Balancing Life & STEM Careers: One Alumna’s Perspective

by Amy Marcott on May 18, 2011 · 2 comments

in Alumni Life, Health

Guest blogger Catherine Mavriplis SM ’86, PhD ’89

Guest blogger : Catherine Mavriplis SM ’86, PhD ’89, Associate Professor at University of Ottawa

Here’s a question: How do you balance life and STEM careers? All sorts of ways is my answer, but first some background.

I started off in Montreal, Canada and ventured down to Cambridge for my graduate degrees, then a little further afar to Princeton and eventually Washington and Oklahoma before coming back to Canada where I am now at University of Ottawa. Since 2001, my colleagues and I have used funding from the National Science Foundation to organize workshops that support and network pre-tenure women. In 2005, we organized a workshop at MIT that now runs annually as the Path of Professorship workshop. Hundreds of women have benefited from this workshop and others, and we are currently training groups at other schools to run similar workshops.

In our workshop we always have a work-life balance panel on the last day that showcases examples of women and men who have succeeded in combining a pleasant life with a demanding STEM career.

In my mind–having run events for women for 14 years now–one of the major roadblocks for women is the lack of critical mass and the isolation that they have to combat.

Getting a group of women together from time to time and showing them an endless variety of examples is the only way to go. Otherwise people feel cramped by the scant or non-existent role models they see. It has been documented that many graduate women do not want to become professors because of what they see their female profs going through.

For my own part, I have had four kids and managed my career reasonably well, though there’s always more I’d like to do. My motto from the beginning was that I would try to stay balanced; I knew I couldn’t and didn’t want to subject my family to extreme stress, so I accepted some compromises once I felt reasonably accomplished in my career. What I have learned is that you can do it all, you just have to look for the interesting opportunities through it all. In the end, all the different experiences you have pay off, sometimes in surprising ways. Crafting projects that take advantage of those accomplishments is what gives satisfaction and meaning to your part in advancing the state of the art. It’s also challenging.

Want to learn more about work-life balance? Check out the Path of Professorship program’s list of resources:

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Samantha May 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

Thanks for being a great example of “having it all,” Catherine. I took the FORWARD program during its first year, and found it immensely beneficial in that it showed us examples of women who have great work-life balance while still being passionately successful professors. I think, sometimes, women graduate students and post-docs spend a lot of energy focusing on “why it is hard” as opposed to “how can I make it work?” … the classic focus on the problem vs. the solution. Instead, we should be teaching women scientists how to “look for the interesting opportunities through it all,” as Catherine says.


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