Many Top U.S. Scientists Wish They Had More Children
by Kevin Pezzi, MD
Just as drugs have side effects, careers do, too. According to researchers at Rice University and Southern Methodist University, one of the side effects of a career in science is less time for family and children. Scientists can have children, of course, but the time demands of being a top scientist often result in having fewer children than they wanted. Until someone invents a way to squeeze more than 24 hours into a day (I've invented the next best thing, BTW), we can choose how we spend our time, but we can't get more of it. Every hour in the lab is one less hour with the family. To put it colloquially, something has to give.
I have the same regret about my career. Had I been content being an ER doctor, I could have had children and time for them, but everything else I've done left no time for children or marriage. Based on what they read in my websites and books, many people have told me how amazed they are by the number of things I've done, but what they see is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of my projects are never or rarely mentioned.
For example, after decades of research and striking out several thousand times, I finally succeeded in inventing a way to uncouple mass from the force it exerts in a standard gravitational system here on Earth (not in outer space far from the grip of gravity). That project drained more of my time than I care to admit. While I am thrilled with my recent success in that regard, that and my other 1001 science/invention projects left no time for kids of my own, although at my last home I was good friends with a family and their five children. We did a lot together during a couple years in which my productivity was in first gear.
I cannot assail the side effects of intense careers without mentioning other factors that sap our free time—time that we could otherwise devote to family and children. Having lived in everything from a cramped room to a McMansion, I know that having a large home, yard, and property takes more time . . . MUCH more time.
Here's one of the myriad examples I could cite: A large tree was leaning toward my Alpine shed (the one pictured at the top), threatening it. I spent several months building it, so as much as I love trees, I wasn't willing to risk that tree falling on my shed. The tree angle ruled out using a chainsaw to cut it down, so I pushed it over with my bulldozer.
I've pushed over several other trees with no problems, but this monster rebounded back, rupturing one of the dozer's hydraulic hoses. That sprayed gallons of hydraulic fluid onto the dozer and ground. It took several hours to clean up that mess, then I had to replace the huge hydraulic hose (easier said than done), refill the hydraulic fluid, and flush the system.
I snapped two chains trying to pull the mammoth root ball out of the hole it left (most root balls flop out of their holes). I found a sufficiently large chain in a store, but it came covered with grease. Removing that grease in an environmentally friendly way took hours of work. I then used my tractor to dig away one side of the hole holding the root ball, but because this was on a dangerous slope, this work took several hours. Then I used a chainsaw to cut up the tree so I could give its wood away to people with a wood stove or fireplace who need help heating their home this winter.
One chainsaw was damaged in the process. I tried fixing it, but eventually switched to my other chainsaw, which needed a new chain. I changed that and cut the firewood, which left the root ball and a large stump attached to it, along with a mountain of branches that took hours more to cart to the brush pile on the back of my land.
Then I pulled out the root ball and took it to the brush pile after knocking dirt off it—also easier said than done. Next, I returned to fill in the hole left by the root ball, and level the area. This took well over twenty times as long as usual, because of its size and location.
Bottom line? While I can usually knock down a tree with a bulldozer in seconds and spend only an hour or so turning it into firewood and cleaning up the mess, dealing with this tree and the many problems it triggered required days of work.
In the years I've owned this home, I had countless time drains, such as the tornado that passed over my home, uprooting and snapping trees up to three feet in diameter. The aftermath looked like a war zone, and cleaning it up took weeks of time.
I made the mistake of letting a commercial logger thin my trees several years ago. This left tree tops (most of which were larger than most intact trees) scattered about on my land, often piled three or more trees high. I tried hiring people who specialize in brush removal, but they all thought the job was too big—an odd attitude for people who supposedly want work. After seeing the mess, one fellow kept mumbling, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” as he looked at just part of the work! I repeatedly asked him for an estimate, but he kept saying “Oh my God! Oh my God!” before he left and never returned. After seeing other brush removal professionals who were similarly allergic to work, I did it myself, which took about six months, and I am still not finished with that task!
Couple my 1001 science/invention projects with the endless things to do in my home and land, and it isn't surprising that I've had less time than I wanted with my family and no time to have children of my own.
Owning stuff can be enjoyable, but it often comes with a much higher price than the money spent to buy and maintain it: it drains your time, too. Performing the yearly maintenance on my bulldozer, tractors, snowblowers, snowmobiles, Sea-doo (the one I'm now giving away to help a deported person reenter the U.S.), chainsaws, rototillers, mowers, trimmers, blowers, and other power equipment takes weeks of work. After years of experience with large tractors, I was stunned to find out how many grease fittings and fluid compartments were on my bulldozer; the list seemed endless, and accessing some of them was very time-consuming since the dozer was designed by people who didn't give a hoot about serviceability.
The foregoing is the problem; what is the solution? Adopt a less-is-more lifestyle. Read my free Microhome Living book and spend some time thinking about whether you really want a large home and lots of stuff that will sap a large amount of your time. To pay for all that stuff, you may need to work more than you'd like, as I did, which drains even more of your time. Thus it isn't surprising that many top scientists and doctors have less family time than they would like, even if they don't have their fingers in as many pies as I do.
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