Skip to main content
An official website of the United States government

E3: Family Portraits

Research is hard. Having a family is hard. Cancer researchers at different stages of their lives—in terms of both family and career—discuss their struggles, achievements, and outlook.

Stream the Episode

Personal Genomics Podcast: Stream Episode Three

Find this episode on YouTube:

Additional Information

Hui Shen is an associate professor at Van Andel Institute.

Shirley Liu is a professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Denise Wolf is a bioinformatics scientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Ron Levy and Shosh Levy are professors at Stanford University.

Music on this episode is by Loyalty Freak Music.

image of dark green smoothie in a glass travel container.

A variation of Shirley Liu's daily drink for breakfast and lunch.

Credit: Shirley Liu
Hand drawn color family portrait drawing

A portrait of the 14-member Levy family.

Credit: Ariana Killoran

Episode Transcript

DENISE WOLF: And you’re, you know, balancing working with having t- how old are your kids?

PEGGY WANG: 10 months and 3 years.

DENISE: 10 months, 3 years. Oh, wow. So you have your hands full. You're busy. And probably tired.

PEGGY: Tired, yea.

[SONG: "Friend to Friend"]

PEGGY: Research is hard. Having a family—also really hard. The career of a researcher can be really demanding, with long hours of running experiments, writing grants, teaching and mentoring, among other things. What do these commitments mean for the other parts of someone's life? Today we'll hear from a few different researchers, each in different stages of their careers and family lives.

I'm Peggy Wang and this is Personal Genomics: a podcast from CCG—the Center for Cancer Genomics at the National Cancer Institute.

Today's stories aren't meant to offer solutions on how to run your career or personal life. And it's certainly not a thorough investigation into the status quo of family lives for cancer genomics researchers. These are simply n-of-one descriptions from a few people who were willing to give us a little peek into their lives—family portraits if you will.

HUI SHEN: my name is Hui Shen. I'm an assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I do bioinformatics, DNA methylation data analysis.

PEGGY: Hui is in the throes of life with two very young kids.

HUI: Two years into my assistant professor appointment I had a boy. This year, June, I had another addition to our family, a baby girl this time. So it was actually my, my own birthday.


HUI: So yeah I was, it was really a birthday for me. You will miss when they're little, I feel that I will miss when they're just a little blob of meat.

My boy was in daycare. The entire winter he was almost sick every single day and I often have to cancel entire day's meeting just because I have to go home and stay with him. I don't like causing other people trouble and I really, really hate to let people down. So I struggled a lot with feeling guilty and I still do sometimes, for not being able to meet everyone's expectation.

And being a faculty is a very demanding job. So just within the work itself there's already much anxiety, you know, how you balance different kind of responsibilities. Doing research, and mentoring, and teaching, there's just a thousand things that we have to juggle every day. So that's just work alone and then on top of that you have kids in daycare and they will call you saying, oh your boy is having a fever and you have to come take him home. It's just, it's like you're on the battlefield every day.

PEGGY: In addition to just recently having a baby, Hui had another milestone, the day before we talked.

HUI: I had my promotion review. My letters were all really good and everyone agreed that I should be promoted and then only one letter said that, 'oh she has not been invited to meetings often enough’. And, as a matter of fact, I had to turn down about 10 meeting invitations, including two keynote speaker invitation. It's just because I can't travel with two kids.

I really, really hate the terminology work-life balance because, whenever you talk about work-life balance you think, okay there's this ideal, “zen” zone when everything is perfect and this status can be achieved. So it’s there and if you're not finding you're just not trying hard enough. For a long time I thought, okay I need to find work-life balance and it really brought a lot of anxiety to me. I think that it's more like work-life compromise. And work-life conflict.

PEGGY: Hui struggled with this conflict for a long time.

HUI: It's hard for me to finally realize that you just can't be perfect in anything and I'm constantly falling down on one side I'm sure. Today I need to work more and I can't spend as much time as I would like to with my children, and the other day I really want to attend an event at my children's daycare and I have to cancel meeting. It’s just a constant compromise between the two.

For me, after this long struggle, what’s helpful for me is that you have to realize that it's just not not possible to, to do everything and just follow your heart, what's important to you. And try to make time for that, and things that fall through the crack, it probably just you know, had to make way for the more important things.

What makes me able to go to sleep every night thinking, okay so on the work side I've been doing something useful today, and on the family side I provided for my family, and I spent time with my family members and we're happy together and that’s probably my idea of something close to success.

Today, I can sleep even if I fail to do a lot of the things that I'm supposed to do. I can still sleep soundly, so that’s quite a big change for me.

PEGGY: And by the way, Hui did get that promotion.

PEGGY: You seem…

HUI: Thank you.

PEGGY: Not um, not too excited about it.

HUI: Well, it's just the title, right. You know you, your life doesn't change and probably as associate professor, there's more expected of you.

PEGGY: So what part of her work does Hui get excited about?

HUI: I see something that I know oh, the whole world, I'm the only person who knows this, you know this data is telling me this this message that no one else is seeing at the moment. And that’s actually the charming moment of doing research, when you discover something. That's the best part.

PEGGY: I asked Hui to tell me what a typical day looks like.

HUI: I start when the children wake up. I'm not a morning person so my, my husband is. It's helpful if one of the two is the morning person and I can take the late-night things and he can help in the morning if I just can't get out of bed and the children are screaming. I pump and then we take the bottles to daycare and I have to label each bottle with name, date, volume, and all kinds of things. Get the two kids ready, teeth brushed, dressed and everything. And our oldest one is now able to put shoes on himself, that which is a big help. My husband or I drop them off at daycare and go to work and have meetings. Try to fit in email and manuscript editing, grants in between meetings. And when I'm teaching, it's very stressful. I have fit in classes and grading and all those kinds of things.

At home we really can't do much. We pick up the kids, we make dinner, and feed them dinner. Read books, shower and everything, and when both kids are off to bed, it's usually 10 p.m. and then we just have a little bit of me time.

It's teamwork, right. It’s, you can't do it alone. I would certainly go insane if I have to deal with two kids just by myself and we have to pitch in for each other all the time.

PEGGY: Hui mentioned milk, and pumping, and feeding, which can be a big source of stress for parents of infants.

HUI: Yeah I, I hate, hate, hate, hate that part as well. But it's still causing me stress like every night I would think, oh, do I have pump supplies tomorrow? You know to take to work, and do I have bottles, nipples, and adaptors to the pump? Milk caused a lot of stress, whether they're using the bottles at day care, and why is she not eating? If she is sleeping for three hours, why are they not waking her up to feed her a bottle?

I think I was having a bad day and then I was pumping milk and then I had about five ounce in the bottle. And suddenly, it's spilt. And I just could not control myself anymore, I just started crying. I was crying so hard and then my husband came and he said don't cry over spilt milk. [Laughs] And that that helped.

We've been only talking about kids but time with a partner is also something you know that, another thing in this life side of the work-life compromise that we were talking about. It’s um, when you have a job, and when you have children, those are both very demanding. And then sometimes it's easy to ignore the spouse and well, it’s one of the balls we have to juggle as well.

I want to give you a hug.

PEGGY: [Laughs] We could digital hug.

HUI: Digital hug. Yeah, you know the reason why I want to do this podcast is I really want to share this experience with people that it's, it's really okay to feel that you are not balanced and its, you feel, it's normal to feel that you're struggling a little bit.

PEGGY: Maybe it should be work-life acceptance.

HUI: Yeah, work-life acceptance, I like that.

[SONG: “Friend to Friend”]

SHIRLEY LIU: We have two boys: 11 years old and 14 years old.

PEGGY: This is Shirley Liu, who lives in Boston.

SHIRLEY: I'm a professor of biostatistics and computational biology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. I'm also the director of the Functional Cancer Epigenetics Center at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I’m also a faculty at the Statistics Department in the Harvard College.

PEGGY: So Shirley is pretty busy.

SHIRLEY: I met my husband when I was a PhD student at Stanford. He was working in the Silicon Valley, but we moved to Boston after I finish PhD. I got this faculty job right after PhD. He was always hoping that we could move back to the Bay Area, but you know the opportunity here are just really exciting so my husband sacrificed his career a little bit for me. So our boys grew up here.

PEGGY: Shirley had her first child soon after becoming a professor.

SHIRLEY: I didn't expect to get tenured here at Harvard because it's kind of a long process. Harvard only tenure full professors so I didn't wait. I just like, okay you know, I'm here I would do the work I want to do., I would just have kids and if I have to go to another university and not get tenure here it's okay. Which was kind of a lucky decision because you know, I didn't delay. But then turn out to work, research-wise, everything worked out so I did manage to get tenure here.

PEGGY: Life with older kids is different than life with babies and toddlers.

SHIRLEY: Hui right now has a baby. the kids could wake up anytime they could cry they could get sick, right. We still spend a lot of time with kids, but it's a different time type of time. The time is better controlled. We can say, okay for example, from 7 to 10, that's family time. We do spend a reasonable number of hours but at least that’s uh, I can set the time.

When my first son started violin, I, I started learning violin with him for two years. We practiced together every day and he was so much better than me. And now the both of them are so much better. So I only play the piano part for them but that was really fun. It was nice to be able to play something together so we are playing the Bach double violin concerto, and I'm playing the piano for them.

I read that middle school years, parents have the biggest doubt of their parenting skills. Yeah, I definitely struggled quite a bit. I think now it’s getting better than like sixth and seventh grade. When my older son started this middle school, he changed a violin teacher, he changed a school, it was kind of his preteen years. You know my husband's company got really busy, my work got really busy, so it was a very difficult transition. Both my husband and I realized that we were too busy for the kids.

PEGGY: And what they ended up changing wasn’t really how much time they spent together, but rather how they spent their time together.

SHIRLEY: It's whether you put your full attention and whether you, you really listen to them or really kind of praise them. We try to have a little quality time every day you know, whether it's playing some games or cards or just talking to them. We say no electronics for that quality time. We do something together, playing ping-pong or we go hiking on the weekends or doing something together.

PEGGY: Shirley talks a lot about languages of love—this idea from a parenting book that there are some basic ways to express and receive love.

SHIRLEY: There's like touch, word of affirmation, which is like praise, gift, service. For me, my love language is the service. Acts of service.

PEGGY: And she realized, service wasn't what her boys really wanted.

SHIRLEY: If you cook for them, yeah fine, that's great, but then that's not really high on their priority. My older son was probably praise, my younger son is touch.

PEGGY: So her boys’ preferences has factored into how they spend time together.

SHIRLEY: You kind of do something together that they feel that are important for them.

PEGGY: And Shirley's typical day?

SHIRLEY: I don't have as set a schedule as I wish to have. I used to wake up much earlier, now I feel like I'm old. I wake up at like 7 or 7:30, it depends on you know, if my husband is traveling, I will need to get the kids to school. But if he is here, he sends the kids to school. I try to get some exercise in the morning. Like I run for like 20, 30 minutes.

PEGGY: Then she takes some project meeting calls at home.

SHIRLEY: I usually just have my breakfast as we were meeting. Those project meetings finish around 10 usually. At 10 o'clock I would have no traffic going to work and I would drive to work and then try to get some writing done in the morning. And then in the afternoon, there are usually all sorts of meetings: thesis committee, whatever other committee work, meeting with collaborators, consortium that have conference calls, or give a talk or seminar somewhere. Or if I have to work on a paper with a postdoc, we really need to sit down for a block of time, that also happens in the afternoon. Get another block of writing done.

Now we have a babysitter, she is doing all the cooking, so thank god. So now I can go home at around 6:30. We have dinner with kids at 7:30 for like a 30, 40 minutes and then we try to do cleanup together. And then we'll try to do this quality time thing. So yeah you know, sometimes play ping-pong and some games. Recently we've been playing cards.

Actually, I have every day at 10 o'clock, I have more meetings online. And then we go to bed, usually after 12 o'clock. It's now a lot better. I try to put in like 6 to 7 hours of sleep. I used to routinely sleep 5 hours a day. And that that's not very good. Retrospectively, I think I could have been more productive not doing it.

PEGGY: Shirley has this infamous drink, which might be the secret to making her life run smoothly.

SHIRLEY: This mix of beans and vegetables and fruit stuff. I do that for both breakfast and lunch now. It looks kind of scary. Actually now it's getting to be more watery cus sometimes I'm so busy, I don't even have time to drink water. One of my colleagues, like what is growing in there?

PEGGY: She might be too busy to drink water, but Shirley says…

SHIRLEY: It's really fun, though. You know because sometimes when you make a breakthrough—there are a few of those moments I remember, when we’re like, wow, this is great! Like then in those few weeks or like a few days, I would be kind of talking to the postdoc all the time, like oh, we see this? How about that data? And then we kind of very quickly prove our hypothesis.

PEGGY: And her hopes for her kids…

SHIRLEY: If the kids, by the time they're in their 30s, they are passionately and like working very hard towards something they love, then I think I would have, I'm a successful parent. They didn't have to make as much money, but they have to be working very hard on something they love.

[SONG: “Friend to Friend”]

DENISE: I‘m doing fine, yea just kind of adjusting cause our older daughter was here for break until Sunday and she left. And so it's taken me like the week to feel kind of you know, okay again.

PEGGY: You might remember Denise Wolf, we spoke to her in Episode 2. She has two daughters who are in college.

DENISE: When the nest first empties, it's kind of, it's uh you know, it's like a big deal.

I mean I know it's hard to imagine now, but once they are teenagers and young adults, their faces are going to be the same and their characters are pretty much the same, they just are taller and do more things. So, they're very recognizably themselves.

PEGGY: I asked Denise briefly about her thoughts on having a family and career in science.

DENISE: I don't know that I really have great advice on that, because I mean people do it in a variety of different ways. The way it's worked for me is you know, I have a career in science I really enjoy, but like I don't work Fridays and I haven't chosen to run my own group. I've made some choices that make it easier for me to balance everything partly out of just temperament that I'm happier doing this kind of thing. But for people who want to do jobs that require the 70 or 80 hours a week, then they they're just really tired, you know? Like there's no, I don't think there's anything magic, I mean other than what everyone says, which is make sure your partner is supportive. And like you know, be alert to what you actually want to do.

There's all these trade-offs. There’s trade-offs within the career path and there's trade-offs between family life and career, so just to be you know, aware of how those things interact and how they interact with your own psychology and temperament and energy level. Some people don't need very much sleep—they  do great. Some people need a lot of sleep and get stressed out and anxious—they might need to scale something back.

I think knowing yourself and accepting both your wonderful ambitions and your mental energy and all that, but also your limitations I think is key. The whole model of the PI and not-the-PI, I actually work in an environment where that is less true and where it's team science for real. So everyone plays their part, it's like being a band. And you know, we all write grant proposals together, we do work together. We share it all, and that's a good model for me.

[SONG: “Friend to Friend”]

PEGGY: Our final family portrait is actually of two researchers: a couple.

SHOSH LEVY: my name is Shoshana Levy. I am a professor here at Stanford University. I have a PhD. I'm in the Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology.

RON LEVY: I'm Ron levy, I’m a Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology and I have an MD-not-a-PhD-degree and I work in the clinic with patients, treating patients with lymphoma and mainly I work running a laboratory, research laboratory working on cancer immunology.

PEGGY: And how did you happen to meet?

SHOSH: I was a PhD student in Israel at the Weizmann Institute.

RON: And I was a medical student at Stanford and had a period of time to work outside the University and worked at the Weizmann Institute. When I came to my mentor I asked him, I'm from California do they have surfing here? And he said oh yes we do, ask Shosh, she knows all about it, and that’s how we met. It turns out they didn't have any surfing there at the time, he just made it up.

PEGGY: So you met and you hit it off, and then I guess eventually you decided to be together and move to California?

RON: Yes.

SHOSH: Kind of [Laughs].

RON: It wasn't so straightforward [Laughs].

PEGGY: Shosh and Ron have been together for over 50 years, so they've been through a lot. And naturally, some of what we talked about happened a long time ago.

SHOSH: We have three daughters. The first one was born in 1968. She was born in, in Boston when Ron was an intern at the time.

RON: And Shosh was a graduate student.

SHOSH: And I was a graduate- continuing my graduate student studies.

SHOSH: The second one was born in 1970 when we were postdocs at the NIH, and the third one was born in 1973, just before the Yom Kippur War in Israel.

PEGGY: Did you guys have a strategy for having a child while still in school?

SHOSH: No, no strategy. We just wanted to have kids. We hoped that we can continue to work to make it happen. We were stupid enough at the time.

RON: I wouldn't say stupid.

SHOSH: Not, but we were naïve.

RON: Naïve, yeah.

PEGGY: During this period of their lives, Shosh would drop off Ron at the hospital for his medical internship…

SHOSH: At 6 a.m. in the morning.

PEGGY: And pick him up…

SHOSH: The next day around 6 or 7 p.m.

SHOSH: The days that he did come home, he was falling right asleep and I had to wake him up to give him dinner, because I wanted at least some company. That's, that’s my view of things. I had to call him Dr. Levy to wake him up.

RON: She would turn on my beeper.

SHOSH: [Laughs] Luckily there was a person in the same building that we lived in who used to come down from her apartment in her nightgown and stay with, with our daughter.

PEGGY: Shosh's mentor actually first hired her as a technician. Then when she returned after having a baby, she registered as a student and was credited for her work done as a technician.

RON: Extremely accommodating and flexible.

PEGGY: And how much time did Shosh take off after having her first baby?

SHOSH: I don't recall exactly, but probably a month or less. But things continue just the way they were before.

PEGGY: Shosh would go to work early after dropping off Ron at 6 am…

RON: And by the time everybody else came to work at 9, 9:30 she’d, have uh completed a…

SHOSH: One first set of experiments, right, and then start a second set.

PEGGY: And for Ron, who was doing 36 hour shifts…

RON: [Laughs]

SHOSH: He does not remember the first year of our daughter at all. At all.

RON: Well that's not exactly true, but it’s pretty close to true. Her crib was next to our bed and I can remember one time she was kind of looking at me as I woke up. The bars of the crib were between her and me and I kind of moved my head, so it's blocking you know her direct vision, and then she would move her head to look through the slats. I distinctly remember that and I realized that, oh this person recognizes me [Laughs].

SHOSH: [Laughs]

RON: it was a two-year period of time a long time ago, ever since then it's never been hard.

PEGGY: With so many different phases of their lives in their more than 50 years together, it’s hard to ask Shosh and Ron to describe a typical day.

RON: We're constantly working, but also playing a lot too.

SHOSH: I'm trying, I'm trying to think, in different places it was different.

RON: Well they would, they would go to school in the morning, we'd go to work.

SHOSH: And then they'll have a babysitter or somebody coming. Uh, it was constantly trying to figure things out, especially when, when a kid was sick, what you would do then.

We would come home, we have dinner, many times we had to go back to work. We had to stop a gel running, or do whatever, start an experiment. But, but you somehow work it out. You, you managed to do that.

RON: in order to teach the kids something about probability and statistics we had this kind of game we would play after dinner. Three people would flip a coin, odd person out got to choose which of the jobs after dinner, like washing the dishes or taking the garbage out. It was randomly assigned according to the coin flip. It was like, not fair because maybe they would three times in a row, they'd have to do the same onerous job, not get the good job, but then it would even out over time. So that’s just one little aspect of our family life.

SHOSH: I remember Ron used to go, [sings] "Who's out of bed? [laughs] [sings] "Who brushed their teeth?" You know some, kind of rather than, "oh, you didn't brush your teeth, yet". Just kind of uh trying to make it as much of a game, playful.

PEGGY: Ultimately, Shosh and Ron settled down back in California, where Ron became a professor at Stanford.

PEGGY: Was it difficult for, for you, Shosh, to find something also at Stanford?

SHOSH: Oh absolutely, absolutely. For a while I was a postdoc in a different lab, and then there was a position at SRI, it was called Stanford Research Institute at the time. It was nothing like like being at Stanford. While I was there, we started collaborating, and then I decided to come and work together with Ron. And I, I worked as a research associate, later on as senior research associate.

RON: These are non-faculty positions.

SHOSH: Not, not as a faculty. And then finally, I was promoted from a senior research scientist to a full professor. In a way, in a way, I felt. It’s very hard to explain. But at that point, I was able to apply for grant on my own, and I felt it, it really kind of had some rejuvenation effect on me.

[SONG: "Beach"]

SHOSH: I really felt younger than my age because I felt that oh, finally I can you know, I'm a PI.

PEGGY: From when Ron became a professor at Stanford, to when Shosh became a professor, it was…

SHOSH: Almost 20 years.

RON: Really, that long?

SHOSH: I was really frustrated. I was not the only one. There were many, many women at Stanford who were doing a very good job, very excellent scientists and were not given the chance. I was not alone, and it turned out that it was not only women, because when we started kind of getting together, uh people who were senior research scientists, there were also a couple of men. But it was mostly women who were uh, geographically restrained, most of them had faculty spouses here, too. So it was frustrating, definitely. Concentrating on the science was the most important part.

PEGGY: And how did Ron feel about being the one to take the better job opportunity and set the constraints for Shosh?

RON: I'm aware of that and it was a more of an expectation for me. I'm quite aware of the pressures that are on women with families and one-half careers, especially in science and medicine. It was expected of me, it was, it was there for me to take, I was good at it, succeeded at it. But because of Shosh's experience as the "trailing spouse", if you want to call it that, I don't put the current women, I don't put them in that same situation. I'd like to treat them as equal opportunity to careers.

SHOSH: I'd like to add my point of view to that. I always felt that because Ron is an MD, that society had given him the opportunity to become a physician and I thought that it's very important that he really serve society by being a physician. So I did not mind, uh being the "sidekick" and I, I strongly supported it. Uh, even in Israel I made him uh, be a physician once a week. Ron wanted to abandon being a physician, and I encouraged him to keep on working as a physician, so he used to go, uh one day a week.

PEGGY: Years ago, Shosh had encouraged or made Ron continue practicing medicine.

SHOSH: You know [laughs]…

RON: The word "make" is interesting because our kids say, our kids like to say, “why didn't you make me play soccer?” “Why didn’t you make me be in, in the brownies and show up in, at PTA meetings at my school? You were always too busy doing your you know, your lab meetings.”

So you think if I weren't an MD, I was a PhD scientist, it would have been different, and you’d have a different view of me?

SHOSH: [Laughs] It might have been different, I don't know.

RON: Hm, lucky thing I got an MD.

PEGGY: Though Shosh earned her PI status more than 20 years ago, Shosh and Ron still very much work together.

RON: If you look at the publications they're not always together. There are many, yeah and even to the present time. But there are separate ones, too.

SHOSH: Yeah.

RON: That's the way we run the lab now: it's a joint lab with overlap, but some exclusive parts, too. We're… share space, lab space, and offices down the hall from each other. We call it the mom-and-pop lab between ourselves.

SHOSH: [laughs]

RON: Between ourselves we call it that. We've always been pretty careful to be professional at work and not a couple so much. Although we do have lunch every day together.

SHOSH: We constantly question each other.

RON: Why are you doing that? Or you know, is that really worth it? Or you forgot, that we already did that?

PEGGY: it sounds like a very special relationship to be able to work together, you know in your personal lives and also in your work lives.

RON: Yea we’re, we're aware, we're aware that it's pretty special and some ways unique.

PEGGY: Shosh and Ron raised three children, built two careers in science, and have been through a lot. But they balked at describing their experience as "hard".

SHOSH: I think…

RON: It’s hard to remember now.

SHOSH: No, no but I think uh we had kids at a younger age.

RON: At a younger age.

SHOSH: At a younger age than our daughters.

RON: We had kids in our 20s, our daughter all had kids in their 30s.

SHOSH: Even 40s.

PEGGY: Perhaps, they suggest, they were too young to appreciate how hard it was.

SHOSH: You question more, the older you get, you, you question more, you wonder, you're not as naïve and you question yourself.

[SONG: “Beach”]

PEGGY: I asked everyone how having children might have effected their careers.

HUI: Oh of course, you know I can never be the scientist that I could be without family, and I could never be the good mom that I could have been, you know if I'm not working, and I could never be the wife that I- the good wife that I can be if I don't have to deal with the other things. You know life is just constantly about dealing with different kinds of responsibilities and, and trying to make compromises.

SHIRLEY: So I would say raising my kids really helped me with managing my lab because I think at Harvard, most of my students and postdocs are extremely motivated. They are so hard-working and I sometimes take that for granted. But as a parent you realize that kids are not naturally motivated. How do you motivate them to do the things that we think will be useful for or helpful for them? From that I realized ah, okay I should be more positive with my students or postdocs. Which hopefully helps with our work. When you praise them, you, you use like very specific thing, don't just say good job. You say ah, you know thanks for taking this time and prepare this particular thing very well.

I think in terms of productivity, in terms of getting grant, we will be a little slower. But it will be sad for female students or postdocs to not think about going to academic career simply because they are women.

PEGGY: Do you think having the baby affected either of your careers?

SHOSH: I don't think so, I don't think so. It was kind of yeah, that's the way you do it. You have a kid, but you keep on working. You have to learn how to possibly delegate some responsibilities and somehow make it work, if that's what you're interested in.

RON: In those days the burden fell mainly on the wives and maybe even still today but certainly then. And I was expected to show up to work no matter what, didn't matter whether you had family obligations or not. The husbands are shouldering more of the burden than certainly that I did. We're talking 50 years ago here.

PEGGY: And some parting thoughts.

HUI: I think that the key is really that one has to find the way that fits him or herself best. It's not going to be the same for every single person. Just do what you can and the rest, just try to be, try to relax about it.

SHIRLEY: I was trying to do a good job as a parent but I didn't enjoy, like I didn't like make an effort to just enjoy being a parent. I knew I want to have kids, I knew like, like I want to do, like uh, do my like, do my duty to them you know, in some sense. So I try to do the right thing, but yea, I think a lot of a lot of parents might all have similar issues. Their act of service is their love language, right? They clean, they cook, they arrange kid’s activities, they drive around kids to those activities, but not enjoying it as much. Now that I think back, uh, I could have enjoyed it more, rather than working hard to be a good parent, in some sense. That's actually my lesson, I think. I didn't do a good enough job, I'm trying now a little harder.

RON: Uh, have dinner together every night.

PEGGY: And put away your cell phones.

RON: And put away, yeah that's the modern version, put away your cell phone. Be present for, for everybody in the in the family.

SHOSH: In addition, go skiing together, go hiking together.

RON: What we call our 5 person family—which means Shosh and me and the 3 kids—it’s now become a 14 person family and we do things together, all 14 of us.

PEGGY: It sounds like you have a wonderful family.

RON: Yeah I think we do. [laughs]


RON: It is true. Just wait till you hear your two kids start talking to each other. That's when the trouble starts.

SHOSH: [laughs]

PEGGY: So research is hard. And having a family is a very personal thing to describe.

[SONG: “Friend to Friend”]

PEGGY: I'd like to thank everyone we interviewed for this episode, Hui Shen, Shirley Liu, Denise Wolf, Shosh and Ron Levy, for sitting down and having very long, open conversations with me about this aspect of their lives.

For more information about this and other episodes of Personal Genomics, visit our website at Questions or comments about this podcast? Wanna share your own research story? Email us at Be sure to mention the Personal Genomics Podcast. If you like the show and wanna hear more, please subscribe, share it with a friend, and leave us a review on iTunes.

Personal Genomics is produced by me, Peggy Wang, under contract and with help from Center for Cancer Genomics staff. We are a production of the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.

  • Updated:

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “E3: Family Portraits was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”