a life. Then I found out that tasks can be broken down into three categories: Something is either important to me, or to someone else, or no one really cares. Checking with every task that came along whose job it actually was freed me from a load of work I was trying to handle. Setting priorities helps to keep a work-life balance. I am a better scientist, because I am less stressed and thus come up with more creative ideas. It also makes me a better colleague, because I now actually have time to jump in if needed.
Martine J. van der Ploeg
Soil Physics and Land Management Group, Soil Science Centre, Wageningen University, Wageningen, 6700AA, Netherlands.
E-mail: martine.vanderploeg{at}

Childcare. The single biggest limitation on my ability to work late and flex around subjects' and colleagues' schedules is the absolute requirement that I leave the building between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. to go pick up my daughter from day care. (And the school schedule wouldn't be much better were she older.) And yes, there's working from home... if you can afford a home office and your spouse is able to entirely manage the child(ren) so that you can work undisturbed in it. That's not true for many of us. If I had a childcare solution close to work and matched to my budget, I could put in longer hours and get more done. For reference, I am a male scientist; the day care happens to be on my commute to work. This is no longer a female issue; it is a universal issue. And of course, my university does have an affiliated child care center. It has a waiting list of 2 years or more. Doesn't work so well for new postdocs and faculty members who move.
Alik Widge
Division of Neurotherapeutics, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA and Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
E-mail: awidge{at}

More appreciation of science-related, nonresearch activities. Working in science means more than just research: For many motivated scientists it also involves organizing meetings (e.g., Ph.D. conferences organized by PhD students), participating in science outreach (school visits and teaching in courses) and communication (blogging and tweeting). Yet, these activities are generally not reflected in science metrics, and for early-career scientists are not always assessed in fellowship or grant applications either. Thus, since we are evaluated mainly based on our research and the impact of the research, many of us consider nonresearch activities to be more like "hobbies." Accordingly, such "extracurricular" projects are conducted in our free time, following already strenuous working hours. Therefore, a more nuanced evaluation of what we do, and a greater appreciation (academic and monetary) of nonresearch activities would encourage scientists to consider them as part of their work, and thus allocate their time accordingly, which would ultimately result in an improved work-life balance.
Orsolya Symmons
Developmental Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, 69117, Heidelberg, Germany.
E-mail: symmons{at}

Introducing institutions for medical specialization ( and other essential specializations ) in the Developing World. In developing countries, such as most countries in Africa, scientists have to spend many years abroad and away from their families just to specialize. Some specializations (such as in surgery) are very extensive and require several years, yet they are also crucial. Most scientists achieve further education at the expense of their wives and kids. This has given a bad name to scientists who go for further education, as they are now seen as irresponsible husbands who hide behind books. It poses most scientists with a sacrifice of a normal family life for an opportunity to give more meaningful contributions to the community.
Hagai Magai
College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Private Bag 360, Chichiri, Blantyre, Malawi.
E-mail: hymagai{at}

It is my firm belief that the thing that will most improve work-life balance for all scientists is ethical treatment in laboratories. Too often we hear stories in our respective universities and companies of unethical treatment of students, professors, scientists, and researchers. This treatment is most often due to external pressure on principal investigators from funding agencies, companies, universities. These ugly monsters raise their heads in the form of low salaries that require inhumane work hours as well as looking the other way when research integrity requires you to stand up and say "this is unacceptable". Unfortunately, many scientists are too scared to be whistleblowers in these situations as it will affect their future career prospects. So they sit in labs for 60 hours or more per week, hating their job out of pure fear. By instilling integrity at the core of science laboratories, these fears will evaporate with time. With an improved ethical set of values in laboratories we will surely see an increase in productivity and happiness among scientists.
K. Christian Kemp
Department of Chemistry, Center for Superfunctional Materials, Pohang University of Science and Technology, Pohang 790-784, Korea.
E-mail: ckemp{at}

Keeping a balance between work and private life is all about managing your time. We all have exactly the same 24 hours a day, so scientists should be able to just work efficiently and go home early, right? Wrong. Nature knows neither schedules nor the concept of normal working hours. Cells keep growing, animals need their daily treatment, and the protein purification column is simply not running as it should. The solution is increasing efficiency through team work. Life in the lab can be lonely when you are the only one responsible for a project. However, when scientists, usually with different backgrounds, come together, a synergistic process starts and new ideas come up. Also different scientists have expertise in different methods. This should be acknowledged and applied properly. Not in the sense of outsourcing everything but more about learning from the experts and if necessary sharing experiments with them. In other words: divide et impera. In general there is an increased efficiency both in terms of ideas and experimental output. The solution proposed here is surely easier said than done. The biggest hindrance is unclear authorships and responsibilities. It is indeed impossible to decide at the earlier stages of a project who will be the one scientist that provides the most data. However, I think that the increased efficiency in the lab and therefore more work-life balance would be worth trying to work more as the team we already are.
Denise Orozco
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), 80336, Munich, Germany and The International Max Planck Research School for Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences (IMPRS-LS), 82152 Martinsried/Munich, Germany.
E-mail: denise.orozco{at}

In my experience, most senior researchers still firmly believe that in order to be successful you have to spend all your time doing research. As a consequence, younger researchers are spending inordinate hours in the office, trying to live up to this view. More hours do not, however, mean a higher output, as tired researchers are less productive and less creative. Moreover, many people are more productive at home than in the office. I think academic institutions should focus more on providing researchers with the skills set to increase their productivity, instead of just (implicitly) demanding more and more hours. That way you can have a healthy work-life balance while still producing good quality research.
Vinet Coetzee
Department of Genetics, University of Pretoria, Hatfield, Pretoria, 0028, South Africa.
E-mail: vinet.coetzee{at}
Acknowledgments: The author thanks her supervisors, Xi Chen and Geping Luo for their useful advice. This essay is funded by the National Basic Research Program of China (2009CB825105).

My country and place of work allow me to keep a good work-life balance. Nonetheless, it becomes harder to keep up with travel once you have a family/dependents. It's quite inconvenient for me these days to present my work at conferences, so I feel that I lose some visibility and miss out on potential new collaborations. There is no simple way around this, and while there are some ideas for improvement I think this is not the main point, because in the end it is usually too inconvenient to bring your whole family to a conference, even if some kind of childcare is provided. One obstacle I've noticed living in a foreign country—and looking to move to another foreign country for a different position—is how unaccommodating some positions are for people with families. It seems to be something that universities and institutes do not even consider when advertising the job. I can only speak from my own/my friends' experiences, but postdoctoral positions are sometimes set up with very little to offer in terms of social benefits. This can include not only important healthcare benefits, but financial aid going toward childcare costs (which would be a given for citizens). A lot of postdoctoral positions given to foreigners appear to be offered with the "get in, get out" attitude, and are simply not (socially) designed for people who have extra, maybe complicated needs (like kids)! So this is a huge drawback, and can be quite career-limiting.
Ashley J. Ruiter
Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching bei München, 85748, Bavaria, Germany.
E-mail: ajr{at}mpa

For many scientists, a huge proportion of available time is spent on administrative and regulatory tasks that do not increase the quality or safety of research. Furthermore, grant funding generally does not cover salary for administrative personnel to handle these non–study-specific tasks. Reducing administrative and regulatory burden to a more reasonable level, for example in the oversight of human and animal studies, would be a huge step in making scientists' workload more manageable.
Erin J. Wamsley
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
E-mail: EWamsley{at}

Quite simply: more support in daily household chores. Let the scientists spend the little free time they have with their family, instead of constantly having to clean, kook, doing laundry, and driving kids around. Having a family should not come as an extra burden for the scientist, nor should it unequivocally mean that the scientist in question will have to reduce his/her amount of time spent in the lab. They should either be paid more to afford this kind of help, or there should be a network of nannies and cleaners available to scientists to help them around the house. The German Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard foundation, for example, gives promising young female scientists monthly financial grants to pay for assistance in household chores and additional childcare—these type of initiatives should become the norm, not an exception.
Morgane Boone
Lab for Medical Biotechnology, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Inflammation Research Center, VIB - Ghent University, 9052 Zwijnaarde-Gent, Belgium.
E-mail: morgane.boone{at}

One of many changes that could be done to improve work-life balance for scientists, especially the ones working as academics, is by reforming the way in which the academic reward system is carried out. It is time to reevaluate the real effectiveness of current practices, such as publication impact factor metrics, in achieving scholarly goals such as excellence. The pressure to publish is immense, but some of the quality of output out there does not often reflect the extent of reflexivity, self-critique and insight that could be achieved through careful and diligent scholarly thinking. Output "quantity" in itself is no measure of quality or excellence, real impact entails so much more. Genuinely acknowledging and rewarding these other key impact factors, such as societal engagement, teaching excellence, and input and deliberation at key meetings and conference participation could go a long way toward balancing the demands of academic output to publish alone, thus lessening the pressure to spend endless weekends and vacation time writing for quantity rather than quality.
Carolina Adler
Institute for Environmental Decisions, Department of Earth Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, 8092, Switzerland.
E-mail: carolina.adler{at}

Top Online Essays

It is improper to talk about "work-life balance" for scientists in academia: The overproduction of doctorates and postdoctorates throughout the Western world in the past years demonstrates the collapse of our academic system. In other words, the bottom of the academic pyramid has extremely widened, whereas its tip has sharply narrowed at the top. As a consequence, there is an excessive supply of young researchers worldwide, and a lack of academic demand for them. Whereas this overproduction can be partially mitigated by industry, government or other non-academic instances in a few countries, this imbalance cannot be sustained globally anymore. For those young scientists aiming for an academic position, a balanced work-life style is utopic because working extra hours during the week and even on weekends is not enough to cope with the tasks of planning and making experiments, teaching students and supervising colleagues, administrating the lab and preparing seminars, reading literature and revising articles of our peers, writing progress reports, proposals, and scientific articles as well as looking for the next job. Before our academic system collapses, we have to change it radically by implementing new models of sustainable development. One strategy is to professionalize the postdoc as a permanent career: Researchers who want to continue a career in academy and do not want to become a principal investigator should be retained as permanent research staff for coping with all the aforementioned activities. This may lead toward smaller but more efficient laboratories, with more balanced "work-life" conditions for young scientists.
Carlos Guillermo Acevedo-Rocha
Department of Organic Chemistry, Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kohlenforschung, Muelheim an der Ruhr, 45470, Germany.
E-mail: acevedor{at}

Make time for nonscience activities every day. Every. Day. Yes, we've all accidentally stayed up until 3:00 a.m. combing PubMed, trying to read up on troubleshooting microsatellite PCRs in nonmodel organisms and getting distracted looking up the genetic bases of schizophrenia, and that's fine—admirable, even, as it gets you thinking about something that may not be your particular area of research. But that's still science, and you're still thinking like a scientist which, despite being awesome, can get exhausting after a while. So every day, even if it's just for half an hour, do something that's completely unrelated to science. Read a book (fiction only, textbooks are cheating), drag your fellow lab gremlins out for a game of pick-up basketball, or be really cool like me and join a concert band. You'll find that carving out that time in your day makes you more efficient, since you now have less time to spend in the lab and you really have to focus and plan your day. Forcing yourself to take a break also clears out the cobwebs in your head as well as a night of binge drinking (without the subsequent loss of brain cells). If you're worried about being able to commit to something daily, find a friend who can force you to get out of the lab. Or join a yoga class that's run like a boot camp with a teacher who threatens your life if you don't show up. Not that I would know anything about that.
Elizabeth McKinnon Adamowicz
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6J 3J5, Canada.
E-mail: adamo010{at}

I think that a decrease in or removal of the postdoctoral years would definitely improve the work-life balance. Scientists generally take on their postdocs around the same time as when they begin to think about starting a family. On a postdoctoral salary and pressure to get work done, I often wonder how giving your family the care and financial support it needs is even possible. In the 60s, postdocs were few and unessential and yet the scientists trained back then turned out pretty well if you ask me. So I don't think that postdoctoral fellowships should even be necessary or be funded by the grant agencies; instead, academic institutions should pick students straight after completion of their Ph.D. for tenure-track positions and staff scientists with much higher salaries should replace postdocs. This would also bring young and creative minds to the sciences.
Mubhij Ahmad
Pasadena, CA 91106, USA.
E-mail: mubhijahmad{at}

Integration. Integrating multiple disciplines and fields is how we solve complex problems such as climate or the environment. Perhaps we should take a similar approach with our work and personal lives. Complex problems do not fit into exclusive disciplinary boxes and neither should we expect to classify aspects of our lives such as the professional and personal into exclusive categories. Such classifications make it less feasible to derive solutions that solve problems in ways satisfactory to all of the different aspects of our lives. Integration however is hard to achieve. Truly integrating personal and professional aspects of our lives as scientists means both the professional and personal sides will have to give in order to gain. Generally, scientists give from their personal life, but their professional life remains demanding and inflexible. The professional sphere needs to be more conducive and accommodating to the personal. This means harsh barriers need to come down such as strict work schedules, lousy family-leave polices, and lack of quality childcare. Issues such as the professor who breastfed in class should not be issues. The time taken for personal reasons such as vacations and breaks needs to be honored and respected, and not thought of as laziness, procrastination, or wasted. This will not be easy because it is rarely the institutional norm; it is not what is commonly done, so it has to be created and learned. But as scientists, this is what we do: problem-solve, be creative, and get results.
Sarah Marie Anderson
School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.

A focused, well-planned architecture of the research campus might be the best solution that could improve the work-life balance of scientists without any productivity decline. The campus should be designed to be with such infrastructure organization that offers in a very close distance to the workplace all essential living facilities needed, including housing, post office, bank, shopping area, and some recreation possibilities. If we just think how much valuable time is spend in driving or in the public transport in cases when the housing is far from the work place or if all other needed living facilities are dispersed far from each other. Optimal living facilities infrastructure on the research campus, including the possibility for on-campus housing, could save a lot of precious time usually spent traveling, and that saved time could be then relocated to improve the work-life balance. Without that, one of these aspects is downscaled for the expense of the other.
Atanas Georgiev Atanasov
Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Vienna, Faculty of Life Sciences, Vienna, 1090, Austria.
E-mail: atanas.atanasov{at}

Our work-life balance is consumed by an overfilled work plate. Funded investigators work through the innovation process of turning intriguing ideas into compelling evidence, manage quickly changing interdisciplinary teams, form and nurture partnerships, develop a financing strategy, market their research products, oversee complex accounting, and respond to multiple stakeholders. We grow in these roles of entrepreneur and small business owner by trials and errors, without management training. How would management training relieve work pressure? First, we would come into our early stage careers with more confidence and skills to tackle the small-business management aspects of the research endeavor. Second, we could increase our funding base: A better understanding of the business world would allow us to engage in healthy partnerships with corporations and increase the success of innovative funding strategies such as crowd-funding. Third, we would be more versatile on the job market, more likely to find a position that suited our talents and temperaments, and less vulnerable to arbitrary changes in demand. Management training for Ph.D. students and postdocs could include internships not just with R&D departments, but with sales forces, accounting departments, venture capital firms, and in the C-suite to build interpersonal and institutional relationships. Universities that invest in this kind of training would have more efficient and innovative teams, not only from a strictly scientific point of view but also in terms of organization and funding; they would have also more marketable, innovative, and balanced students-with less burnout and fewer mental health challenges.
Corentin Mario Barbu
Perelman School of Medecine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: corentin.barbu{at}

Reasonable expectations for everyone, male and female. Encouraging and rewarding those who put in "long hours" but are not more productive than those that work reasonable hours efficiently merely perpetuates an unhealthy environment. It is well known that more hours don't actually mean more work done, yet PIs often criticize their students and postdocs if they leave at "normal" time. Some even schedule meetings that make it difficult for people with families to pick up their children from childcare and have a normal work-life balance. No meetings after 3:00pm. Encourage early risers even if it means they leave before you do at the end of the day. Many of us are most productive during a certain period of the day.
April Bauer
Manchester, MO 63021, USA.
E-mail: aprille_{at}

The assumption that working long hours in the lab leads to improved productivity needs to be debunked. It has been shown many times that longer hours generally lead to inferior quality of work, inability to focus, and other effects detrimental to good science. In fact, the culture of pushing students (who have little recourse to refuse) to work 12-hour days, 7 days a week has probably had more negative effects on science than just productivity. There is little substitute for careful, well-planned, and well-executed experiments. This takes time, and cannot be rushed. Placing inordinate time pressures on this wastes a lot of resources, as people hurry and make mistakes. Worse, when people are collecting data 12 hours a day, there is a lot of data available to tell the story they think will satisfy their supervisor. This leads to bad science, and gets perpetuated. Perhaps in addition to mandatory reviews of studies on worker productivity, hours, and happiness, supervising scientists should also understand that a results-oriented approach with competent oversight will lead to faster advances than the pressure to work all hours approach. Finally, there should be some set rules as to work schedules for graduate students that is agreed to in advance. Work plans should be made so that progress can be monitored and everyone knows what to expect and what is expected. The long-worn method of pushing for high expectations on the hours worked needs to be redirected to setting high expectations of the quality of work. The value of good science is the knowledge and technology that is created. This can and should be done without destroying the personal relationships and quality of life for the people doing the work.
Adam Johan Bergren
National Institute for Nanotechnology, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2M9, Canada.
E-mail: Adam.Bergren{at}

Almost every scientist knows that the relationship between work and life is unbalanced––mainly skewed toward work. A multitude of variables influence our personal and academic lives daily. I believe, however, that the inappropriate use of the journal impact factor as an assessment of the quality of scientific research has adversely affected the researcher's work-to-life balance and, ultimately, the science that he produces. From the moment we became involved in the scientific arena, the premise "publish or perish" became indelibly imprinted in our brain. Nevertheless, since the journal impact factor has been used to assess the individual researcher's impact, the "publish-or-perish" mandate has turned into a "publish-in-a-high-ranking-journal-or-perish" ultimatum. As scientists, however, we should be worried about how our work impacts on the scientific community and not how the impact of a journal affects our research. Unfortunately, the success of getting awarded a fellowship or a grant mostly depends on having an academic dossier containing papers published in high-ranking journals. Thus, we are indirectly involved in a massive time-consuming process trying to get our work published in those journals in order to keep ourselves competitive. To confront this problem, the scientific community should definitely espouse alternative criteria for measuring the scientific impact of our research. Consequently, we would be able to redistribute our energy and time to do science instead of trying to fit our work in high-ranking journals to be granted and promoted. I strongly believe that this change would represent an initial giant step toward the balancing of work and life.
Nicolás Bonel
Laboratorio de Zoología de Invertebrados I, Universidad Nacional del Sur, Bahía Blanca, Buenos Aires, B8000ICN, Argentina.
E-mail: nicobonel{at}

Diverse activity, not necessarily related to the domain of the daily professional activity. The access to information and to communication inside groups of people belonging to various fields of activity, but similar in the personality traits (i.e., honest, reliable, eager to learn) would constitute, on a relative long-term, an improvement of the work-life balance for scientists. Also helpful would be the opportunity to express the feelings, to other people, or through the pursuit of activities, if they need to do so, to change a routine of thinking or of conceptualizing the theme of the research they attempt to do.
Ioana Cristina Bratescu Muscalu
Department of Education and Human Development, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan.
E-mail: ioanacristinab{at}

From my point of view, time management should be considered as the most significant factor that would improve work-life balance for scientists, rather than something like flexible working or technological innovation. On the one hand, the situation of work-life balance of nowadays scientists is not better than that of scientists in past times. Similar results could be found in comparison between scientists from developed and developing countries. This suggests that some fundamental factors exist beyond time and national and cultural borders. On the other hand, carefully observing colleagues and friends around, we will see that those possessing well work-life balance have something in common—that is, effective time management. For instance, reasonable arrangements of time on experiment, or group discussions, or lab meetings would enable us to spend more time enjoying family life. Conversely, sufficient family life would greatly contribute to career development for scientists. This is just like a win-win virtuous cycle. I believe that a scientist is first a scientist, moreover, an artist of science. Therefore, here I suggest time management as the most striking factor for improving work-life balance for scientists. Only in this way, can we have greater achievements of the art of science, as well as more pleasure of the art of life, and consequently, the better balance between work and life.
Bo Cao
College of Life Sciences, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, Shaanxi, 710119, China.
E-mail: bocao{at}

At the root, the necessary change to abolish a long list of action items that are needed to improve work-life balance for scientists comes down to changing our gender-specific stereotypes and preconceived notions. To improve work-life balance, we need to change attitudes and on an institutional level. Recently, Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook and the author of Lean In states that "the promise of equality is not the same as true equality." Although one might think of the obvious biological differences that call for accommodating mothers at the workplace (and specifically in the laboratory setting, one must ask how an expecting scientist can be encouraged to be professionally ambitious when her work environment, which is full of chemicals, is toxic and harmful to her unborn child), at the heart of the matter, the truth is that only when equal opportunity is presented for differing parties, can individuals, men or women, young and old, of any color and religion, reach their full potential and have the option of work and life balance. Not only does this call for management to think broadly for the needs of their employees so that one isn't forced to choose between the personal and professional, but employees, regardless of seniority, should also be bold and willing to embrace the available opportunities of flexibility offered so that a balance of work and life is the norm. Importantly, by "choosing life," their example can be used to set a tone for those around them which make work-life balance possible.
Eun Ji Chung
Institute for Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.
E-mail: chunge{at}

How about "Monthly Spouse Letter"? In spite of all the tough targets and burdens in scientific work, to be a balanced scientist should have responsibilities for his/her everyday life, whose quality could partially be revealed by spouse's review of their common life. For example, if Andy is occupied totally in his research work for several weeks, his wife Jane shows her worries and anxieties in their life matters in her Monthly Spouse Letter to the academic committee of the college. Then Andy may be allowed couples of days' leave to be back her side with their common life rearranged properly. A scientist would probably not get his/her life a mess if he/she really want to stay continuously in work.
Guodong Cui
Changchun, Jilin, 130022, China.
E-mail: whatisbetweenthem{at}

The simplest way to improve work-life balance for scientists is to stop talking about work-life balance. We need a better way to describe the problem. Work-life balance implies that one must come at the cost of the other, that in any scenario either work or family must suffer. We need a community-wide shift in thinking that allows for balance, period. Once we accept that balance leads to happier, healthier people that are able to be more productive and fulfilled both at work and at home, solutions will follow. Those solutions may be more flexibility to telecommute, childcare stipends for graduate students, generous maternity and paternity leave, and so many other things. However, in order for any major changes to be wrought, there must not be a competition between work and life.
Erin Currie
Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94131, USA.
E-mail: erin.currie{at}

The question of how to improve balance between work and life is difficult to answer for me. For my life is not embodied by such a duality. As biologist, life is my focal subject of study. The overarching goal of my work is to provide about life more clarity. Thus, to treat my work as some separate entity seems like an absurdity. Some will call me a workaholic. Many may diagnose me with an obsession. I consider myself have good fortune, for I have found a profession whereby my work is not a means to an end. Still, there are many social activities that I partake in. I enjoy sports and outdoor recreation. Yet, to draw a clear distinction between these engagements and my profession ascribes to "work" a negative connotation. Can in the end our work not represent a positive factor in life's equation? So, in response to the question, I recommend that as scientists we strive not for an increased work-life separation. Rather, as scientists we should focus on achieving a healthy work-life integration. We should consider how to life our research makes a valuable contribution. When I find myself anxious for the clock to strike 5:00 p.m., when hours worked becomes a nontrivial consideration, when my work fails be a source of inspiration, then I will know that a needed change in my work-life balance is at hand.
David Robert Daversa
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK.

Longer duration of postdoc contracts, with real job perks like health care and retirement benefits. Having to move every 2 or 3 years is terrible for families. Five years should be the minimum duration, allowing children and spouses to settle and find jobs and schooling without being forced to uproot again in a short time.
Andrew J. Davis
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Bavaria, 85748, Germany.
E-mail: adavis{at}

It is currently very challenging to be a scientist without a full-time professional affiliation. Increasing opportunities for independent, non-affiliated scientists to act as PIs, co-investigators, or consultants on research projects would be a gigantic help to scientists who do not want to live in the lab.
John Dawson
Evanston, IL 60201, USA.
E-mail: dawsonjp{at}

Being a scientist often involves being locked up in a laboratory 14 hours per day, away from your family, friends, and entire social life. That is one of the reasons that keep students from choosing a scientific/research career. One of the big changes that would improve work-life balance for scientists in the 21st century in the technology development field is scientific discoveries' robotization—creating a robot that does more than calculus and mathematics. It would be a real colleague that formulates hypotheses, tests them, and conducts the necessary experiments on its own. It would almost be capable of "thinking," through algorithms and computer programs. This robot's job would start from testing samples scientists would provide him, and then formulate hypotheses and verify them by itself based on the information its database contains. It would be able to conduct a complete experimental procedure on its own. The scientists would spend less time conducting the heavy mechanical tasks and would have a better and healthier work-life balance, by spending less time at work but with the same results and job quality, or even better.
Safia Farah Djili
PACES, UJF Grenoble I, Chambéry, Savoie, 73000, France.
E-mail: safiadjili{at}

As a zoologist, my life is quite busy with frequent field visits which sometimes swallow half of my week and I have no opportunity to even enjoy a meal with my family. People in science are busy. We have no other option. But having a quality family time will not be a part of a fairy tale if we manage our time properly. That does not mean we have to allocate a huge proportion to be purposely with our family members, but we have to look for the time we spent unnecessarily at universities, labs, or on the road or at shopping complexes. Why can't we take some work home and do them while kids doing homework? Why can't we familiarize them with our research by taking them to the field? Work-life balance is essential for any professional, in science or other. Everything is about time management. But it's more about finding crevices where we can squeeze both family and work together, most important, in a suitable manner.
Ruwansha Samadarshi Galagedara
Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Western Province, 00300, Sri Lanka.
E-mail: ruwansha89{at}

Currently, scientists who wish to raise a child are either forced into a secondary role in childrearing or suffer consequences in their career advancement prospects. It would be extremely beneficial to be able to take a parental leave of absence without consequence to career timelines, such as deadlines for tenure advancement.
Michael Gary
Institute for Theoretical Physics, Vienna University of Technology, Wien, 1040, Austria.
E-mail: mgary{at}

Monetary compensation for on-time peer review of journal articles. This would speed up the process, making it easier for young scientists to become established in their field quickly, and would also incentivize quality reviews. The effect on work-life balance might be subtle, but I think it would be noticeable: a bit more financial stability and less stress related to the "publish or perish" culture.
Paul Hayne
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA.
E-mail: Paul.O.Hayne{at}

If writing could be done at home. Obviously benchwork needs to be done at the bench; our time gets organized around the experiments, and that's just how our chosen career works. That's fine. We'll come in all hours of the night, weekends, and public holidays to make sure that all protocols are strictly adhered to. Writing is however different for me. Time doesn't get structured into blocks of experimental times. Ideas come all the time, and I find myself in front of the computer writing for even longer than the hours I spent in the lab. If writing at home was the norm, then I'd get to spend all my coffee breaks with my two cats and two dogs, not to mention my work-from-home partner, who all really, really miss me when I'm at the lab during benchwork blocks.
Jennifer Hsieh
Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, Western Cape, 7925, South Africa.
E-mail: humbleambition{at}

You can take the scientist out of the lab, but you can't take the lab out of the scientist. Because scientists will not simply become less passionate and driven about their work, the solution to their work-life balance lies in allowing them to do the same work more flexibly. The development and implementation of precise and dexterous robots in research facilities, controlled remotely by scientists in the comfort of their own homes, would provide these scientists with more time for life and would not detract from their working productivity. The Robot Suit HAL ®, already used for physical therapy and rehabilitation, responds to nerve signals from the brain intended to move muscles and operates the corresponding section of the exoskeletal robot. As this technology is perfected and expanded, it could be applied in many areas, with remote sensor systems allowing control of a suit or a full-scale humanoid robot from a distance. If scientists were to utilize this new development, they could be free from their traditional workspaces and work on their own time, without sacrificing their ability to fulfill their curiosity and strive toward new discoveries and breakthroughs.
Tyler Jones
Bethesda, MD 20816, USA.
E-mail: tojjones{at}

The prevalence of the "billable hour" in American culture dictates that the longer we are in the office, the more productive and dedicated we are to our work. It's no wonder that scientific culture follows the same attitude, given its extremely competitive nature. Scientific progress is not easily measured, so naturally we use a quantifiable measure of work: the number of hours we spend in the lab. This is the wrong perspective. It has been proven that reasonable time spent away from work to recharge leads to increased efficiency and decreased burnout. Obviously, setting aside recreational time may be the single most important thing we can do as scientists to both boost our own productivity and improve work-life balance. Scientists who demonstrably value time away from lab are sometimes perceived as being less dedicated to their work. We can all benefit from a better work-life balance, but as leaders that shape the culture of academia, in order to implement this change we necessarily require a shift in the attitude of PIs. PIs need to instill in their group that the researcher who spends all of their time in the lab is not necessarily the better scientist. Once PIs start to encourage better time management skills and support policies encouraging time spent away from the lab, I believe this one change will result in significantly improved work-life balance for scientists, and I hope one day to foster a healthy work-life balance in my own lab.
Elizabeth Kellogg
University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
E-mail: ekellogg{at}

Reduce the number of people who are entering into academia by either reducing the number admitted into Ph.D. programs or directing people into alternative career paths. Creating or enhancing a more viable path toward employment for postdoctoral researchers (tenure track or outside academia) would also help. The competition is just prohibitive and there is not really any way to address the problem except by either increasing the resources that people are competing for or reducing the number of people. Given that the resources are not being increased, reducing the number of people seems like the only option.
Pekka Juhani Kohonen
Institute for Environmental Medicine, Division of Molecular Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, SE-171 77, Sweden.
E-mail: pekka.kohonen{at}

In my opinion, changing the way research is evaluated would let scientists run the risk. Nowadays scientists are more concerned about getting funding through the results obtained than creating new knowledge. Although the former is essential, the latter should be the main task for every researcher. Results are sometimes difficult to obtain within 3 of 4 years and this fact should be taken into account when planning the budget on research. However, funding depends on the results you have previously obtained in a period of time and scientists are forced to publish as fast as possible and as much as possible. Were science thought to obtain results in a long-term, more scientists would think over new challenges for the next century and the quality of the publications would be increased. Research, like some enzymes, is inhibited by substrate (funding), and scientists should understand that to open a new door is hard and it sometimes takes a long time but the advantages for our life can be enormous. Science is like a highway that only a few people dare to go beyond, because science governed by timeframes is not science, it is production.
Pedro Latorre
Department of Animal Production and Food Science, University of Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Aragon, 50013, Spain.
E-mail: pedro.latorre.muro{at}

To significantly improve work-life balance for scientists, they have to be given longer-term perspectives. If one has no security and one must look for new funding and a new place to work within 1, 2, or if lucky maybe 3 years; if during this time one has to use an extensive arsenal of both practical and theoretical methods, rotating between desk and lab, greenhouse, field, microscope, and the desk again and so forth; if during this short time one has to finish old projects, work on present ones, and in parallel design new research and plan for future funding, which might or might not be granted; if the only way one's experience and qualifications will be recognized is to prove it again and again and again after such limited spans of time by publications of ever-increasing number and quality; then no one who works normal hours can eventually succeed. Therefore, considering the present system, in my opinion the only one change to fundamentally improve work-life balance for scientists is extending the duration of individual funding, stipends, and contracts. Of course it is just a small thing and to really provide a true long-term perspective for scientists, the whole system might have to change. Eventually, a long-term perspective for researchers would be beneficial for science in general because it would stimulate having a vision, thinking into the future–beyond just the next papers, positions, and grants.
Daniela Liebsch
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, 901-83, Sweden.
E-mail: daniela.liebsch{at}

Scientific work needs great dedication and time to achieve any kind of objective. At the same time social responsibilities like giving time to life partner and children and attending festivals and ceremonies are important aspects for successful social life. Scientists ignore social life due to a research environment where emotions don't have great importance, whereas social life is full of emotions; finally, a scientist prioritizes research objectives over emotional life. Research organizations can play pivotal role in rejuvenation of social life of their scientific staff by providing residential quarters for family where the institutional authority can arrange get-together events such as celebrations of festivals at common central places and organize trips for family, particular departments, or labs. A scientist should be assisted well from technical staff for documentation work such as proofreading of grants and manuscripts and dealing with vendors for purchase orders. Furthermore, Sunday is a holiday, but in India, hardly any researcher uses the day for his personal life. The flexibility to decide a day to be holiday or to be a working day can improve time management. Morally, science is done for societal betterment but there is communication gap between society and scientist. We have to change the culture of science; we have to share the ideas and problems with society to have an emotional support and to give the best of our insights for better research. In conclusion "Science is the power to resolve all kind of societal problems." Jai Hind
Ranjeet Singh Mahla
Department of Biological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal, Bhopal, MP, 462023, India.
E-mail: ranjeet{at}

In the traditional path to getting to a faculty position, at least in astronomy, graduate school is followed by several postdocs. You will typically complete one 2- to 3-year postdoc, followed by another 2- to 3-year postdoc. Then, you will hopefully get a faculty position. These positions often involve moving hundreds, if not several thousand, miles away, which virtually prohibits putting down roots and disrupts your social and family life. The one change I believe would make the most difference for work-life balance is moving away from this system of short-term positions. Universities and prize fellowships should offer longer-term positions (4 or 5 years), and the community should not look down on those who choose to remain at the university at which they did their graduate work. This would take pressure off early career scientists. It would help prevent them from having to uproot their lives to follow yet another position, decrease the stress of having to apply to jobs yet again, and provide increased job security.
Elisabeth Rose Newton
Department of Astronomy, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
E-mail: newton{at}

Searching for signals in a noisy universe usually reveals many more disheartening dead ends than breathtaking new vistas. In science uncertainty is inescapable, yet scientists operate within a reward system that increasingly demands quantitative consistency in impact factors and grant dollars, treating quality of discovery like a commodity. This, for example, drives scientists to forgo depth for flash, to rush and market rather than to repeat the experiment again to get it right, and to work ever and increasingly quickly and non-riskily. To stay at the competitive edge, scientists feel a constant pressure to forgo work-life balance in deference for faster work, and good science, which involves deep exploration of failed experiments too, is sometimes forgone in order to publish a hot new finding out of context. This is bad for both science and scientists. This trend can be altered by reexamining the yardsticks of success. We should reward outreach and ethics, as well as deep commitment to value, rather than mere quantity of dollars or impact. Improved quantitative metrics can help (such as citations-of-citations counts rather than simple citations), but qualitative factors must also be taken more seriously in deciding granting and tenure. If this is achieved, scientists will be able to slow down, loosen their neckties, and breathe a little. They may also be able to pursue higher risk ideas and collaborations, striving for wholly novel and fundamental discoveries. That's a trade we can all live with, and it will certainly improve the work-life balance for scientists.
Matthew A. Oberhardt
Departments of Computer Science and Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.
E-mail: mattoby{at}

A policy of compulsory 3 weeks of vacation a year. Given that the poor work-life balance is largely driven by competition, limited resources (funding), and scientists themselves, no single step is likely to make things right. However, I believe that a policy of compulsory 3 weeks of vacation a year would go a long way in improving the work-life balance of scientists. Academics tend to be always stressed about the next proposal or the next report or conference. There is a belief, particularly amongst postdocs and junior faculty, that they would not be competitive if they took time off. However, if all academics were forced to take 3 weeks of vacation, that would level the playing field and force everyone, faculty in particular, to plan the year with vacation time. In addition, particularly in high stress academic groups, it would empower graduate students and other junior researchers to take their 3 weeks of time off from work. Although this policy would not change the competitive nature of academia, it would lower stress levels and remove the notion that one needs to work all the time to stay competitive. Thus, the policy would improve the work-life balance of scientists.
Anand Ramanathan
Laser Remote Sensing Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
E-mail: anand.ramanathan{at}

I believe that a crucial factor for improving work-life balance is choosing a relaxing hobby. When a person has an activity that provides internal gratification and relaxation, it stimulates the mind in a way that is conducive to a balanced life. It has been hypothesized (with substantial confirmation) that pleasant stimuli can enhance mental abilities for temporary periods. This can correlate to a more productive work life, and as shown in the Aspinwall and Richter study, enthusiastic moods can facilitate a more rapid solution to difficult problems. Even pastimes relating to my major of study still provide relaxation because I know that I do not have to solve a problem within a strict time-frame; I can conduct an experiment or project just for fun. Physical activity such as walking and hiking can supply a much needed distraction from the daily rigors of the workplace, even if one is thinking about scientific problems while doing the activity. The type of hobby of course depends on each person's personality and preferences, but I think that extraneous distractions can not only drastically improve the balance of a job and personal time, but improve the probability of ingenuity while working.
Benjamin Robert Rathbone
Texas A&M University, San Antonio, TX 78216, USA.
E-mail: benjamin.rathbone{at}

In order for science to advance, we individual scientists need to not only expertly conduct the research that explores the most critical gaps in our knowledge, but to also effectively communicate our findings to our colleagues, students, and members of the communities in which we live. Our current system for promoting career advancement ignores the skills that make a scientist a valuable contributor to the scientific community and society as a whole, and instead essentially rewards the time spent on research. A primary measure of success for a scientist is often the quantity of scientific publications. Although nearly everyone would agree that it is better to emphasize quality over quantity, assessing quality is inherently subjective and attempts at objective measures of quality often also translate to a reward for time spent on research. This system also does not acknowledge the realities of the research process or those of life outside of science. Many of the scientists who have contributed the most to our fundamental knowledge would have been judged poorly given today's criteria. How can a system encourage work-life balance if the way that work is rewarded depends strongly on the amount of time spent working? I think that the one change would be to ensure that our reward system places equal weight on all of the skills that scientists need. This would not only encourage work-life balance, but also promote the careers of scientists with more of the skills that contribute to advancing the scientific enterprise as a whole.
Beth A. Rowan
Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tuebingen, 72076, Germany.
E-mail: beth.rowan{at}

I have always been an advocate of a holistic lifestyle. I believe that my being a young scientist must not interfere with my being a son, a brother, a friend, a Filipino, and a global citizen. As young scientists, we should immerse ourselves to the world. Being aware of our "persona" and social obligations both inside and outside what was supposed to be the "science bubble" will improve our work-life balance. Alongside stimulating ourselves with scientific inquiry, we should reach out, socialize, and party. Pop that "science bubble"!
Paul Gerald Layague Sanchez
Makati City, National Capital Region, 1207, Philippines.
E-mail: pglsanchez{at}

Many times it seems that a strict barrier exists between the personal and work-related activities of a scientist. This, unfortunately, has resulted in a negative perception of science, since many scientists do not engage their family and friends in their everyday life, and as a consequence, science is seen as something very distant, abstract, and with little to no value to the overall population. There doesn't have to be a barrier between personal life and work! I suggest bringing your family to the lab and explain your research, give them a tour of your facilities and engage them in your everyday life. Explain (when appropriate) your research and potential implications for everyday life and foster discussions along these topics. Not only will your life benefit for these simple activities, but it is quite likely that you will be able to break this barrier that precludes science from being an important aspect in everyday life.
Juan P. Sanchez
Monsanto, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
E-mail: juan.pedro.sanchez{at}

For a woman scientist, science is an extremely psycho and socio-challenging career. For females who want to bear healthy children before the age of 30, this means lots of sacrifices whether on the professional or the social level. More so than males, a female scientist needs support from the whole society and the whole academic community. As you move up the academic scale, the number of women decreases sharply because they are competing with their male peers without taking into consideration their social commitments. Economically, female scientists find it so hard to manage between scientists' low income (during Ph.D. and postdoctoral training) and the fees for daycares and summer schools. Many female scientists give up their careers because they cannot afford the expenses of their absence from home. The one thing I suggest for improving a work-life balance is that the government support working women scientists by establishing affordable governmental daycares and summer schools for their kids. In addition, the academic community, universities and funding agencies should keep in mind the differences in the social responsibilities between males and females.
Sara Serag
Department of Biotechnology, American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
E-mail: drsaraserag{at}

What if science is not for everyone? To begin, define balance: If "balance" is a 40-hour week, and after work you enjoy mowing the lawn, grilling steaks, and watching NFL, I am sure there are other career opportunities for you. But if you come to work because nothing excites you more than a band on a gel (and the story behind that band, where all of a sudden everything falls into its place), then running that gel at 1:00 a.m. makes sense. Is it work? It's just life, perfectly balanced and happening at a workplace, not on a couch in front of the TV set. How to make sure that incoming graduate students understand that? Stop using them as cheap labor. Raise the salary, but raise the standards and expectations. Paradoxically, I feel that those who stay will not stay because of money—they would have stayed anyway—but with extra cash they will be able to afford an apartment closer to work, occasional trip to unwind, and maybe some decent food, too. And the tight budget will discourage the PI from hiring five grad students where one or two can do the job. After all, the "balance" in question is not the goal in itself; it is means to be happy. And if an 80-plus-hour work week makes you happy, what's wrong with that?
Alexey A. Soshnev
Laboratory of Chromatin and Epigenetics, Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065, USA.
E-mail: alexey.soshnev{at}

I think a change in expectations for graduate students would have the most impact. Learning to balance work and home begins as a grad student; these are our formative years, our childhood in science. Our mentors serve as models. Graduate students whose advisers are seen only writing grants may decide that this is not a lifestyle that they want to pursue. Many faculty do have outside interests, such as sports, art, music, etc. Encouraging students to participate (by inviting them, maybe?) can help them learn to manage their time more effectively. Freeform discussions around dinner or in a more social setting often provide valuable research insights and troubleshooting and allow for more creative thinking than do formalized lab meetings. Many faculty have experienced that after putting aside a manuscript for a while, errors become more apparent, and explanations that once seemed perfectly reasonable are now unclear. As graduate students, we are often encouraged to think about our project "all the time" (yes, even when we sleep). This is probably impossible and may actually be counterproductive: Sometimes simple distraction and recreation (and time away from the project) allow you to approach it differently when you return.
Christina Steel
Norfolk, VA 23518, USA.
E-mail: katana{at}

Pick up a hobby outside of our scientific work. Discover something beyond science, or at least distinct from the science you practice. Dabble in something that will take your mind off of science, but is still a creative/exploratory pursuit. Write creatively, look at stars (if you're not an astronomer), brew your own beer, become a unicycling clown, or build a secret island lair from which you can take over the world. Just force yourself to acknowledge that there is a world outside the narrow science that we carry out every day. Scientists all have some degree of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which isn't a bad thing, but focusing on our one narrow field of research all the time actually makes for an unbalanced life that can easily lead to dissatisfaction and burn out (I know this from personal experience). Pursuing something else that you like to do will feed back and make you a better and more engaged scientist. Spending so much time on one thing isn't healthy. Putting lab work down for a few hours to engage with something else will round out your brain and bring it back refreshed to the scientific problems you're trying to solve. Learning something new can get us out of the ivory tower and more engaged with the rest of the world.
Ian H. Street
Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.
E-mail: ian.h.street{at}

Approaching their research as "work," keeping a professional distance between themselves and their work, and abiding by some working hours and leaving their research at work after working hours are the main attitude changes that would help scientists improve their work-life balance.
Asli Pinar Tan
Istanbul, 34758, Turkey.
E-mail: aslipinartan{at}

I believe a hobby can most improve work-life balance. The competitive scientific environment constantly pushes scientists to work hard; therefore, it is important to find an activity (or activities) that can distract mind from science. Hobby is not only fun, it can also improve health state, reduce stress, foster relationships, build networks, broaden outlooks, and even benefit to scientific excellence. As we know from history "science" was not the only passion even in the lives of the outstanding scientists, and it is a known fact that many of them had hobbies. Albert Einstein, for example, played violin to a good level. Andrey Kolmogorov most known for his pioneering works in probability theory and turbulence study was a passionate cross-country skier who after months of work over scientific problems, used to relief stress by going on long-term skiing trips. Motoo Kimura the founder of neutral theory of molecular evolution, bred orchids to which he devoted every Sunday. Some hobbies associated with art are shown to correlate with the scientific success (1) which means that a hobby is not just an enjoyable way of spending time but that hobby can help to pursuit scientific excellence. There are a few scientific social networks enhancing collaboration among scientists given their scientific interests. Why do we lack a network that could advance interaction among scientists given their hobbies? I believe such a network would make science more interdisciplinary as scientists from different fields would easier communicate and share ideas with each other. [1. R. Root-Bernstein et al., J. Psych. Sci. Tech. 1, 51-63 (2008)]
Sergei Tarasov
Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Oslo, NO-0318, Oslo, Norway.
E-mail: sergxf{at}

One change? Let's acknowledge that a work-life balance should be something worth aspiring to! In many labs, stigmas still exist against working "normal" hours, taking holidays, or indulging any side pursuit that might slow the intense pace of research. Scientists often delay big life decisions—marriage, buying a home, having children—until packed schedules allow them to at least have weekends off. Proactive companies in other sectors have recognized that time off, incentives, and progressive childcare policies (for men AND women) can actually increase productivity, aid worker retention, and improve morale; I'm more willing to go all-out for a company that views me as a whole person, including my life outside of work.
Michael A. Tarselli
Department of Chemistry, Biomedisyn Corporation, Woodbridge, CT 06525, USA.
E-mail: mtarselli{at}

Obligatory work at home. Besides the lab work, all the other stuff a scientist needs to do can be done from home, counting with secure remote access to lab computers and/or clusters and (very) good internet connection at home. This way, "lazy" time normally occurring at the lab (such as coffees, conversations, and creative thinking) could be done at home enhancing the "life" aspect, such as being with your children, helping in the home, and gardening. It is known that creativity hits in any moment. You just need a little notebook to write it down (the old ones, made of paper). Famous "eureka" moments occurred while doing laundry. Of course there are key meetings, brainstorming, and other group activities that are required to scientific work, but with a good schedule and planning they can be done without trouble. Given that scientists are generally obsessed with work, this should be obligatory.
Antonio Tironi Silva
Fundación CTF, Cienciambiental Consultores, Santiago, RM, Chile.
E-mail: atironi{at}

Funding agencies should provide grant extensions for personnel family leave. While many universities allow faculty to stop the tenure clock for maternity leave, there is still little to no official accommodation for students and postdoctoral fellows (the jobs most scientists have during childbearing years). Grant periods and reporting deadlines are fixed regardless of the family needs of the personnel performing the work. This leads to a culture in which a woman is often explicitly or implicitly made to feel like a burden to laboratory success if she takes leave for 2 months and has reduced productivity for another 3 to 4 months (due to late pregnancy or infant-related fatigue). Some manage to work through their leave to remain competitive, but many female scientists just end up having fewer children than they want or dropping out of the tenure stream altogether. Paternity leave is also rare, making it more challenging for the female scientists married to other scientists. If PIs were granted automatic extensions on using funds and grant reporting deadlines if one of the key personnel on the grant took family leave, many students and postdocs would not feel as much guilt for procreating or pressure to make up for lost time. If universities or funding agencies made funds available for paying grant personnel salaries through their family leave, that would be even better.
Lindsay R. Triplett
Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523–1177, USA.
E-mail: lindsay.triplett{at}

First of all, it is to be understood that a scientist works in an environment surrounded by other researchers. It is hard for a scientist to work alone. Moreover, nowadays most of the research projects are multidisciplinary. A scientist may be an expert in his/her field but they will always require help of experts from other field. To mention a few, evaluation of workplace stress, flexibility in working hours and pattern, building good rapport with colleagues to avoid psychological tension, freedom of expression of thoughts, proper time management and spending quality time with family and friends to catch up with other spheres of life besides work would definitely help a lot in maintaining the work-life balance for scientists. Although all areas are equally important, in my opinion, what would help in improving work-life balance the most is "evaluation of workplace stress". Failing to do above identified areas will result in stressful environment at workplace leading either directly or indirectly to work stress. Therefore it becomes important to evaluate the stress associated with the workplace. Many people might consider workplace stress as small factor, yet it has great potential to destroy a scientist's personal and social life in the long run. Evaluating, identifying and curbing the slightest occurrence of factors resulting in stress can help build a congenial work place and maintain the balance.
Yoya Vashi
Animal Genetics and Breeding Laboratory, National Research Centre on Pig (ICAR), Guwahati, Assam, 781131, India.
E-mail: yoyavashi{at}

Faced with conflicts in the work-life balance, few people realize that work is also a part of life. No matter what I am researching, I would rather put in long hours day in and day out and try my best to complete it with the utmost efficiency. Doing this helps me to earn more time to enjoy life: go shopping with my wife, watch a movie with my kids, rub my parent's aching shoulders, or chat longer with my friends. While doing these things, my tired body and mind have the ability to engage itself in a full recovery process, independent of work and immune to the interference of my work-related thoughts. After I am reenergized, I can be full of the passion that drives me to carry out the scientific research. In my opinion, the relationship between work and life is simple; if you have a sense of achievement and happiness at work, then you can attain the ultimate balance of a fulfilling career that is enriched with the joys of everyday life. Work merely supplements our lives so that we can improve our family life, and create happiness with those we love. It is certainly my pleasure to do this. I achieve a bit of progress every day, and see my best rewards in the faces of my lover, kids, parents and members of a harmonious society. I believe such a life is the happiest life.
Wenfeng Wang
State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi, Xinjiang, 830011, China.
E-mail: kindwang1979{at}

We should change any requirement mandating that an individual scientist bring in a certain level of funding over the course of his or her scientific career. At the very least, part of this burden should be placed on the institution or a group at an institution. As scientific work becomes more interdisciplinary, shifting the financial burden from an individual onto a group would allow for both a better work-life balance for scientists while increasing the integrity of funding proposals and scientific outcomes.
Ronald Joseph Warzoha
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 19085, USA.
E-mail: Ronald.Warzoha{at}

Locking the doors of the lab is the key to improving scientists' work-life balance. The time-sensitive nature of research may make this suggestion seem impossible—cells don't survive in depleted media, incubation periods need to be halted, samples don't exist forever—but that's why researchers work in teams. The change would take the following form: At the beginning of each month, research groups would meet in front of a calendar and choose at least six days on which they'd be obligated to hand over their keys. No exceptions. The benefit of this policy change to work-life balance is obvious: Scientists would have days built into their schedules where they'd have to put their lab coat in the washing machine and put on a basketball jersey, an apron, or even nothing at all in their pursuit of other interests. I could live with that, but it would definitely worry me a little—at least at first. Did the people who took care of my cells use the right media? Did they remember the incubation period between the additions of two different reagents? Initially the answer might actually be no, they didn't. But it doesn't seem like a stretch to say that scientists, of all people, would be able to adapt to this new environment. Teams would become closer and more involved in each other's work as researchers learn to fill in for each other, ultimately running both their experiments and their lives more responsibly.
Daniel Wendler
Avon, CT 06001, USA.
E-mail: dwendler{at}

I think there are definitely a lot of factors that would improve work-life balance, but arguably, a reasonable pay scale is really important. I think that in various parts in the United States, the normal postdoc pay scale is at the range where it is really sufficient only for housing plus the essentials: food and utilities. In a way, personal budget issues can be restrictive in terms of motivating oneself to do more stuff outside the lab, which leads to an attitude of "I can't afford to do much outside of lab, so I'll work harder since I've got nothing much better to do anyway." This said, there is also too much competition for a decreasing pot of funding, and people feel the pinch and the need to send in more applications, publish more, and present their work more. I think that, at least in the United States, the system can be better served by increasing the sizes of the grants while decreasing the number of projects funded. Sure, a lot more people will not get funded under this system, but the remaining scientists will be (hopefully) happier because the higher pay grades actually justify the level of on-the-job pressure, and plus, this may serve to really drive up the quality of the research being done by the labs that remain.
Shawn Yang
Rice University, Houston, TX, 77251, USA.
E-mail: sdsdreadnought{at}

In my view, more flexibility in working arrangements would most improve work-life balance for scientists. Scientific work is on the one hand an art that has creative working curve. On the other hand, it is a contribution to human and society, in which scientists go through many hardships. However, most policy-makers in scientific institutions are nonscientists, who lack a realistic understanding of the patterns and times of scientific research. The schedule for scientists is sometimes stereotypical, and even impinges increasingly on the quality of personal life of scientists. In reality, scientists may have their own reasons for taking full-time work or returning to laboratory on a part-time. They naturally need to work certain shifts for the care of children, the elderly, or the sick. Therefore, veteran policy-makers are responsible for helping scientists develop a mutually beneficial balance between work and life. Specific policies on work–life balance in scientific work are potentially needed, focusing on the flexible working arrangements. The availability of flexible working hours and part-time work for scientists would greatly benefit to lessen work–life conflict. As global knowledge network is being developed for promoting communication styles in science, working from home could also come into play. I believe that flexible arrangements in scientific work will probably provide scientists with real freedom to show their creativity in finding new science and with enough space to enjoy their personal life.
Jiang Zhao
School of Automation Science and Electrical Engineering, Beihang University, Beijing, Beijing, 100191, China.
E-mail: jzhao{at}