Scientist Spotlight: November 2011
Scott E. Bowen PhD
Department of Psychology
Wayne State University
Q: What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:
My current research program is focused on the preclinical pharmacology and toxicology of abused inhalants. One critical factor in understanding substance abuse is the neurobehavioral impact of those drugs. The behavioral models that we are using in the laboratory are allowing us to probe underlying behavioral, pharmacological, neurochemical, and genetic mechanisms of the use/misuse of organic solvent inhalants. The overall goal of my research is to better model clinical features of inhalant abuse with the ultimate goal of developing new therapeutic approaches for preventing and treating this form of drug abuse.
Q: About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?
This is different from week to week. I have full course teaching responsibilities which sometimes can take up large parts of my week. I'm also currently the area chair for the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience division in our department, so there are responsibilities associated with this position as well. I am also the faculty advisor for our local chapter of Psi Chi (National Honor Society in Psychology) which gives me a chance to work and interact with some of the brightest most talented students at our university (which I really enjoy!). Finally, I always try to have several students working with me in the lab, which helps keep me grounded and focused on the laboratory and research.
Q: Are you involved with any activities or hobbies unrelated to your work and if so, how do you find the time to participate in these activities?
My "outside of work" activities are centered on my children. With three kids, my wife and I keep very busy with making sure that they meet their school, athletic and social obligations. There have been many times when my wife is taking one child to one event and I'm taking another to another event. I really enjoy watching my children participate and succeed in their activities. I also try to exercise a couple of times a week either by going to the gym or taking the dog on walks. I also find that working in the yard is very relaxing.
Q: How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?
Family has to always come first. As a family, we always make sure that we meet once a day (usually at dinner time) to discuss the day's events. One of the ways that I prioritize events is to make a weekly "to-do" list that contains both work and non-work activities. I find that making these weekly lists keeps me organized, focused and on-task (as well as helping to keep stress levels to a minimum).
Q: How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
First, I have to say that I have a very understanding wife. She has been with me since the beginning of my career in graduate school, postdoctoral training, and my current faculty position (we just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary). She has been very understanding when it comes to deadlines and such, and has helped to "pick up the slack". I then try to do the same for her.
Q: What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?
I would like to think its 50-50. I usually put in 45- 50 hours per week at work, but as my wife will tell you, I'm guilty of bringing work home (usually papers to grade, etc.) and working late into the evening.
Q: How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
As I stated earlier, I think that family has to come first. I try to make family priorities come before work priorities. Having a calendar and scheduling family events (soccer games, track meets, girl scouts, etc.) has been very beneficial for me in balancing between family and work. Having an understanding spouse has also really helped!
Q: Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?
This goes back to the weekly "to-do" list and a calendar that contains work activities that need to be completed. For me, making these weekly lists keeps me organized, focused and on-task.
Q: Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?
Not really. I like the "to do" list and I usually follow that to get specific work-related tasks completed. However, I do find that days that I'm not teaching are very good for catching up on my writing and data analysis.
Q: How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?
This varies for me. With full course teaching responsibilities, there are some weeks where I can only spend part of my time on research and writing. Other weeks are better and I'm able to devote a large part of my time in the lab and working on papers. It is a priority though, and I do try to set aside time every week to work on a manuscript. My personal goal is to always have one paper either submitted or in preparation.
Q: How do you protect time for writing papers?
I schedule time in my calendar for this. Sometimes this gets "bumped" for other priorities, but I try to keep this time for writing as best I can. I also find that working at home or at my local public library are very good places to get things done without being disturbed.
Q: Have you found it helpful to restrict the number of days per week you work (e.g., do not work on weekends?) or the number of hours you work per day?
Yes. I do try (but not always successfully) to take either a Saturday or Sunday and not do any work-related activities. I try to use this time to spend with my family (going to the park, movies, etc.) and doing work around the house.
Q: How do you find time to exercise or sleep? How many hours of each do you average?
Exercise time is usually in the morning. I will try to get to the gym by 6:00 am and finish up by 7:00 to help out with getting kids off to school. I also love to take walks with my wife through the neighborhood (usually with our dog). As I'm getting older, I realize how important it is to get a good night of sleep (gone are the days of working through the night!). I try to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep a night.
Q: What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?
What is the famous saying, "All work and no play…"? Remember that you can't do everything (Rome was not built in a day). Try not to bring work (and its problems) home with you. Save time for yourself and your family. However, there will be times that you do need to put in those extra hours to get the grant or paper written, but remember to give those hours back to yourself and your family.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?
I'm not sure I can boil it down to just one piece of advice. I've had great mentors and colleagues throughout my training and I've received great advice from all of them. Mary Jeanne Kallman believed in me and took a chance on a young, naïve undergraduate at Ole Miss and gave me my start in behavioral pharmacology. Steve Fowler was very passionate about his research and taught me so much about computers, programming and interfacing these computers with operant chambers. Bob Balster was/is very passionate about science and had SO many projects going at the same time. Bob really "lit the fire" regarding my research on inhalant abuse which I continue to do to this day. Alice Young was also very passionate about her research and always made time to help me to really think about drug actions and interactions. Finally, John Hannigan has been a great friend and colleague, who is also passionate about science, has kept me enthusiastic about research, and taught me the "workings" of the university system.
Q: Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
Seek out the people that are passionate about their work. Also, make sure that you are having fun doing what you are doing. If you don't enjoy what you are doing, and it doesn't keep you interested and challenged, you need to find a career that will do those things for you. Life is too short to be miserable in your career.
To nominate scientists for Scientist Spotlight, contact Kelly Dunn or Sarah Tragesser.