I’ve recently signed up to do some email mentoring of young scientists. My first mentee is a female biomedical/biochemical engineer doing a Masters in Engineering Management. Her question was, “How you manage to balance having a successful career and family?” I get this question a lot and I often answer with quips like ‘not very well’ or ‘I have a very messy house’. That said, my email answer to her is worth putting out there for other young technologists to read. So, here it is in a nutshell. I’ll add more thoughts as they come to me.
GIVE YOUR CAREER A RUNNING HEAD START
I had kids a little later, started at 32 and had my third child at 38. That enabled me to work really hard early and establish myself and my skills so that I had value to the employer and/or entrepreneurial world. My kids are young now, which is definitely challenging for work, but I feel that it would be worse if I had kids early and wasn’t able to give my all to get established, or worse to have to re-enter the workforce after a leave. As it was, I never did take a leave longer than 2-3 months for each.
I work a pretty cool professional position that takes advantage of my qualifications and adds value to my career but doesn’t require me to work 5-7 days a week with one company monopolizing my time. I started as a 3-day a week consultant because I was bootstrapping my start-up and my employer was willing to accept that because they wanted/needed my skills. Even when they convinced me to join the payroll, I was able to keep this gig part-time, 3-days a week and I still cultivate entrepreneurial ventures, consulting projects for extra pay, or time with my kids as per my wishes. Piecing together the work that I like to do means that I’m doing less administrative, BS work, which continues to make me skilled and smarter. In a sense, I’m getting the equivalent of 3 or 4 job experiences to a regular person’s 1 job experience… I’m learning about many more sectors of the economy, needs of several end-users, trends in several markets. Piecing together your work will give you more money, command greater respect amongst employers utilizing you for your best skills, give you more experiences… and enable you to set your your own flexible schedule so that you give your family the time it needs.
If you don’t have this, you can’t pass go. You need someone who understands your strategy, is on board and supportive. It won’t always be easy, especially if you have a partner who is also entrepreneurial like I do (then you’re competing for precious resources of time and money), but they’ll get it.