Busy with white papers and Smurfilicious adventures, but couldn't help but notice recent waves around the blogosphere (notable posts by DrugMonkey, Odyssey, and Thoreau) that surrounded this Nature News article.
Here is a bit of a medley post from the comments I left a few places. From the comment at DM's place:
Odyssey said: "Dumb and lazy will kill your career. Having children will not."
I will agree with Odyssey here, but with a qualifier. Having children will not destroy your career, but it will likely alter it -- temporarily or permanently -- unless you have someone to completely shoulder the burden at home. But do you really want to have a family and never be around to enjoy it?
Anyway, regarding altering one's career: I have kids and am at an R1 public school, the state's flagship, and according to all metrics I am doing pretty well. If I hadn't had children, would I have been at MIT or Stanford (top places in my field)? Maybe, but maybe not. There is nothing that guarantees reaching the upper echelons of academia; for every laser-focused workaholic who got there by forgoing all else, there are hordes of people who sacrificed just as much or more and didn't get there. All I know for sure is that I wasn't going to have a family and not be there to raise them.
To me, and I dare say to most scientists with families, family is what brings sanity and balance back into one's life. For me, it was never a question of either-or; I would not be anywhere near happy without my family or without my career. They are both great passions, if you will, and the only way for me to feel successful is to combine and enjoy both of them. Anything else -- even the highest imaginable professional standing without the personal life -- would feel like a failure.
(This is NOT a judgement of people without kids. This is my view of my own personal choices.)
It is fine if you are willing to sacrifice everything for your career, but just be aware that career is a harsh and fickle mistress and your everything may still not be enough. Odyssey nicely points out that luck is a factor in reaching awesome professional heights. There are never guarantees, no matter how smart, ambitious, driven, focused, and ready to jump under the bus for your science you are. If you make it, don't delude yourself that it's all just your merit and awesome planning. You also lucked out, so go buy some lottery tickets already. (Some of us would say: your career is like a highly nonlinear classical system -- change initial conditions just a little bit, the system's evolution changes dramatically.) I know several very sad people who are middle-aged and lonely, who worked like maniacs during their youth and completely let their personal life fall by the wayside, are divorced and without children, which they say wish they had had. And their science is still mediocre.
Thoreau discusses the Slave-Driver Superstar (works 24/7 and expect the same from underlings) with the Perfect Balancer Superstar (PBS for short) -- you know, those people who are nauseatingly perfect at everything they do and they do 3x more of everything than a mere mortal. He makes a very astute observation: I privately suspect that these people have far more in common with Quinones-Hinojosa [the 24/7 guy] than the folks constantly talking about “balance” realize. In other words, he believes that PBSs are actually much closer to the slave drivers than us slightly (or not so slightly) unbalanced mortals, and it's not just that they both occupy the tails (albeit different ones) of the normal distribution. I completely agree, based on my experience working with one closely (from my comment):
I actually know a couple of “perfectly balanced” colleagues. One of them a frequent collaborator. I can tell you that in the case of this person the balance is just a manifestation of extreme control-freakishness and perfectionism. Their schedule is perfectly partitioned and there is absolutely no room for deviation. Yes, the schedule is 8 or 9 hours of work, however many hours of activities with kids, church, whatever, but the point is that they are in control of every single minute. I think they get high on control, it’s very very important to them. (This extends to this person's relationship with food, I find.) This does not make for very good collaborators, I will tell you that — it takes me several weeks to be graced with 10 min of this person’s time (because their schedule is so jam-packed for weeks and no changes are allowed). And don’t get me started with turnaround time for returning comments on joint papers.
The thing with work-life balance (for the commonly unbalanced specimens among us) is this: how often do you feel happy? I mean, we are all stressed out, grants get rejected, students and colleagues annoy us, our spouses and kids can sure make our blood boil, but how often do you stop and feel the warm breeze of pure unadulterated joy? If it never happens, your choices suck for you. My family and my work both bring me headaches but also tremendous joy (kids are awesome in the joy-bringing department), and I wouldn't have it any other way. Although I would not object to higher funding rates and a bit more sleep...