Pandemonium Part 2: Love in the age of the female scientist

In my previous post I mentioned feeling overwhelmed whilst trying to write my proposal and whilst trying to balance the rest of my life. I gave some insights into how to write a proposal which might be useful if you haven't seen this already.

On top of working on my proposal and lab work, I’ve been attended my online courses with the University of Pittsburgh. Since Joburg is 6 hours ahead of Pittburgh, I sometimes have to sleep really late because some of the afternoon classes there take place at midnight here. This quarter I’m taking a stats module as well as an epidemiology module. These have been really great so far. I’m actually enjoying them all as well as interacting with my class mates. So really at the moment the lack of sleep thing is the only issue I have. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed with balancing everything from my assignments, tests, lab duties, proposal writing and maintaining my friendships and close relationships.

I remember we had an introductory assignment in stats to help us get to know our classmates a bit better. We basically had to google Dr David Blackwell (a brilliant black statistician who you should google if you have time), comment on what we learned about him and ask him a question. Then our classmates had to respond to our question. And because I’ve been feeling the way I’ve been feeling, I asked how he manages to balance his work responsibilities whilst still pursuing his passions and accomplishing as much as he did.

One of my classmates responded with the following and it honestly made me feel a bit at ease with everything:

My classmate is absolutely right. But I think it’s also important to remember to rest. To take time off so that we don’t get burnt out. To find ways to constantly fall in love with our work even when it doesn’t seem to love us back.

A lot of the time when I’m hyper focused with school work or my extracurricular activities (this year it’s the blog, previous years it was the student committees I used to be a part of) I neglect my friendships, my family and my so- called “love-life”. No seriously, it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I’m constantly making an effort to try to make time here and there for my friends and family so that they don’t view me as a terrible person. Meanwhile, I barely have time to myself let alone a love life!

For a long time I was okay with this until this person came along. I don’t even know if I want this person to be my person. I know it’s waaaay too early to be asking these types of questions but it just made me realise that in general, I over prioritise my work to the detriment of all the other things in life. I’m not saying that I want to be in a relationship, I’m just saying that if one happens to come by, I don’t want to be so busy trying to accomplish the things I’ve set out to do, that I miss out on a potentially great person.

And right now I can literally hear my cousin saying to me “if you guys are meant to be with each other, then the universe will bring you together at a point in time when you are both mentally and emotionally equipped to have a successful relationship together. And if it’s not meant to be, you will find your person. Just work on yourself so that by the time someone does come around, you are ready”

As much as I agree with her, I just wish it was a lot simpler. I just wish I knew how to work towards a successful career without compromising the relationships I’ve worked hard to build. This may be really random but it’s honestly something I struggle with. Surely I’m not the only one.

If I’m being honest with myself it probably stems from the feeling of needing to work twice as hard as a black, South African woman in order to gain validation and recognition in a field where I am a minority. So it becomes easier to just use “I’m busy” as a crutch that will prevent me from forming any sort of relationship that will distract or take time away from my work. It’s messed up that I think this way, and I probably need countless hours of therapy to address these issues but it really got me thinking about whether or not black female scientists are required to make compromises when it comes to their relationships and personal lives in order to have a successful career.

I don’t know the answer to this but it’s something I really want to look into because it’s so important to me. It’s so important that women like me don’t have to feel the need to put their lives on hold just to be able to make a valuable contribution to the sciences.

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