Scientists Have Passions Outside the Lab. We Should Embrace That

In August, I contemplated revealing a personal secret about a postdoc in my lab. But before I did, I reached out to the postdoc, Victoria, to ask for permission: “Do you want me do a Twitter thread about you and your new book? Or would you prefer to keep your two identities separate?” Five days later, Victoria responded: “I haven’t replied yet because I’m so torn! What is your perspective on whether it could be bad to have academics know about my writing life?”

After a back and forth, we decided it would be OK for me to share the good news—which was simply that Victoria had published a new book. This might seem like a small ordeal. After all, celebrating the publications of your lab members is a routine part of a professor’s job. But in this case, Victoria was not only a successful early-career scientist, but also a famous fiction writer, having published five novels under a pseudonym. The anonymity allowed her to avoid any potential criticism from the academic world that this side hustle was unprofessional or revealed a lack of commitment to science.

We debated the potential downside of sharing what was otherwise genuinely exciting news. I told her, “I’m not sure if it is a net plus or a net negative. In my view, the fact that you are a successful and prolific scientist shows that you can do both things.” In the end, Victoria deferred to my judgment. I decided to share the story on social media because I think it’s important to celebrate our trainees’ success and normalize the fact that all of us have passions and pursuits outside the lab. The stereotype of scientists laboring in the lab for ungodly hours—lest they reveal a lack of passion for the craft—is a notion that needs to die.

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