Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can you be a scientist and have a life?

Last week I happened to spend an evening with some geoscientists, among others. Someone mentioned that there are many geology blogs out there (I don't doubt it, although I haven't seen them myself), and got the stereotypical response: "How do they have time to write for a blog?"

I explained that it's only a matter of priorities. You take some time that you would otherwise have used for something like watching tv or reading the newspaper.

You cannot do that, someone said, because you need to keep yourself updated to be a responsible citizen. Well, yes. But you also need to participate, not just watch. Also: is everything you watch and read really necessary to be a responsible citizen?

The woman who first questioned the blog writing continued to claim that she really uses all of her available time for work. Really? Yes, really, she said. Well, she also admitted to having family dinner with her kids every day, and maybe help them a bit with homework and things, but after that she will go work again. Not one minute left to do anything else.

From my point of view this seems to be a bit unhealthy, but it's also an expression of what is often seen as a virtue in the world of science: research is everything. If it's not, then maybe you are not a real scientist...

Recently Grrlscientist at Living the Scientific Life wrote about this attitude to blogging:

So, in view of these benefits, why are scientists still reluctant to embrace blogs as a mechanism for communication and public outreach? In my experience, the most pervasive challenge to overcome is the pervasive belief that good scientists don't have time for outside interests; that having any interests outside of one's research indicates that a person is not serious about her science. Even graduate students are routinely pressured into believing this, and are often asked silly questions such as "how do you find time to read a real book?" Yet strangely, these same scientists who are doing the asking are unconcerned by the amount of time spent in front of the television or at the local pub.

And this is still talking about doing work related blogging about science! I'm not so sure that the same people who don't find time to read a book will actually admit that they spend any time in front of the television or ever go to a pub -- but I think they should. Relax a bit! Come on, you don't have to pretend that you are too good to have a life. And if you feel that you have to, then something is seriously wrong with the work environment.

I think Chad Orzel said it very well:

Not every thing in an academic's life has to be part of their research program. The idea that there's something wrong with people who have outside interests is one of the most toxic ideas in all of academia, and probably plays a role in driving some good people out of science.

I make no secret of having a lot of interests outside my work. It's obvious from this blog, and although I don't put my whole name here it's no secret who I am -- and easy to find out. I also often talk about things I do when I go out for lunch with people from my group (which I do almost every day). I have a family. I love reading and writing. I like dancing. If it's a bad career move to tell the world openly, then so be it -- I will not give up my life for my work.

You might even say (if you don't mind strong language) F.T.S.

1 comment:

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