The Oxford Martin School Blog
Career juggling - Sunetra Gupta on life as a scientist and novelist
23 Apr 2012 0 comment(s)
Professor Sunetra Gupta, James Martin Senior Fellow at the Institute for Vaccine Design, has parallel careers as both a scientist and a novelist. Her fifth novel, So Good in Black was published in February 2009. She was named as the winner of the 2009 Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award for her scientific achievements. In this recent blog post for nature.com, she describes the challenges of juggling two careers.
Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology
What is your scientific background?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Princeton University (1987) and a PhD in Theoretical Epidemiology from Imperial College (1992).
What is your current job?
My current job is a combination of research into infectious diseases and teaching. It does involve very long hours but I enjoy both activities enormously. I am also a novelist and it is a little bit frustrating that I cannot devote as much time to writing as I’d like, but I would never consider giving up science. I do not think being a scientist poses too many problems in achieving a decent work-life balance (especially as work tends to merge with life) but I have found travelling to be a problem when having charge of young children. What I have underestimated, is the pressure to be ‘visible’ and to maintain a network – which is impossible to fit in with having young children – and both my careers have suffered somewhat as a consequence.
Can you detail the steps you have taken to get to your current position?
I went straight from my PhD into a three-year Training Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust in 1992 and was awarded a Wellcome Senior Fellowship in 1995. I was appointed to my current post in 1999 and given the title of Professor in 2006.
Where do you see your career in the future?
I expect to stay in my current job but to expand my research in a number of directions. A primary focus of my work will be the empirical testing of some of the theories I have generated. I have always worked in close collaboration with laboratory scientists and clinicians but I would now like to drive some of the lab and fieldwork myself. As my children get older, it will be easier to travel to field sites and conferences, so I expect I shall be away more often. I am also working on my sixth novel and intend to carry on with some non-fiction projects such as a children’s book on women scientists that I am working on with illustrator Ted Dewan. A key challenge for me is to overcome the resistance towards accepting that I have two careers: scientists tend to regard my writing as a ‘hobby’ while writers often assume that science is a dreary day job. The truth is that I am passionate about both.
Do you have any advice to other scientists considering a career in your area?
I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they try and juggle two careers unless they feel absolutely committed to both. It is hard work but also an enormous pleasure to be able to travel between both worlds.
- More about Sunetra Gupta
- Link to nature.com’s London blog where this article first appeared
- More about the Institute for Vaccine Design