Dating for Scientists, New Scientist Connect and gk2gk are online dating sites that propose perfect matches for partners with scientific mind-sets. Is there a link between the background of one’s partner and success in scientific careers, asks Christina Morgenstern.
It’s been seven years, two months, 19 days, five hours and 37 minutes since I left the bench. I keep counting the hours and desperately try to hang on to my memories. Some days it feels like yesterday that I left PCR reactions, agarose gels, and my beloved mouse embryos behind.
But a lot of things have happened since then. After my PhD at University College, London, and four years at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute, I boarded a plane back home to Austria. All these years my husband worked in our home country, and commuted back and forth between Austria and London every other weekend. I decided that now it was time for me to return to Austria to be with him permanently. I knew my region of Austria — Carinthia — doesn’t have research infrastructure and so I was already planning on shifting from research to science communication.
During the last months of my thesis, I had the idea of establishing an extracurricular science centre for hands-on molecular biology, termed Science Impuls. I was enthusiastic and figured this could be the right alternative for me. But after a year or so the money ran out — I had to start looking for something else.
From that moment on, the self-confidence I had built during my PhD slowly faded, and I struggled with my post-PhD career. I tried many jobs, from working in quality assurance for the pharma industry, to joining my husband’s company in real estate as a project manager. Finally, I found my way into teaching. This job has been perfect while caring for our daughter and providing her with a good start in life.
As years pass, I wonder what would have happened if I had continued with my scientific career. What if I had met a different partner, somebody who, like me, was in love with science? Would I have succeeded and stayed on the scientific career path? Would different initial conditions lead to different scenarios? That sounds like a question for a chaos theorist. I might have been pulled back on the same strange attractor, far from research along with my hypothetical scientist partner.
I have always wondered if couples with same interests, scientists or not, are more successful in their careers. In 2014 the married couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser demonstrated that this can hold true. They were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of the“inner GPS”system. There have been other fruitful collaborations between scientist couples, and a few that have won the Nobel Prize, most notably Pierre and Marie Curie. Outside of research, the Clintons are a pertinent example — they may find themselves in the White House for a second time soon.
I suppose that in having the same interests, a couple can push each other to higher achievements. Exchanging ideas and thoughts on troublesome experiments might help to resolve technical issues. And there is much more acceptance for late hours and weekends in the lab as well as for keeping up to date with the scientific literature on the Sunday morning breakfast table.
In the past, I was of the opinion that it’s better to have contradicting interests, as there is more possibility to expand your own knowledge. But today, I think that having the same interests might be advantageous, especially for couples in science.
Christina Morgenstern is a lecturer at the University College of Teacher Education Carinthia and the Carinthian University of Applied Sciences, as well as freelance science communicator. In her former life she used to be a molecular biologist investigating the transcriptional networks involved in cell communication. Today, she has taken communication to a meta-level and teaches the next generation of science teachers. You can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or @science-impuls.