Panelists finding a balance

A panel of six accomplished women from the Duke community discussed "Balancing Career and Family" Thursday night, showing students that the balance was possible, but that individuals had to follow their personal ambitions instead of striving to fulfill society's expectations.

   The event capped off the first-ever Comfort Day, which three Duke students conceived as a means to encourage the University community to grapple with the perception that women must balance their lives perfectly, which was described in the Women's Initiative report. The panelists shared their own experiences with the challenge of balancing work and family and offered words of advice to their audience, which was comprised mostly of female undergraduates.

   Despite the diversity in panelists' family lives--only half had children and they varied in marital status--they were all in consensus about the necessary factor in this quest for balance.

   "In terms of balance, it's finding what you're passionate about," said Claudia Buchmann, assistant professor of sociology, who is expecting her second child. "My job gives me so much energy, and in a different way, I am energized by being a mom."

   Although some panelists attributed much of their sense of accomplishment to their parenting experiences, Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said that when she evaluated her personal experience with married life, it paled in comparison to the gratification she derived from her work.

   "I don't have a family, but I have all of the people in this community," she said.

   Wasiolek agreed with the importance of pursuing one's passions, but she also reminded students that the process would require thoughtful deliberation and an open mind.

   Other panelists echoed Wasiolek's sentiments and encouraged students to examine all of their options before settling on one path.

   "I wish I had been a bit more thoughtful about what I wanted," said psychology professor and mother of one Susan Roth, who chaired the Women's Initiative Executive Committee. "That is one of the reasons why I am motivated to tell you about how you should think about what you want to do with your family life."

   When students are considering their futures, they should keep in mind the unpredictability of career and family plans, said Donna Lisker, director of the Women's Center.

   "What I do now isn't what I originally set out to do," she said. She described how her husband offered constant encouragement while she changed locations for the sake of her work. "Every physical move we've made has been for my career, and he's been very supportive," she added. Finding a healthy balance between family and work is much easier with a husband's support, Buchmann concurred. "My husband followed me to Duke, and I am very lucky to have a 'non-traditional' spouse," she said.

   Michéle Longino, professor of romance studies, did not have the luxury of a "non-traditional" spouse. "I ended up single-parenting our son while he was in grade school and junior high," she said. "I feel that sometimes in my life, I have concentrated on one or the other, but I have never achieved the perfect balance."

   After the panelists concluded their individual reflections, audience members took the opportunity to engage the faculty members in a discussion geared toward their own concerns. Organizers considered this dialogue a mark of the program's success.

   "I'm really happy and really impressed by all the panelists and the audience participated so much throughout," said senior Julie Kalishman, who coordinated Comfort Day along with fellow seniors Ishar Carmichael and Jennifer Marron.

   Although the decision about how to balance career and family might seem far away, the discussion eased some students' concerns about their lives post-graduation.

   "I feel like before I came here, I had to decide how the rest of my life would be," senior Marci Woods said. "But now, I feel like there's a lot more flexibility."


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