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Princeton Weekly Bulletin   September 25, 2006, Vol. 96, No. 3   prev   next   current

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Q&A with President Tilghman

Having a life outside the office

Princeton NJ — Time away from the demands of her position is precious for President Tilghman. While the renowned molecular biologist can no longer devote hours to research, she continues to pursue her love of teaching. And just as she has made work-life balance a priority issue for her administration, Tilghman ensures that she makes time for herself outside of Nassau Hall. In the following, she reflects on the importance of personal time, her continued work in the classroom and her feelings about winding down her lab.

Tilghman and graduate student

Tilghman worked in her molecular biology lab with graduate student Ekaterina Semenova, who completed her Ph.D. in 2003. (photo by Denise Applewhite)

Given the demands of your office, how do you manage your own work-life balance?

I would say two things about my own work-life balance. One is that because my children are now grown, I’m in a very different place in my life than I was when I was a faculty member. I can devote more time to the job than I could when I had children who were at home and dependent upon me. That’s another way of saying that different phases of your life can accommodate different work-life balances.

The other is that I am acutely aware of the importance of my health and good nature to being able to do this job well, and so I am actually very careful to ensure that I don’t burn out. I purposely make sure there is time during the year when I am away and not thinking about Princeton, and that there are times even during each week I can’t be scheduled. I believe that balance is absolutely essential for my mental health.

Are there particular things you like to do to get away from work?

Sunday morning, for example, is verboten because I have a regular tennis game with an old friend, and then I need at least two hours to read The New York Times. I get very grumpy if either one of those is interrupted for some reason.

Do you miss spending time in the classroom and the laboratory? How much are you able to keep up with your field?

I teach in the introductory molecular biology class and I still advise juniors and seniors, so I’m still involved in teaching. What is virtually impossible is to be a really competitively active scientist. I closed my lab this spring and published what I suspect is going to be my last scientific paper. It was actually a very good paper in a very good journal, so I was very pleased that I went out on top. It’s just simply unrealistic to think you can do science part time. At least I can’t.

How was that experience of closing the lab?

It was a combination of regret and relief. I think you can’t close the door on a 30-year career without some level of regret. I adored my life as a scientist, and I really loved what we were working on at the time I became president. So there’s some regret, and some things have happened in the field since I became president that would have been really fun to work on. But on the other hand, I think this is the right thing for me to be doing at this stage in my career. I think I’m making more of a contribution and it’s a better fit with my talents, frankly. I just wrote David Botstein that I think the best thing that ever happened to the Lewis-Sigler Institute is that I became president, because it opened the door for David to be the director of the institute. I think we’re both in the right job.

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