Series: Tackling Work-Life Balance (16)
Creating Sustainable Work Environments
Koichiro Oka, Professor, Faculty of Sports Sciences
When we go to the park on the weekend, when I pick my child up from daycare, when we climb into bed at night, my child’s smile reassures me. I put everything into the work I’ve been assigned and the research that I’ve chosen, but this commitment is tempered by a kind of resignation when I think of how important it is that I spend time with my child now, that I will never get another chance to enjoy them growing up.
A Shared Schedule Down to the Minute
I have held my current position since before my child was born, and my wife was also working full-time in the same profession. We could each freely decide how we used our time and determine our work schedules. However, this all changed once my wife gave birth: our lives came to revolve completely around our child, and there was never enough time. This situation remains unchanged, and I do not claim to have found a balance between work and child-rearing. With our parents living too far away to ask for help, my wife returning to full-time work soon after the birth, and our child unable to get a spot in a licensed daycare, quite frankly every day feels like a tightrope balancing act.
My wife teaches a lot of night classes, which means it is essential that we have a minutely planned family schedule in order to manage any classes or work that we might have from the evening onward. We do our best to coordinate our schedules within the limited time available to us, moving work around and even refusing it when unavoidable; however, there are still a lot of jobs that carry significant responsibility which have to take priority. At present, an extremely large portion of the household and childrearing duties falls to my wife.
A Mutually Supportive Laboratory
Research is carried out in a team, and this means that your schedule, including time allotted for your private life, gets shared with the other members of the lab. I feel that within the distinctive occupational realm of “research” it is important that team members share and understand one another’s individual situations in order to achieve work goals while maintaining a work-life balance. Although tools such as Skype exist which allow communication between those inside and outside the lab, there are numerous instances where in-person communication is essential; thus, I make an effort to visit and speak with the students in the lab every day, even if just for a little bit. Also, there are a great many women working in the lab, and I am not the only researcher who is raising a child. Over the years, I have seen quite a few female researchers abandon their research track because child-rearing or some other reason prevented them from continuing. This should never be the case. Although I am fortunate to work with a research team that truly helps me, I want to ensure that this is also the case for everyone else. I want to foster an environment where we all understand one another’s situations and feel a sense of connection, where research can be carried out in a pleasant and accommodating atmosphere.
It is specifically because my time is limited that I am very careful to work out a shared schedule with my family and the members of my lab, as well as to take my child with me when I go to conferences overseas.
I do not want to have to give up on my work because I have a child. I am grateful for the understanding of my colleagues and my wife, who works in the same profession, as it is thanks to their understanding that I have been able to continue meeting my work responsibilities as the head of a laboratory and as an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. When I think back to how I overstretched myself and my health when handling work prior to the birth of my child, I realize how much my child has helped me make healthy changes to my life, such as ensuring I get enough sleep, thanks to bedtime habits developed from sharing a bed with my child, as well as switching to a more morning-focused lifestyle. When I think about life from the perspective of my job, it is impossible to ignore the ways in which child-rearing has constrained me, but it has also undoubtedly provided me with a greater sense of connection and family responsibility.
Even when you are walking the tightrope of children and career, there is great joy to be found in life. If the birth of my child had been at a more time-intensive point in my career, I doubt I would have achieved the same amount of results that I have now. Nevertheless, I do not want any of my research colleagues, or anyone aspiring to be a researcher for that matter, to cut short their research career because of child-rearing. My hope is that everyone at the Tokorozawa Campus, as well as in the wider Waseda University community, will support the development of more and better facilities and environments conducive to balancing child-rearing, nursing care and other personal life responsibilities with the work of a researcher.
■ Profile ■
Koichiro Oka earned his doctorate degree in the Waseda University Graduate School of Human Sciences in 1999.
He worked as an assistant researcher in the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, did post-doctorate work on a Japan Society for Promotion of Science fellowship, and took charge of the long-term care prevention office at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology before being appointed associate professor in the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University in April 2006. He has worked in his current position since April 2012 (serving as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs since September 2016). Oka specializes in health and behavioral sciences and behavioral epidemiology.
Koichiro Oka’s official website: http://www.f.waseda.jp/koka/
（by SANKAKU NEWS No.18）