Sleep and the value of life

Over Jezebel there’s an article about privilege and sleep. It’s their take on Arianna Huffington telling the rest of us to get enough sleep.

The best (but still problematic) quotes, for my money, are from Gail King and Hoda Kotb:

“I think when you’re first starting out, that’s very difficult, but it’s something to keep in mind as you climb the ladder, that we might need to start setting boundaries for ourselves,” King explained. “I said to her this morning, ‘You’re Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, so you can say ‘Sleep! Don’t answer emails!'” When you’re starting out, it doesn’t work that way.”

“It’s not until you’re older that you can sleep,” agreed Today’s Hoda Kotb. “You need to kill yourself first.”

This is right up there with a bit that’s been going around some circles from Mina Bissell who works on ECM, and was president of the ASCB. I can’t find the original address in its entirety, but here is the relevant quote:

“…if research is truly what you want to do, then you must be willing to pay the price… It takes time, patience, stubbornness, years and years of seven-day weeks and eighteen-hour days, years of poverty level wages, predictions of doom and failure, rejections of papers and grants,depression and self-doubt…But one persists…because this is what you want to do.”

Despite that we are both boomers (although she came from Iran), she is leading edge boomer, and I am trailing edge. She’s effectively a generation ahead of me – the generation to which several of my mentors belonged (younger than my mother, but older than me). She is certainly a Big Dog scientist, with lots of pubs, lots of grants, and a huge lab.

I agree that it takes a lot of what she says. You have to want it. It does take years. And sometimes it does take 18 hour days. There is a lot of rejection, self-doubt and insecurity. That is the reality check. There is also a price to pay. Different generations (and I think the 20-year gradients are too coarse) pay different prices. Different groups (women, URM, intersections of groups) pay different prices.

But I don’t think she’s right, and I am not sure I agree with just making this statement, or just putting it out there. I wish I could find the rest of the speech (because I do want to see context). Yes it is hard, but there is joy in the work. There is joy in science, and in doing this. Do not get discouraged before you start. It’s not just that “you want to do research”. It what doing research is.

Which brings us back to sleep. Is sleep one of those things we must give up when we are young? I by and large didn’t, but not out of conviction or choice. I got sleep, mostly because I am a morning person. I just fell asleep. I couldn’t stay up to do an all-nighter. And I was up with birdies in the morning. But pretty much everyone I knew did without sleep. I think getting sleep, and maybe not quite working as long helped me get ahead in the end.

But, if sleep is renewable energy, then you’ve got to get it. And not just sleep, but life. A beer with friends. A coffee with the peeps at work. A phone call with your parents or favorite aunt or grandfather. There are little things, but things of immense value. Do not give them up. As is true of everything, its a cost/benefit decision. We all need to make those decisions and not let them happen to us.


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