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Balancing work and life

Ravit Helled is professor at the University of Zürich and Leader of the Academic Platform at the NCCR PlanetS. Find out more about her life as a scientist and mother by clicking on the small magnifying glasses that you see on the rectangular areas on the image of her office. To go back to the overview, click on “show full image” at the upper right corner.

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My work day

Ravit Helled


The days at work are very different – on the day that I teach, this is the dominating part of the day, and also the day before, I spend preparing. Typically, we have one visitor per week at our institute, and if they work in my field, I meet, discuss science, and attend the seminar. I don’t attend the seminars that are in the afternoon because I am then already back home. You see my whiteboard is full of science (plots and equations) as well as family photos and the kids’ drawings – I think this reflects the balance I try to keep.


My 10 months-old son, Alexander, wakes up at about 6.00, either me or my husband, Harald, spend time with him, typically in the kitchen. Then I drink my first coffee. At 7.00 we wake up Mila, my 10 year old daughter, then she eats her breakfast - she typically leaves the house at 7.40. I like this time of the day, early in the morning- I am definitely a morning person. When I am awake, I am rather energetic but I need enough sleep – about 9 hours a night, probably wasting a large fraction of my life sleeping. I then get dressed and ready, sometimes while carrying Alexander. I also try to arrange and clean up the living room and the bathrooms in this ‘free’ time of mine. Our Nanny comes at 9 a.m., and I leave for work. I live nearby, so I walk.


At work, I mostly sit, therefore I have a special, comfortable chair. I am usually in the office by 9.15. Sometimes, I already check my email at home, but this is also the first thing I do at work: I check if there are any urgent emails and other things that have to be dealt with. The first hour is usually very quiet, and I get another coffee in the Institute. Then, people start coming to my office and my door is open most of the time. Sometimes, my office feels like a train station, with people coming and going. I like to be involved in the science my group is working on - I am interested and feel the responsibility and ask people how their work is going or if they need help.


In terms of science, I have the feeling that I haven’t done science in years, but this is probably not true. The type of work is just different, there are different natural phases during your career. Nowadays, I write less papers, more review papers and I advise my PhD students and Postdocs on our papers, and do small calculations myself. When other people do the research, I feel that it is harder to have the intuition and the deep understanding for a topic if you work on so many projects simultaneously. But I like to be involved in all of them. It is important to me, because after all I am a scientist.


I always have many snacks around me, at home too, but also at work – but typically people don’t want to eat them. I usually don’t go to eat lunch with the others at 12.30, as it is very crowded, the food is bad and I am a slow eater and don’t like it if people have to wait for me. Most of the times, I eat a sandwich before noon, but I keep eating small things during the day. I do eat a lot of sweets, I think I need the energy to keep things going.


Last month, I submitted a review paper (with T. Guillot) on giant planet interiors, which is now accepted. It dealt with the internal structure of giant and icy planets and will be added as a chapter to the Exoplanet Handbook. I just published another paper in ApJL (with D. Stevenson), about the fuzziness of giant planets’ cores. I really like this subject: giant planet formation and evolution and their internal structure and anything that has to do with Exoplanets. I really do like my job. Reviewing papers and giving talks at meetings is time consuming and I learned to say yes only to papers that are close to my own line of work and to review/invited talks. You have to learn to say no to some things.


In the afternoon, my brain stops working properly at about 14.00. While I am rather energized in the morning, my energy drops in the afternoon. For that reason, I try to do the things that need less concentration, such as bureaucratic paperwork. Before 16.00, I already go home, back to Mila and Alexander. Then we play a little bit, Mila comes from school, we talk about her day, eat, and she does her homework, and then I am also cooking dinner. Harald comes in the evening, most of the time before the kids go to bed.

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