#ScienceMamas podcast: Cara Tannenbaum


As a young researcher-in-training, Cara Tannenbaum was so in love with science that she was not sure she wanted to have children. However, life had other plans.  Now, in addition to being a mother of four, she is a professor in the Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy at the Université de Montréal, Canada, the scientific director of the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Departmental Science Advisor for Health Canada. 

Mid-career, she was a single mother of two, wrangling the challenges of childcare and work responsibilities with the often associated mother-guilt. Advice from other mothers flipped the way she viewed mother-guilt. She was advised to refrain from telling her children that she felt guilty about working, but instead to tell them how excited she was about her science and her job.

“I had to change my narrative to be more positive….The words that you use, what you communicate is important.” -Cara Tannenbaum

For example, instead of apologizing to her children for attending an international conference, she told them how much she looked forward to communicating her science and seeing her friends. She also made a date with them once she returned to discuss their experiences. Later on, one of her children mentioned how much her enthusiasm for her job meant to him.

When it comes to work-life balance, what she has learned is that a perfect balance is not possible and that quality time and finding fulfillment is a better metric. “I’ve given up the term balance. How you seek balance. That is just not a realistic aim in my opinion if you’re going into academia. But, what you can seek is fulfillment.” She goes on to state, “You can’t have it all. In the pizza pie of life, there’s going to be one slice that just is always going to be missing….There’s going to be different moments where you’re going to have to prioritize and for me that’s about quality and fulfillment not necessarily a perfect balance.” -Cara Tannenbaum

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