Balance – How to develop a research career and a growing family?

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Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum

How to find a balance? How to deal with career and kids? Matthias Hagen from Weimar University, Germany, had the idea for this workshop: “Balance – How to develop a research career and a growing family”.

Avi Widgerson, Nevanlinna Laureate, and about 70 participants attended this. Especially the young researchers have to deal with career, friends and family, time for your own. They are in their ‘rush hour of life’, as Matthias named it. The best contribution to the discussion in my eyes was:

“There are more things you cannot do in your life, than you can. So you have to decide and stay happy. It makes no sense to bother about what you are all missing.”

After a short and very well prepared presentation of the problem and its structures by Matthias (see later) a lively debate evoke – mainly circling around having kids and how to organize your life.

Avi Widgerson and Matthias Hagen during the workshop at #hlf13
Picture: Beatrice Lugger

Avi Widgerson managed to keep the atmosphere relaxed and intimate and told the young researchers about his personal family life: “Often you hear people talk about kids as a constraint. If that’s the only thing that bothers you, you don’t know yet, what having kids brings to you. It is so amazing! …. My wife and me, we did not think about, what a kid means to our career. We just wanted to have a kids.” Widgerson underlined several times, that having kids or not is and stays a very personal decision.

In the discussion I missed a bit the part of the usual question of a good work-life-balance. But at the very end Matthias showed a very simple idea of how to deal with different tasks:

Matthias’ scribble
Urgent Not urgent
Important A B
Not-important C D


Matthias’ favorites are the Ds: “Those I don’t do!”

And here are the main topics of Matthias’ presentation:


Balance for me (Matthias) means four areas

  • Self: Time for you! Activities for you on your own.
  • Partner and Family: Time for your partner, includes partners, parents, siblings, shared experiences
  • Job: Time and dedication to your job. Also includes non-office time where your thoughts are on the job!
  • Friends and Society: Time with other people, involvement in networks, clubs, associations


1. The rush hour of life

  • Central career phase in academia at age 25-40
  • Often only short-term contracts
  • Often intransparent career paths
  • High mobility requirements
  • Part-time possible but with full-time expectations
  • Often strict focus on the job: science as one’s only passion


2. Having small kids

  • Working + childcare difficult
  • Deadlines pressing anyway
  • Supporting networks


3. Women in science – the leaky pipeline

  • Male networks
  • Male attitudes
  • Glass ceiling
  • Lack of role models


4. Beware of the burnout

  • Being overstressed = less concentrated
  • Risk of nootropics misuse (some use new enhancement drugs)
  • Risk of burnout

So, what to do?

Self-management is one key! Define a top-to-do list (see above)

Learn from the more experienced.

Matthias Hagen also had prepared a translation and plenty of hand-outs of central points of the concept of Marc Gärtner for a work-life-balance in sciences. Thanks! This also is useful for me!

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ist stellvertretende Wissenschaftliche Direktorin des Nationalen Instituts für Wissenschaftskommunikation (Nawik), Karlsruhe. Sie koordiniert dieses Konferenzblog. Beatrice ist Diplom-Chemikerin und seit über 20 Jahren als Wissenschaftsjournalistin für diverse deutsche Magazine und Tageszeitungen aktiv. Als Social Media Expertin hat sie unter anderem die Scienceblogs in Deutschland aufgebaut. In ihrem Blog ‚Quantensprung‘ und in ihren Tweets als @BLugger schreibt sie vornehmlich über Wissenschaftskommunikation.

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