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Championing Yourself - Setting and Enforcing Your Boundaries by Alice DuVivier

Alice K. DuVivier

Project Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Contact Alice at:

My whole life I’ve been an overachiever. I’m sure at least a few people reading this can relate… While I’ve always had interests outside school, in many ways I have based my identity on my academic achievements. I spent untold hours trying to make sure my problem sets, essays, or projects were excellent. In high school I took a ridiculous number of AP classes. My B.A. was in Physics from Colorado College, with a minor in Renaissance Studies. After a relatively miserable summer of long, dark days in a laser lab, I decided I was much more interested in how the physical world works. I earned my Ph.D. in May 2015 and M.S. in 2012 from the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado. I had my first child while in graduate school, and the second as a postdoc and continued to work full time with both kiddos. I don’t think there is a “right” time, so you just have to bite the bullet and do it if that’s something you want. Loving your family and also loving science, thinking, and learning are not mutually exclusive passions. Having both aspects of my life is important to me.

On landfast ice during a "sea ice camp" for observers and modelers to come together in Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska in 2016.

I am a polar climate modeler and at different times have had an emphasis on the atmosphere, ocean, and sea ice, but I’m particularly interested in how these earth system components influence one another. Since summer 2016, I have worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). At NCAR, I am part of the team developing the Community Earth System Model (CESM). The most fulfilling aspects of my job are working with a team of friendly, collaborative scientists to learn more about the world and create tools with which to do this. Having spent so much of my life working hard, usually alone – particularly as I finished my PhD – I find that working as part of a team toward a larger goal is hugely enjoyable and makes much of the work I do feel more tangible and useful for others. In addition, NCAR often hosts talented and motivated graduate and undergraduate students and it is so fun to mentor them while they grow as scientists.

Alice and her daughters getting dirty in the yard over the weekend.

The biggest challenge I find is maintaining a work-life balance in the face of a never-ending to-do list. For better or worse, in academia there is no time clock or supervisor telling you when to work or not work. This means that setting and enforcing your own boundaries is a crucial skill to learn. I often struggle with maintaining this constantly evolving balance. This doesn’t mean I never work at home, but there are hours or days I block off for my kids, family, or myself. In these times, I just don’t open my computer or email because I know that I will be tempted to do work. I never take my laptop on vacation because I have found that I will start to sneak off to work rather than being present and recharging during my time off. Similarly, most nights I don’t do work for ~2 hours before bed because my brain can’t calm down enough to sleep well. These examples are limits I had to learn for myself, through trial and error, and then I made the decision to set those boundaries. Because boundaries are personal, you need to pay attention to yourself – when and in what conditions you work best, what agitates you or excites you, what circumstances you are utterly unproductive, or how your work impacts your interaction with loved family or friends. By observing yourself you can learn when and where you need to set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to express those boundaries. I am fortunate to work with understanding colleagues, though I still find these sorts of discussions and negotiations of temporarily shifted work duties to be stressful. When I have had to enforce my boundaries when discussing with a supervisor my requests have always been met with empathy and support. This sort of institutional recognition of and support for boundaries is still not always a given. Yet maintaining your boundaries and finding an institution in which you can do so is essential to maintaining sanity while trying to juggle all the balls that come with a research career.

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