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STEM Spotlight: Kristin Lauter Talks About How to Deal with Work-Life Balance in a STEM Career

In our second post on work-life issues for women in STEM, we hear from Kristin Lauter on taking your work home in order to have it all.


Kristin Lauter, principal researcher and head of the Cryptography Group at Microsoft Research and member of the Association of Women in Mathematics, is troubled by what she views as a recurring theme among women in STEM fields. “Even if a woman in science doesn’t plan to slow down one bit after having children,” she says, “she’s often still considered by her colleagues and superiors as being on ‘the mommy track,’ which is actually degrading and intensely frustrating. Once you have kids, people tend to make assumptions about you, like what you might or might not be able to take on.”


Ten years ago, Lauter had twins who were just one year old and her husband was transferred to teach at a university in another city. But the couple rose to the challenge. “I’m lucky that I work for a large research lab that allowed me to work full-time remotely,” Lauter says, “with the deal being that we would return to Seattle in the summers. Having two very young children meant that working remotely worked well for me. I also was lucky to have such a strong and committed partner in my husband. There were many times when he ended up doing far more than his fair share, even while working full-time.”


Lauter says she believes that if a woman in science is motivated enough to be able to work successfully from home, “it’s an incredible advantage if you’re trying to juggle family and work. You don’t lose all that time with commuting or office chatter,” she points out. “Of course, working from home means you miss out on some good networking opportunities, but in terms of being focused on research and getting your work done—yet having flexibility to allocate some daytime hours to your children—working at home is a real blessing. For me, it meant that I was much more able to balance my work with family time.”


Notably, Lauter says she currently manages and mentors more men than women who are trying to find that family-work balance. “None of the young women I mentor have had children yet. And we have a leave policy that allows new dads to take a month off. I tell them flat-out: ‘By all means, take advantage of the leave. Be at home, enjoy your time with your baby, and support your spouse.’”


What do you think about work-life balance? Can women in STEM truly have it all?  Share your opinions in the comments section below.

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