How to have two careers, and be happy with both

From Nature Careers

Reading Time: 2 minutes

After three years, I earned a permanent position as a researcher with the National Research Council (CNR) of Italy. I still work in the lab at Trieste because the professional and social environment is perfect for the life I want to have.

I am an experimental physicist in the field of surface science, investigating the properties of nanostructured surfaces, 2D materials and organometallic molecules with a scanning tunnelling microscope.

I also play bass for Rhapsody Of Fire, a heavy-metal band that has sold more than one million records throughout its 25-year history and regularly tours the world. This role requires month-long absences from the lab, early-morning flights and dark leather clothes.

The story behind this double life is long and full of life lessons, dating back to my PhD at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin. Then, all my spare time and money went on early-morning flights and trains for rehearsals and concerts to play with my band at the time based in Trieste, Italy, my hometown. I was lucky to have both a tolerant doctoral supervisor — Hans-Joachim Freund — and bandmates with ‘normal’ jobs, so the band mainly performed at the weekend.

In 2011, after three years of this punishing schedule, I decided to leave music to dedicate more time to my PhD. But focusing solely on science helped me to understand that I really wanted to pursue both careers — I felt incomplete doing just one.

I also realized that if I wanted to combine the two then my working life would involve slowing down one activity when I needed to concentrate on the other. Both careers have moments that require my full attention — experiments and project writing for one, and composition and touring for the other.

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