A life outside of the lab

Andrew Watson, PhD

When my colleagues and I were still trainees, there was not much else happening in our lives outside of graduate school. I was involved with research seven days a week, and never felt that my life was too focused, or that I was missing out on much outside of the lab. I had a great community of fellow trainees to share my graduate studies and postdoctoral learning experiences with.

However, times change and likely for the better as society as a whole is much more focused on work-life balance and achieving great things in multiple areas of life. In fact, the top graduate and postdoctoral awards (i.e. Vanier Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships) require that applicants are ultimate achievers in many areas, inside and outside the lab.

I think it is safe to say that the stereotype of the scientist is shifting more toward an interactive, outgoing, multi-talented individual that is comfortable in a variety of settings. Below is a list of ways trainees, faculty members and overall research productivity is affected when this societal shift is embraced, and extracurricular activities are pursued outside of the lab.

Benefits for trainees:

  • Increases skills and abilities in multiple areas, including leadership and advocacy;
  • Increases understanding and respect for others and other points of view, fostering greater ability to work effectively within diverse teams;
  • Provides increased opportunities for career development.

Benefits for faculty members:

  • Their trainees are more likely to display greater maturity, independence, self-awareness and confidence in the lab;
  • Their trainees are likely to use their time spent in the lab more efficiently as they will require increased time management skills and competencies to attain degree completion and research productivity expectations with less overall time dedicated to the task;

Benefits for overall research productivity:

  • Productivity will increase, theses will become stronger, and we will move toward understanding fundamental mechanisms controlling the lifestyle, including disease onset and the design of effective treatments;
  • Opens the door wider for the formation of multi-disciplinary teams, as it is less likely that the big advances in research will come from individuals instead of teams.

My sociology friends have told me that everything human beings accomplish depends on how those humans interact with other humans. Pursuing extracurricular activities and multi-disciplinary skill development can make all of us more well-rounded researchers, as well as increase our overall quality of life by increasing work-life balance, enjoyment of work experience, career opportunities, productivity and, of course, enhanced knowledge of the cause and treatment of human disease. At least this is the hypothesis we are testing through our social development in the 21st century.

Do you think extracurricular activities have a positive impact on researchers? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic — email me at andrew.watson@schulich.uwo.ca.

Take care,

Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs