Returning to full time study as a mature aged student is hard.  It is, on occasion, isolating, bewildering, frustrating and completely and utterly overwhelming – kind of like being a parent.

As one of the many people raising a family while at university, I’m trying to balance caring for my children with my studies, sustaining a relationship with my partner, getting enough exercise and finding time for myself.  I want to excel as a mother, scientist, partner and friend, and at times, my expectations are unrealistic, resulting in stress, anxiety and fears I’m failing at everything.

While, theoretically, it’s possible for me to make my kids animal shaped sushi for lunch each day, stick to a rigorous exercise regime, and publish prolifically in the best journals, it is about as sustainable as strip mining.  In reality, I craft elegant emails to my supervisors explaining why my research is not as far progressed as I’d promised, my kid’s teachers barely recognize me, dust bunnies the size of cats blow through my hallway and we are having toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner – again.

Life will always interfere and prevent me from achieving my career goals as rapidly as I would like, be it children, health complications, or other reasons, and as stated in an outstanding article in Science, we need to re-evaluate success and our priorities.

I need to accept that occasionally I’ll miss a school event due to work constraints, or after my son falls off the monkey bars, I’ll spend the night dozing in hospital lounger instead of presenting at a long anticipated conference.  My personal and professional life is managed the way a nurse triages emergency patients: which role requires my attention right now.

Borrowing an analogy of work life balance from the author James Patterson, imagine a series of balls representing work, family, friends and spirit being actively juggled.  Each ball is made of either rubber or glass and fluctuates between materials at different times.  If a ball made of rubber is dropped, it bounces back.  However, a fumbled glass ball may chip or even shatter to pieces.

The trick to balance is determining when a ball is rubber and when it is glass.

Republished by Science Magazine



Gravity is a great equaliser

Nothing beats the feeling of laying out first tracks after an overnight snowfall.

The ssssss sound of a board or skis cutting through powder, sending little arcs of white into the air, quiets the mind and nourishes the spirit.

It places you in the moment, which is rare in an age where so many moments constantly swirl around us.

Skiing feels free.


Feeling free can sometimes be tough in a wheelchair.

But, from his sit-ski, my husband can access mountains cloaked in winter beauty, providing a special kind of peace.

It’s not often that he does not feel disabled; is not treated as though he is disabled.

Yet he’s not disabled when skiing.

On the mountain he is just another skier.  Everyone is out to have fun regardless of how they make their way down the hill, and recognise each other as kindred souls.

Skiers are more likely than the average person to have a friend with a spinal injury, as outdoor pursuits like skiing, mountain biking and climbing are pretty effective ways to paralyze yourself, and as a result, treat sit-skiers with respect, admiration and simple acceptance.

Skiing is one of the few sports that is not changed too dramatically by a thoracic level spinal injury.  A good skier and a good sit-skier are capable of skiing pretty similar terrain, and the disability is not as limiting as it would be for, say, biking where arms can never compete with legs.

Gravity is a great equaliser.


For our first date, if you can call it that, we went skiing.

Kev was so much better than me that most times we skied together, he messed around on tele-gear, snow blades or a snowboard, resulting in tremendous crashes to my immense pleasure.

But sometimes he would ski just to impress me.

Sixteen years later he skis in a bucket and young punks yell, “You are &*$^ing sick man” from the chairlift as he show-ponies his way down a bumps run, showing off for my benefit.

Some things never change.