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Report: Balancing Family and Scientific Work – Round Table Talk with Prof. Smith

Report: Balancing Family and Scientific Work – Round Table Talk with Prof. Smith at the FAU Graduate School

Prof. Dr. Ana-Sunčana Smith is a Juniorprofessorin (assistant professor) at the Department for Theoretical Physics at FAU and mother to two children aged two and ten years. On a talk, organised by the FAU Graduate School and the Family Services of the University, she spoke on 17 May 2011 about her way of managing a family and a scientific career.

How role-models influence the way you think about this issue became apparent when Prof. Smith said a few words on her own personal background. Ana-Sunčana Smith grew up in Croatia, where she also started her studies. Her mother is French and was always working, just like her grandmothers before her. Other than in Germany, this was quite common in Croatia as most families needed two working parents for economic reasons. Thus, the question whether raising children and working at the same time would be compatible did not arise in the beginning, Prof. Smith said.

No wonder that she was surprised when she came for a doctorate to TU München. When she inquired at the city office about child care facilities she experienced her first “cultural shock” in Germany. Instead of providing some helpful addresses, the woman at the counter asked why she would work if her husband had a good job at the University. Often, Prof. Smith noticed, it was harder to cope with the expectations from other women about the way a mother has to act and behave than with those of the male senior scientists in the institutes where she was working. Prof. Smith emphasized that one can find her or his own balance between job and family in very different ways. Consequentially, everybody should decide for herself (or himself) which model is best suited for her or him.

Prof. Smith soon realized that staying at home with her children would not make neither her nor her children (and husband) happy. Her talk gave a very individual (but probably not untypical for academia) example about passionate scientific work and the huge money spent for baby-sitters, about scientists with no 9-to-5-job and thus denied access to German kindergardens which operate with a very strict time-frame, and about German universities, where much could still be done in order to support a satisfying personal and private life for academics with families. Besides, there are other obstacles even women without children have to face along their career path, as Prof. Smith pointed out, including gender specific differences in body language, networking and self-marketing.

In conclusion Prof. Smith encouraged the doctoral students in the audience to find their own answers to the discussed issues. It was a realistic and honest talk, for some perhaps sobering, on what you gain and what you might lose when you opt for a scientific career without renouncing to an own family. The enthusiasm and confidence of Prof. Smith presenting her individual way showed that at least for some this balance is feasible, .