10 Ways Being a Scientist is Like Parenting
The other day it occurred to me that there are many similarities between working in a lab and parenting. Here are a few I thought of:
1) I am always more careful with the first. When I do an experiment for the first time, I am always very careful. I pick the day I am going to do the experiment, make up all the buffers and reagents ahead of time and make sure it is the only experiment I am doing that day. By the 4-5th time I do the experiment I am often doing it on the fly, deciding to just add it on to my day and making the buffers as I go. The is also true for my kids. When the Spouse and I were talking about having Number 1, it was a discussion that took place over the course of months. The choice to have Number 5 went something like this: Me, “I am getting kind of old so if we are going to have another one we should probably do it soon.” Spouse, “Well there is enough room in the minivan so why not?”
2) There are recipes to follow but everyone ultimately ends up doing it their own way. No 2 scientists will do a protocol in the same way – each scientist will use their experience to add their own flair. Likewise, parents will read the same parenting books and will hear lots of advice, but will end up developing their own parenting style.
3) As you add-on more samples/kids, the time to do something increases exponentially. It never fails, you do an experiment with 5 samples and it takes you about 1 hour. The next time you do the experiment you decide to do 10 samples and instead of taking 2 hours, it takes all day! Before children I was able to get up and out of the house in half an hour. After having Number 1, this increased to at least 1 hour. These days leaving the house can feel like coordinating a space shuttle lift-off!
4) It requires a lot of patience. You can spend years doing the research that results in only 1 published paper. You can tell your child to stop jumping on the furniture 3 times a day for weeks. All of this requires infinite patience.
5) Activation energy is key. In a chemical reaction, the activation energy is the energy required to start a chemical reaction. The higher the activation energy, the harder it is to get the reaction to start. Biologists can overcome high activation energies by adding proteins called enzymes that jump-start the reaction. At home, the less enjoyable tasks, such as cleaning, have a higher activation energy. I find that certain incentives such as chocolate, Doritos and/or wine can help over come high activation energies.
6) It is a marathon not a sprint. You are going to have to put a lot in before you reap any rewards.
7) It is isolating. In graduate school you enter your own world that revolves around your project and not much else. As a parent you experience long periods of time alone with your child and you always have a general feeling that only you can take care of your child.
8) It is all-encompassing. Science can take over your life. Being a successful scientist requires long hours in the lab, time to read huge amounts of published data and time for grant writing. This leaves little time for anything else. Parenting is no different. Once you have a child, that child takes over every aspect of your life and it is difficult to make room for other things.
9) You have your own language. Milliliters, miRNAs, centrifuges – scientific terms are not used in every day language. Neither are swaddling, tiger mom or bumbo seat. You have to be part of the clique to understand what people are saying!
10) It’s all 1 big experiment!
I would love to hear how your work is like parenting!