Catherine Stangner, PhD, and Alan Budney, PhD

This Scientist Spotlight features a husband and wife academic team.

Catherine Stanger, PhD
Associate Professor
University of Arkansas

Alan Budney, PhD
Full Professor
University of Arkansas

Q: What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:

Catherine Stanger, PhD and Alan Budney, PhDCatherine: I'm a child psychologist by training. My research focuses on parenting and contingency management interventions to treat and prevent adolescent substance abuse.

Alan: My current research focuses primarily on the development and evaluation of effective treatments for substance use problems, with a primary focus on cannabis. Most recent studies are conducted in the context of clincal trials with human laboratory and neuroscience protocols mixed in.

Q: About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?

Catherine: This is highly variable. Most recently, I have been on an NIH review panel, so that has taken up a significant amount of time three times a year. I have actually tried to keep these activities to a minimum. This is one of the ways I balance my work and family life. Alan has devoted more time to professional organizations and travel. I have done less of that, although now, as our children are older, I am doing that more. Being on the faculty in a Department of Psychiatry, and having been successful (so far) in supporting my salary through research grants, I do not have regular teaching or clinical or administrative duties.

Alan: I wish I could tell you, that would mean I was well organized and kept good track of such things. Administrative duties come with our research projects, and always take too much time and cause too much stress. I greatly enjoy time spent in other professional activities such as grant reviews, writing letters of support, reviewing journal articles, serving on Committees or Boards of Scientific or Community Organizations, etc. Teaching I enjoy, but I've had few formal teaching requirements through the years, so mostly I try to spend time with interns, grad students and postdocs to get my fix of teaching. I probably spend much too much time on these types of things, but I try to justify it by telling myself that this is why we do our research, or these activities are necessary for the greater good of our field. This may be a personal rationalization for engaging in activities I enjoy, and for falling behind on my own projects, but it is what it is. I have always tried to encourage Cathy to become more involved with these type of things (probably out of guilt), but it has been hard for both of us to do so while managing the logistics of our very, very, busy family.

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?

Catherine: I try to exercise on a regular basis. I usually go the gym on our campus most weekdays to either workout in the gym or to attend an exercise class. I find it easier to interrupt my work day than my time at home. In the past few years gardening has become a new hobby for me (massive undertaking is probably a better way to describe it, as we bought a house with very extensive gardens I have to try to keep alive). The gardens don't take no for an answer. I mostly garden on the weekends. I try to read for pleasure often, but a lot of my reading is now done with my ipod while I walk the dogs, garden, or work out.

Alan: Yes, I enjoy participating and spectating many sporting activities, which Cathy would probably call a mild to moderate addictive disorder. I also greatly enjoy the theatre, and take in as many shows as possible. I excerise 3-4 times a week, usually running or playing golf…unfortunately my body won't tolerate much basketball anymore. Participating in and watching my kids activities (sports, music, theatre, etc.) has been my major hobby throughout the years, but we are down to one left at home, so even though she tries to keep us busy with theatre, dance, music, and sports, we do seem to have a little more time for other things. As far as making time to do these things, I just do them, always have, and get my work done as needed to keep afloat.

Q: How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?

Catherine: Alan and I have 3 children. Our oldest daughter is now in college, our son is away at high school, and our youngest daughter is a 7th grader. I think the most important job I have is being their mother. I always try to put them first. That doesn't mean I'm always successful. There are definitely days when I feel like I'm not doing a very good job as a mother or a scientist. It has helped to have a flexible job that doesn't require me to always be in the office. Alan and I take turns leaving work to pick our daughter up after school and take her to her various activities. You can sometimes find me reading grants in the car while I wait for her. Having the right husband also helps! When my older two children are home, I spend as much time with them as I can. I'm very conscious of my time as a parent speeding by.

Alan: Obviously work activities take precedent over my own personal recreation, except for my children's events and perhaps Penn State football games. I feel that I work hard to be a father and husband that is around and participating in most everything. Being able to work at home and have a flexible schedule has allowed that to happen, and that is what I would consider the greatest benefit of the type of work we do. I do mess up and forget some things once in a while because of crazy work schedules, etc., but that is rare (in my opinion). When all children were home and active, I made an effort to keep travel down, and to not let travel conflict with family events. I consider myself very lucky to have become fairly successful without sacrificing too much related to family. Cathy deserves a lot of the credit for that, both by reminding me of priorities and events, and taking on the huge task of family organizer/scheduler.

Q: How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?

Catherine: To me it seems kind of like a see saw. Sometimes I work what seems like all the time for weeks. Then I get that grant application or paper out the door, and I work less, making more time for my family and myself. My life is not always balanced—sometimes it's very out of balance. I just hope it averages out over time! I think it's important to try to be kind to yourself. If I have to choose, I generally try to choose my family over my work.

Alan: I'm not sure how I do it. In our field, to some degree it depends on how successful you are at obtaining funding, which determines how much time you have to spend on attempting to get funding in addition to conducting your active research and managing all your other awork-related activities. I have been fortunate the last 10 years to have a couple of lines of research continuously funded, which has relieved some of the stress and time related to seeking funding. Other than that, I have set up a "crazy" work schedule that involves starting work at 4am or so, which results in me burning out mentally by late afternoon at the latest. That frees up time in the afternoon and early evening to engage in family activities and devote marginal attention to "menial" work activites by answering e- mails, etc. Also, being able to leave the office during the day because of the nature of my job, has allowed me to attend to important personal and family activities. I try to tell myself that the work will be there tomorrow no matter how much I get done today; that is the nature of our profession.

Q: What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?

Catherine: Unfortunately, my work and home life are not as distinct as they probably should be. Alan and I talk about work way too much at home! Email intrudes on my life at home too much. I do some work most evenings and weekends.

Alan: Again, that is a difficult question. I probably put in about 8-10 hours on most weekdays and probably 2-3 hours most weekend days. This changes with grant or paper deadlines or the weather. The rest is homelife, which is interwoven with the work hours. My shedule may go something like this: work/write from 4:30 to 6:30am; make lunches/clean up from 6:30-7:00; run from 7:00-7:30; take kids to school; work at office or at home from 8:30-3:30; pick up daughter and take to activity; work at home on and off from 4:00 to 6:00 while preparing dinner etc. I rarely do work after dinner other than answer some e-mails or discuss work issues with Cathy.

Q: How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?

Catherine: I like my job and I love my family. I work very hard, and I find my job challenging and satisfying (most days!), but my family is more important. Always.

Alan: Mostly I try to remind myself all the time that family is most important. That seems to help keep balance because the nature of our jobs is for them to expand as much as we let them, such that you could work all the time and still not get "everything" done. So what I am trying to say is, I don't feel that it is necessary to worry too much about work priorities; they look out for themselves and seem to always be looking to take over our worlds. Focusing on family priorities helps keep things in balance.

Q: Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?

Catherine: I don't have many specific strategies. I do keep an old-school pen and paper list. I list work tasks down the left side of the paper and personal/family tasks down the right side. I get great pleasure from crossing things off the list. Generally, I find I'm more productive at home.

Alan: I wish there were. I guess I could say yes, I rely on my wife to organize the home schedule and make sure the kids activities and appointments are organized. That is a big and stressful undertaking that goes under appreciated. At work, I simply make To-Do lists that I look at every day with priorities and dates; I include my personal/family tasks on there as well. This keeps me focused on the multitude of activities I am working on or would like to work on.

For Example:

Q: Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?

Catherine: No, that's not how I organize my time although I do have some days that are much more meeting intensive than others. I try to avoid small blocks of time in between meetings that are too small to be used productively.

Alan: No, I don't have any set schedule like that. I simply try to put my list in front of me everyday, reorganize priorities if necessary, and highlight what I hope to accomplish that day.

Q: How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?

Catherine: Not enough! I honestly can't imagine ever feeling like I'm spending "enough" time writing. I tend to write in bursts. When I'm in the middle of a manuscript, I will set aside all other tasks I can possibly set aside in order to focus on writing for as long as it takes. I take this same approach to writing grants. This is probably not the most efficient way to work, but it feels right to me. I need that kind of focus and time to let ideas rise to the surface.

Alan: This varies tremendously. Some weeks it may be 60-90% of my work days, and some weeks, much less, maybe 20-30%. Deadlines and personal goals for papers, etc. detemine this. I should say that I consider writing to be my primary work activity and have come to understand that writing determines success and productivity as much if not more than scientific ideas. That said, I try not to spend too much time on quantity of papers and try to focus on quality as much as possible.

Q: How do you protect time for writing papers?

Catherine: I try to schedule meetings in blocks, to protect large blocks of time for whatever writing project I'm working on. I also write best at home, during the day, when our daughter is at school. Ideally, I try to work at home at least a day a week.

Alan: I work at home as much as I can because I can get much more writing done. And as I said earlier, my early start allows me to focus without distraction. I will cancel or consolidate meetings and turn down journal review requests, etc., if I have too much writing with deadlines on my plate. I will also leave the office and work from home to focus more on writing. Luckily, we've lived in fairly close proximity to work that allows to come and go if necessary.

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?

Catherine: I have not been able to do this. I have found that being flexible is more important. If I need to be there for one of our kids, I do it. But that means I'll probably work after dinner or on the weekend.

Alan: No I don't have any specific strategies to limit my work times. I value my family and recreational activities enough that I will put work aside as needed to ensure I attend to those types of things. I feel very lucky that I have been able to be productive enough to maintain my research activities at a level sufficient to maintain themselves without sacrificing too much in these other areas of life.

Q: How do you find time to exercise or sleep? How many hours of each do you average?

Catherine: I try to exercise 45 mins to an hour 5 days a week – often at lunch time – so people have to watch me eat my sandwich in meetings after lunch. I sleep 7 to 8 hours a night

Alan: I usually get in my exercise in the early hours, even on weekends. I rarely run past 7:30am and if I play golf I try to get started by 6 or 7 and return by 10 or so. Things are less crowded and can be performed more efficiently during these hours as most people aren't around slowing things down. I have to admit, I do fall asleep quite early sometimes. So although I may sit down to watch a movie with my family, I may spend the bulk of the show napping. I probably average about 6-7 hours of sleep, with maybe a short nap somewhere in the early evening, or on a weekend afternoon.

Q: What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?

Catherine: I think there are many right answers to how to have a life that works for you. My choices might be completely wrong for someone else. Some days I think I am doing it just right. Other days, not so much. I usually feel better about choices I have made that were better for me or my family than my career. I have regretted some choices I made that were better for my career than my family.

Alan: I'd say you have to find a strategy that works for you. My early schedule seems ludicrous to most of my colleagues and friends, but it works for me. Others work late after kids go to sleep. Surrounding yourself with good colleagues, students, and trainees, also can allow more flexibility. If you have people you can trust to work with you on projects, you don't have to devote as much time to monitoring, etc. (althougth this can be dangerous if your aren't careful). Getting lots of advice about prioritizing may also help keep you on the right track so that you don't waste too much time on certain non-productive or career-building activities. Everyone has very different personal goals, so it's hard to provide advice in that regard. Certainly choosing to have three children with two parents trying to develop academic careers adds to the challenge. Such challenges are modified greatly by financial situations. Kids also bring different challenges to the equation, some of which can't be anticipated. So it very hard to generalize to different situations. Certainly it can be done and there are many models in our field. These spotlight articles are a wonderful idea for providing some examples and hopefully encouraging those struggling with these issues to ask for advice and contact senior colleagues. I am sure most would love to share their experiences with those interested.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?

Catherine: I have received great career and scientific advice from mentors. However, how to balance family and career was generally not something I discussed with mentors.

Alan: I don't think I ever really received or asked about these issues with mentors. We discussed families and how much we enjoyed time with kids, etc. Hearing people say things like "they grow up before you notice", or "I wouldn't want to miss out on those times" has provided reassurance to me that I have a good perspective on these things.

Q: Are there any additional comments you would like to make?

Catherine: We were very lucky to have wonderful child care when our children were younger. Great university based child care, and a truly wonderful nanny (when having 3 children in center based care was adding up to the same amount of money that a nanny would cost). We were very fortunate.

Alan: More than one student or trainee has asked me about the timing of having children. They like to ask me and Cathy because we are usually one of the few models they know of for having two academics in one family. Again, I would encourage those pondering this issue to ask multiple senior colleagues how it worked for them. I believe they will find a multitude of alternatives, with the bottom line being there are no right times or maybe I would phrase it, no wrong times to have children. If you want children, you just have to do it and figure it out as you go. I think you will find many supportive colleagues surrounding you. The harder work will be the personal struggle to reorganize priorities such that family receives its fair share and is valued and acted upon at least as much as your work.

To nominate scientists for Scientist Spotlight, contact Kelly Dunn or Sarah Tragesser.