I have a good friend/collaborator, let’s call him Ben. We’ve written grants together (not funded, sad to say) and I’ve spent time in his lab. A while back he had two trainees, from whom I learned a lot. I’ve changed the names, but the details are true. The first Dixon, arrived promptly at 8 am every morning. Worked through lunch, and left between 5 and 5:30 every day. The second, Mason, was always there before Ben & I got in, would stop and have morning coffee with us, lunch with us (when invited), and usually was there well after we left. Both Mason and Dixon were productive. They had good projects, were committed to the work, and now are in good postdocs. They both wrote 3-5 (I forget the details) first authored papers for their very independent theses. I asked Ben about it (it was so obvious). He said that Mason lived for the work, and she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Mason was always interested in talking with me, asking me questions, bouncing new papers, ideas, professional questions, etc. Once when I asked Dixon to go to lunch with me, she said she’d rather eat and work, but could I talk with her later that afternoon. We had an intense 90 min talk about the same kinds of things. Ben said that Dixon had a second life – she sang parttime in a band in the up & coming arts district. She used her time efficiently, he had absolutely no complaints and he was sure she’d be a success. She finished about a 6 months before Mason did.
I have a single Mom colleague in my department who works like Dixon. She drops her kids off a school and is in her lab by 9am. She leaves at 4:45 every day. She gets an hour or two in after they go to bed a night. She spends weekends with them, and uses most of her vacation & sick days for life with them. Her life is not easy, I know. But she doesn’t complain and has figured out how to make it work. It helps that she has local family to help out. She has incurred some wrath in the department, where despite rules to the contrary there are meetings before 8 and after 5pm. But as she says, that’s her life choice.
Bottom line – figure out what you love and figure out a way to do it. It is the only way to do life.