Don’t Let it All Consume You: The Secrets to Success

 

Marie Curie was an avid long-distance cyclist, Albert Einstein taught himself to play the violin and Sir Alexander Fleming loved to paint (using bacteria).

Despite dedicating their lives to their disciplines, they also enjoyed life beyond the laboratory. As with the many scientists who have flourished before and since, their pursuits beyond work have been integral to their enduring contributions to their fields. We may even go as far as to say that their hobbies have bettered their work. In this week’s Features article we will look at #MedSciLife – a campaign from The Academy of Medical Sciences which aims to celebrate the diversity of researchers’ interests and hobbies outside of the workplace.

Arpeggios to E=MC2

Defining the impact of hobbies on the success of scientists and other notable individuals has fascinated researchers. There is evidence to suggest that at least one stimulating hobby can be a better predictor of career success than IQ or grades alone (Milgram 1997). That isn’t to say that we should all rush out to find an interesting hobby and wait for success to come our way. But we all certainly have something to gain from broadening our interests and nothing to lose from doing so, be it a foray into running, knitting or Kung Fu.

Fishing is a little bit like Science

The #MedSciLife campaign that was launched by the Academy of Medical Sciences has provided medical researchers with the opportunity to share how their passions beyond work have influenced their careers. The aim is to allow researchers to pass on advice and tips to the next generation of scientists. The Academy of Medical Sciences itself is an independent UK body, aiming to promote medical science and its translation into benefits for society. By visiting medscilife.org one can read the personal stories of medical researchers – their lifestyles, their interests and their tips for managing, surviving and excelling in demanding careers.

Professor Paul Martin, a cell biologist and an academic discusses his relief that the friends he goes fishing with, or the members of his Kung Fu club have no idea what an impact factor is. He compares fishing and science, saying “to be successful at fishing or science you need to be persistent and patient and also lucky…”. Professor Ann-Louise Kinmonth, a Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge mentions how Sailing was “a lifeline” before her retirement, but how it remains a great pleasure. These are just two examples of how maintaining social activities provide an essential escape from work.

Writing in a special issue of the Lancet, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Professor Robert Lechler said “It is the Academy’s view that time outside of work has the potential to nourish creativity, build resilience, and give fresh perspectives on existing problems, precisely the skills that result in the best quality research. A life outside science is not an extra, but an integral part of who we are as scientists.” He goes on to emphasise that in times of increasing competitiveness, the common misconception is that longer, harder hours are the key to success, at the expense of other interests.

The efforts and ideology that underpin the #MedSciLife can in part be reduced to a phrase that we are never short of hearing in interviews or from exasperated seniors: Work-life balance. But this is clearly something that we all need to be reminded of. The campaign goes on to illustrate how striving for a good work-life balance or “MedSciLife” has led to the discovery of unique talents and has also helped to enhance careers through nurturing open-mindedness and relaxation. Furthermore, the skills required for hobbies and work can be complementary. Mr Kourosh Saeb Parsy, a University Lecturer and honorary Consultant transplant surgeon writes about balancing his busy clinical practice and running a research group with playing basketball and his passion for collecting and restoring antiquarian books. He emphasises that “Work and life are not in competition” and that both require patience, manual dexterity and practice.

MedSciLife LIVE

Going further than the website, the campaign also includes live events throughout the year which invite researchers from all stages of their careers to explore their respective paths and discuss the opportunities and challenges that they have faced along the way.

You can also visit the MedSciLife exhibition at 41 Portland Place, London to see an exhibition of some of the material that is featured on the website.

This campaign is appealing on several levels. To those in search of inspiration, they can read about how personal struggles have been overcome en route to success. For others (such as myself) about to embark on a career, with anxieties about how to “fit it all in”, the stories on the website provide some reassurance that “it” is all possible. And for those looking to see how new interests can improve their lives, well, #MedSciLife is for you. It embraces the notion that adding strings to one’s bow is conducive with a happier life at least, by many measures. This is what the founders intended.

If there is anything to be learned here, it is that success in our respective fields depends on a genuine love of it, but also an appreciation of things beyond it. In the face of busy careers, increasing competition and additional challenges on the road to success, clinging to our hobbies and interests as well as making time for friends and family – the things that make us, us – is now more important than ever.

 

Professor Paul Martin: “It’s a cliché, but it is important to enjoy your science, but don’t let it consume you.”

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Outside the operating theatre, Mr Kourosh Saeb Parsy enjoys basketball and restoring antique books.

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#MedSciLife is a campaign created by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

#MedSciLife can be found at: http://www.medscilife.org and @acmedsci. Follow their discussions on twitter at #MedSciLife

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