Oby Ukadike: From the campus of Harvard Medical School, this is ThinkResearch, a podcast devoted to the stories behind clinical research. I'm Oby, your host.

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In the world of research, many struggle to find equilibrium between work and personal life. Join us for a series on work-life balance and hear how researchers from across the spectrum approach this topic. Today we are joined once again by Dr. Teresa Evans, scientist and principal consultant at TiER1 Performance.

Dr. Evans discusses the importance of work-life integration and identifying values in different seasons of your life.

Hi, Dr. Evans, welcome back to the show.

Teresa Evans: Excited to be here, thanks for having me.

Oby Ukadike: Good to have you. So we talked a little bit in your first interview about work-life balance. We touched on it just a little bit. And so we're launching into this series of talking to different individuals about how they think about work-life balance and what that looks like for them. So I will just launch in and start with, when you think of work-life balance, what does that mean to you?

Teresa Evans: So the first thing is work-life integration. So I had a mentor, Dr. Nikki K. Blake when I was in graduate school who-- I don't know if she coined that term, but she coined it in my life.

And she would say, your work and your life are never really balanced. There's never really a one-for-one. But if we can integrate them in some way that works for us, that helps us to make sure that we're not giving one more of a value than the other, that they're integrated in some way.

And so she-- and I do the same. She said, I only have one calendar. I don't have a work calendar and a home calendar, I have a calendar, and everything goes there so that I can see on any given day, OK, I have a soccer game for my son here and I want to make sure I prioritize that or whatever.

And so I really appreciated the transparency and the ownership of, hey, I don't need to-- in a world where we often share our calendars with people, like I don't need to keep this from anyone that I'm prioritizing my dental appointment or whatever. Or, I mean, I guess you could say like a private appointment. But still, that I'm taking this time for myself. So the idea of not using the term balance, but really thinking about integration is the first thing that comes to mind.

Oby Ukadike: Mmm. I really like that. Also normalizing that your life is your life, period, to your point.

Teresa Evans: Yeah. And I think for me, too, now, at the phase-- it is different in each phase of your life, but at this phase of my life, I really try to model for others what work-life integration can be. And so if that means putting on my calendar and letting folks see that I'm taking time to take my daughter to an appointment, that's something that I want to be able to model and not-- I don't know.

But I also recognize there might be things that you know-- and there are times that I just put busy. Or I just put I'm busy and no one needs to know what I'm doing, and that's OK, too. But I don't feel like I have to do that all the time.

Oby Ukadike: Yeah. I think I'm branching off into two separate questions that I want to ask. One is about even when you say a work-life integration, which I really like. How do you think about prioritizing your life? Your time at work, your time at home, your time doing other things.

Teresa Evans: I think everything has a season. So recognizing that when you're in the throes of a deadline, whatever that may be, that sometimes that deadline or that work-related thing will go over some other priority that you normally would want. Maybe we can't make every soccer game, but we can make the majority as an example.

But I do try at the end of the day each day to be able to say, hey, I have made these decisions in a way that aligns with my values. And there are times when I say, hey, I'm not going to be on that project because the deadline falls right in the middle of this family thing or this wedding or whatever.

So being able to consciously say no to things-- and I say that very carefully because it is so much easier said than done. The art of saying no is very nuanced and something that we need to practice, and each one of us will find our way to do that differently and in different situations, and again, in different seasons of our lives.

But sometimes it's saying no to a family thing or to a personal thing, and sometimes it's saying no to a work thing. But recognizing that when we tally everything up at the end of our day and we're laying in bed trying to fall asleep, that the goal is to feel centered with those values, that I made these decisions in a way that align with what I value.

Oby Ukadike: Right. That's fantastic. So you talked about your mentor, or at least the mentor that talked to you about work-life integration. I don't know if all of your mentors have been that open to this idea of work-life integration, so I'd be curious how you found that mentor, and maybe broader than that, how people can think about finding mentors that can align.

Teresa Evans: That's a great question, and mentors are so important. And I think it's important to acknowledge it's mentors, plural. I worked in the startup space for a while and one of my mentors in that space would say he had a personal board of directors, which I think is an interesting way to think about building out this team of people around you that support you.

And that this personal board of directors has people that are really strong and have an ability to guide him in his career, but then it also at the same time has people who have the ability to guide him in his personal life or maybe with like a sports goal that he's working on or hobby or whatever.

So you build this team of people around you who care about you and who can guide you from their own perspectives and their own strengths and their own knowledge in various areas that you need. And knowing that those things change, and that the folks that you correspond with and consider mentors today, might be less involved later.

So I think that's one piece of your question. And then you asked about, how do you find mentors that have this same view of work-life integration that you do and have I always had that? I don't think I've always had-- actually, I know I haven't always had that.

But I think that I've learned over time how to align myself with individuals who-- like there are certain values that I have that I want to make sure those around me have as well because I put them so high on my priority list of values.

And for some-- and those things, again, they change with time, but I've always valued greatly being able to put my family over work.

And so I switched laboratories in graduate school two years in for a variety of reasons, but the underpinning of it was that there was a misalignment around what my values were as it pertained to my graduate education and being able to attain that education, but also support my family. So my husband is Air Force, and there were some changes that were going on in his career, and the mentor I had wasn't as supportive.

Anyway, long story short, I found myself able to realign when I found the next mentor that I ended up with who very much so understood, like hey, it's not about when you're here, it's about the efficiency and the output of the time that you are here.

So if you need to comment on Saturday but not Wednesday, whatever. It doesn't matter, just get the job done, and in a way that is integrated with what you need.

Anyways, I don't know-- that's a long-winded answer to your question, but I think we find our way, and the moral of the story would be for those of you who are listening, who are like, man, I wish I were in an environment that more aligned with my values, I think that that's the first step.

The first step is acknowledging that there's that misalignment, and then the second step is to start to explore and keep your eyes open to ways to find that alignment, whether it means changing environments now or making some tweaks now knowing that the next opportunity is down the road and you can align those values then.

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Oby Ukadike: Earlier you were mentioning seasons, which I think is a very real thing that sometimes, I know for me personally, I don't think about as we grow up, as we move into different stages of our life. And there's something really interesting in what you're saying now about work-life integration and the idea of seasons.

And I don't know if you can speak any more to that, because what I think what I'm thinking-- what I choose to prioritize today may not be what I choose to prioritize three months from now because my life will be so different and in between.

Teresa Evans: That's absolutely what I'm saying, and it's very fresh in my life as a new-- I think I can say new parent. My daughter's two, and this is a very different season than the season I was in when I was in graduate school and working on my dissertation.

And I think giving ourselves grace in recognizing that it's OK to shift priorities and focus throughout our careers and that there will be another season as well. So I was just on another call where someone was asking me, how's your daughter doing? And said, hey, it goes by fast.

And that's absolutely true. Life in general goes by fast, which means the season you're in now will be over very quickly and you'll be exploring a new one where you can realign priorities. It's important to say OK for now, not forever.

I think like you said, it's not always front-of-mind where we live a lot in the present and it feels like, oh my gosh, I'm making a decision or I'm behaving in a way that is forever, and it's not. You might need to put in a few all-nighters to get that paper out the door or to finish that experiment or what have you, but that doesn't mean you should put in all-nighters your entire career.

But you can prepare for that. You might know, hey, I'm working on a grant. I think grants are a reality in the timelines of them, but typically we know what the timeline is way in advance. You know what the due date is.

So working backwards, you can align as best as possible your-- and integrate your work and life so that you can say, hey, mom, dad, sister, brother, partner, whatever, you're not going to see me. I need 24 hours or 48 hours to really dive into this, but on the backend, let's go get dinner together, let's whatever. So balancing those things.

Oby Ukadike: Perfect. And I think this honestly speaks to the next question I had which is, there are so many industries that demand so much of our time and how to manage the demand of work like the deadlines, the--

Teresa Evans: Mm-hmm.

Oby Ukadike: --everything in between while protecting your personal time. And I feel like you just spoke to that very well even with your last example, but I don't know if you have any more to say.

Teresa Evans: Yeah. I think you said there are industries that demand our time, and I would agree with that. And I would also say that any-- you can position yourself such that any industry, any job could be all-consuming if you allow it to be, if you're that type of person.

And so I always try to watch my own-- like check my own priorities periodically because I can get misaligned as well as anyone. And then I would also say-- you've heard me use the term value a lot.

Revisiting what you value. Really spending some headspace saying, what are-- there's things like values card sorts, and there's all kinds of different tools that you can get now to help you really think through your values. Everyone might find a different tool useful.

But think through what they are and then really being able to say, I'm going to choose this path over that path because it's more value-aligned and that will be better for my mental health and wellness. Whereas speaking specifically about academia and the world that we're in, I have found myself saying like, I'm going to turn right instead of left right now because it's more aligned with what I need for this season, for this base, what have you.

And remembering-- and this is not something that is-- it takes some confidence, but I try to-- I try to believe that it's just for now. That making this decision to go right instead of left doesn't mean that I can't come back and go left again, and I think the culture sometimes makes us feel like, well, if we don't do it now, it'll never happen.

Oby Ukadike: Right.

Teresa Evans: I don't think the word "never" is fair. It might be a little harder for it to happen, but I think you could still make it happen. It just might not look like the traditional path.

Oby Ukadike: I really like at that point, especially that it might not look like the traditional path.

Teresa Evans: Yeah, yeah.

Oby Ukadike: Thank you so much for being willing to come back and have this conversation with us, and I wanted to know if there's any parting golden nugget. Sometimes I like asking people this question that you would leave with the people who are listening about how to think about this or--

Even I think about a comment you made earlier about the different seasons and kind of when you were in grad school or you are a fellow in a lab and your choices may feel more limited, and your confidence to speak up about what you want to do may feel really difficult. And so I'm curious what you might offer to people.

Teresa Evans: Yeah. I think it's two things. One, especially in that scenario you just described, it's OK to start small. So that might mean I'm going to block off a half hour every day to eat my lunch, to actually sit down and eat my lunch.

Or I'm going to ensure that I leave by 6:00 PM every day or three days a week or one day a week-- whatever that attainable goal is for you to start to move the needle in the direction you want it to go, I would think about that. I would think about the step-wise actions you can take to start to move in the direction you want to move because it's not easy, necessarily, I recognize to just overnight change all of these habits.

And then I would also-- and I try to do this. I try to be a model-- and that's part of the-- we mentioned my calendar and showing everyone, hey, I'm taking this time for whatever.

Especially I feel like in academia and in higher education and the worlds that we're talking about here, we need more role models and more advocates for cultural change as it pertains to the way that we manage our time and the way that we value our work-life integration.

And so I've been very thankful for the-- and in my case, specifically the amazing female leaders that I have been able to work with who have shown me that the way that you manage your work day can truly be yours and it isn't reflective of the value of the work or the output that you provide.

And so I try to be that for others. I try to-- and I also try to-- I'll say-- I mean, being a parent and working is very hard. It's very hard. And I and I'm so thankful to all of those around me at work and at home that support me navigating all of those demands.

And so I want to I want to make sure that those who look to me as an example see someone who can say, hey, it's not easy every day. Like her days, it's really hard. And that's OK, too. You get through them and you keep trying.

And so one, little changes; and two, be a part of that bigger change. Don't be afraid to model the behavior.

Oby Ukadike: Thank you so much.

Teresa Evans: Thank you.

Oby Ukadike: It's a pleasure to talk to you. And thanks again for coming back.

Teresa Evans: Absolutely, anytime.

Oby Ukadike: Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate us on iTunes, and help us spread the word about the amazing research taking place across the Harvard community and beyond.

We are always looking to connect and collaborate with the research community and would like to hear from you. Please feel free to email us at onlineeducation.catalyst.harvard.edu to inquire about being a guest on the podcast.

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