#Sciencemamas podcast: Bethany Kolbaba Kartchner


In 2012, at the age of 37, Bethany Kolbaba Kartchner, a stay-at-home mother of six children ages 2-12, decided that she wanted to become a PhD-level biochemist. This career change required her to return to academia to take the necessary classes to apply to a doctorate program. To reduce any disruptions to her family’s schedule, she took one online class a semester at a community college. For 4 years, she studied from 4-6 AM before her children started their day. Eventually, to complete the required upper division classes, she enrolled at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. As her children matured, she got involved in protein design in the lab of Jeremy Mills where she fell in love with research. In 2018, she started the PhD program in Biochemistry at ASU. She will defend her thesis in 2023. 

Bethany believes that her strong support network is the key to successfully navigating her career change. She sees her support network as two parts. The first is a local network consisting of friends and family. Her husband, children, and parents are a tremendous source of emotional and physical support. The second part is less tangible and consists of the examples and stories of other female role models. One story that Bethany found especially inspirational was of a woman scientist with 6 children who received an award for excellence in research. “I thought, that’s me! And if she can do it, I can do it.”

As Bethany’s career change trajectory gathered speed, she made it a point to prepare both herself and her family for her increasing time away from home to work in the lab. Her husband was able to establish a more flexible work schedule so he could take over meal preparation and grocery shopping and she taught her children to be more self-sufficient. For herself, she got very serious about her time management skills.She also became very creative in her work schedule. She is fortunate that she has the support of her colleagues, PI, and other faculty members as she navigates a flexible schedule. “I feel like everyone is rooting for me and cheering me on,” she says.

Mom guilt was a challenge that Bethany wrestled with throughout her life until she met Jane Clarke, a renowned scientist-mother, and now president of Wolfson College in Cambridge, UK. When Bethany learned that Jane also returned to academia later in life to obtain her doctorate, she asked her what advice she would give her younger self starting on that path. Jane’s answer really struck a nerve. She said, “I would tell myself that the children are just fine. They’re doing fine.” This statement pushed Bethany to rethink the mom guilt that often manifested itself as worry. She realized that worrying about her children all the time “isn’t helping them in any way and it isn’t helping me in any way. If there is a problem that I need to address as a mother in raising my children, worrying about it isn’t going to address it. It is just wasted energy. I think that it is better if there is a problem, to face it head on as opposed to wasting that energy on that worry…So when I did start to worry, I would ask myself is there really a basis for this? Do I really need to be concerned about this? Or is this just me being silly? Whenever I decided it was me being silly, I would redirect my thoughts to something more productive because that mother guilt isn’t productive for anyone.” 

#Sciencemamas podcast: Salome Maswime


Salome Maswime is a mother of two boys, an obstetrician and gynecologist, the Head of Global Surgery at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the President of the South African Clinician Scientists Society. She is recognized as a global surgery expert for her research on cesarean sections and is an advocate for women’s health rights and equity in maternal care. Both of her boys were born during her early career while she was still in training. Although it wasn’t easy for her because there wasn’t a built-in maternity leave option at the university, she was supported by her supervisor and family. 

When the children were 3 and 6 years old, she moved to Boston, Massachusetts to be a Discovery MGH research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. For her career, it was the right move, but it was hard on her family because the United States does not have the childcare support she was used to in South Africa. She relied on a village of caregivers, including family members, who would travel to the United States to care for her children when she had conferences to attend. One of her children enjoyed the experience, but the second struggled. She quickly learned that you need to prepare your children for large transitions. “We learned how much time we need to prepare the kids…It’s not as simple as moving to America. You have to present every possible scenario. Find the schools before you go there so that the kids know where they’re going and what to expect…If we had taken the time to…prepare them, it would have been easier.” The second time she moved the family for her career, she and her husband prepared the way by traveling to the new city in advance. The transition was a lot easier on her boys.

Like many science mamas, Salome has succumbed to mother guilt, but she has learned that being both a mother and a scientist is worth it. “Sometimes you realize why it was worth it to do both. And sometimes the kids themselves cheer you on….Then you see your kids being proud of you as well. Those moments keep you going.” She goes on to say that one of the benefits of being a working mother is: “We get to inspire our kids. We can be an example to them and help them model how they want to do their lives and careers one day by doing what we’re doing. It’s always lovely when I hear one of my sons say, ‘I want to be a doctor one day.’ You know that you’re inspiring him in the right way. He’s not focused on…’you’re not always here for me’…If he wants to be [a doctor], he’s seeing the balance.” 

Her advice to other women who want to be working mothers is: “The big thing is that’s it’s not an either/or. We want to do both and we should do both. It’s about planning and navigating and creating those support systems. The question should be ‘how can I do it’ and ‘how can I manage it’ versus ‘should I or not’. The longer you delay having children, the more risks there are, speaking as an obstetrician…The answer is not let me get my PhD…and then later on I can start in on the family. I think it is possible to do both in a very supportive environment. But women should also acknowledge their place in science as well. We should, and can become leaders in science as well, and be at the front of discoveries and leading. More often than not I think women put themselves second and…focus on the family and let other people lead, but we need more women leaders in research and science.” 

#Sciencemamas podcast: Alexandra Olaya-Castro


Alexandra Olaya-Castro is a Colombian-born theoretical physicist, mother of two, and professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London. She is also the Vice-Dean over Equality, Diversity and Inclusion of the Mathematical and Physical Science Faculty.

As a successful scientist-mother in the male-dominated field of physics, she is frequently asked how she is able to balance her work as a mother while making progress as a scientist. She responds with four pieces of advice. The first is to build a strong support network, whether that network is composed of a group of people or just one good person. “Having a strong support network gives you the tranquility to be able to tackle work issues without having to worry about many of those family issues.” 

The second piece of advice is to be aware that “sometimes you will need to accept that you will have to put a lot of your focus on your work and sometimes you will need to accept that you will need to put your whole focus on your family.  You will need to decide which frequency is the best for you.” Like most science mamas, Alexandra has struggled with mother guilt. However, she also realized early on that it was a horrible cycle that she needed to break. She did this by learning to trust herself. From experience, she knows that she won’t forget what is most important.

The third piece of advice is that multitasking is a fallacy. “You can try to do it, but it is unsustainable. You will feel overworked. You will feel overloaded. You will feel too tired. And in the end you will feel that you will feel like you are inadequate on all fronts.” Alexandra knows that science mamas have a limited amount of time so prioritizing one’s focus is the only way to make progress. Before she was a mother, she would work at all hours and attend as many seminars as she could even if they weren’t in her field. Once she became a mother, she got choosier about how she spends her time at work. If publishing a paper or attending a conference will further her progress more than another activity, she will make sure that is her priority. “The only way to make it is to optimize the time to do the things that are the most important and accept that you won’t be able to do it all.  You have to learn that some things have to give and you need to identify which things are the most important and put your energy on those.”

Her fourth piece of advice is to take the time to exercise even when it is difficult to fit in. She says, “without it my mind wouldn’t work.”