“I never even knew how efficient I could be until I had kids. I mean, I thought I was efficient back then.” These were the words spoken to me by my former biochemistry professor and research mentor, as we reunited for the first time in many years. I was a 28-year-old research fellow, 30 weeks pregnant with my first child, and she was an accomplished bacteriologist with her very own well-funded research lab and two kids, just about 10 years my senior.
This meeting took place about four years ago, but it left a lasting impression. At the time, I was worried about finding the right balance between my career goals, motherhood, and everything else in my life. I started on the traditional academic path—a Ph.D., followed by two postdocs. Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that. As an undergraduate student, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a rare autoimmune condition that requires a lot of mental effort to manage. This event largely spurred my passion for immunology and diabetes research and outreach.
I knew I wanted to have kids, and this seemed to be the right time. But, as my daughter’s due date approached, I wondered, “How will I be able to do it all? Will I really be able to balance work and spending time with my kid, while effectively managing my type 1 diabetes, continuing to socialize, and everything in between? How do I do all this and not feel burned out?”
I couldn’t have imagined at the time how my life would look four years and two kids later. I had to go with my gut and trust myself to make some of the most difficult career decisions of my life.
After the birth of my daughter, I did not return to my postdoc position. Instead, I chose to look for remote work. Today, I am a full-time biology professor online. I am also a part-time science writer, focused on diabetes. I have a tremendous passion for both jobs. I get to work from home, and I love what I do. I have great colleagues and a good income. Most importantly, I can enjoy my kids more.
I now know exactly what my mentor was talking about when she said motherhood made her more efficient as a mom. Not a minute is wasted. Priorities emerge and are dealt with accordingly. The balance that I feared I would not find appeared organically, but also, I believe, because of trusting myself to make controversial choices.
Taking a leap and not returning to work with the aim of finding remote work in the science field was a risky decision. The typical path in academia is very streamlined, and alternative options are not often discussed in the mainstream. I had never met anyone in my field who was able to work full-time remotely and be satisfied in their career and life balance. Working overtime for years in the lab, alongside teaching, and continuously seeking grants was the “preferred path.” Taking a road seldom traveled, taking the risk of doing something entirely different after following a traditional pathway was scary.
It took me about four months after my daughter was born to start remote work. I began by adjunct teaching and freelance editing for several companies. About a year later, I secured a full-time position with the university. I also balanced part-time science writing for Diabetes Daily. This is where I was really able to connect my science background with my passion for diabetes research and outreach, something that I had always hoped to do, but did not get the opportunity to do in academia. I was even able to share my own experiences as a mom living with diabetes with a wide audience.
Soon enough, I realized that I was actually doing this! I was attending science conferences and reporting on breaking research, I was making an impact in the diabetes online community, and I was helping students of diverse backgrounds achieve their academic and career goals. I realized that I was doing important work that I loved. And, it was on my own schedule, from home. Somehow, I even found the time to have a second baby!
My nontraditional career decisions definitely paid off. My current lifestyle allows me to connect with my kids in a meaningful way, that doesn’t feel rushed, every day. Seeing this transition play out so successfully over just a few short years made me appreciate just how important it is to go with your gut and trust yourself, even when it feels scary.
These lessons learned also translate to motherhood. It’s okay to be decisive, to trust yourself, to go with your gut. I hope I can teach my children just that—to be themselves, to trust themselves, to not be afraid to make difficult decisions, and to live the lives they want to live, even if it means taking an unconventional path.
Editor’s Note: Making of a Mom is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.