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Friday, September 15, 2017

The sustainable scientist | Science Magazine

Photo: Jeffrey McDonnell
Jeffrey J. McDonnell, professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability reports, "After I started out in a university faculty position nearly 30 years ago, the early years were rough. Not because of problems, exactly, but because of opportunities—too many of them" 

Photo: Robert Neubecker

I did not know how much was enough, so I just did more and more. As a result, I lived a life distracted, both at home and at work, with too much to do and too many people to possibly satisfy. Guilt was a constant companion—for not spending enough time with my family, for not devoting enough time to my students, for not accepting a review request or committee assignment. It simply was not sustainable. It took me several years after getting tenure to come back to some semblance of a balanced life.
“Stride across the finish line … with a smile on your face.”
Now, when I mentor early-career scientists I warn them about the unsustainability trap that I fell into. And I try to instill the idea that the goal is to stride across the finish line—whether you are completing a postdoc, getting tenure, or reaching some other career goal—with a smile on your face, not in a state of collapse.

But how? A sustainable scientist is still a hard-working scientist. Combining hard work with laserlike focus and ruthless time management is an important step toward making your life sustainable. Even more important is opportunity management.

Early on, I worried that each new opportunity—an invitation to give a talk, participate in a proposal evaluation panel, or join a committee of a scientific society—might never come along again. I felt like I couldn't say no. I now understand that early-career opportunities, like gray hairs, don't stop appearing, and that sometimes it's important to turn them down so that you can complete the things you've already said yes to. As you work on learning to say no, the “want to–need to” matrix can be a useful tool: Say yes only to the things you both need and want to do, and say no if you either do not need or do not want to do something.
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Additional resources  
Science  15 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6356, pp. 1202 

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