Professor Beatriz Martín-Pérez shares how she’s navigated the challenges of caring for loved ones while pursuing professional success.
Academic and caregiver
Beatriz Martín-Pérez was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. She started studying architecture in Madrid but later realized she was more analytical than creative and felt engineering would suit her better than architecture. She traveled to the United States to earn her engineering degree at the University of Houston in Texas, where she met her husband. She and her husband then went to graduate school at the University of Toronto in Canada. They married and started their careers and their family. They still live in Canada with their two teen-aged sons.
A typical day
Beatriz consistently wakes at 6 a.m. She’s usually the first one up in her home, so she enjoys a few minutes of quiet time with her breakfast, coffee, and some reading. On days she has an 8:30 a.m. class to teach, she tries to leave the house by 7:15 a.m. to get through traffic.
Once she arrives at the university, her days vary but are often filled with activity. Some days she has longer lectures, while other days her time is committed to office hours and meetings with the nine graduate students whose programs she’s supervising. She also has to tend to her own research projects, as well as her responsibilities to the faculty committees on which she serves. Beatriz recently has been trying to set aside one day each week on which she schedules no meetings or appointments, to allow time for the focused attention required for her research and writing.
Beatriz recently has been trying to set aside one day each week on which she schedules no meetings or appointments, to allow time for the focused attention required for her research and writing. Beatriz tries to find pockets of time to write on other days. She finds that if she doesn’t purposely set aside time to write, a year can go by without publishing anything, which she knows is important to her professional career. She says, “One has to be intentional.” Otherwise she knows she won’t publish as she wants to.
Biggest productivity challenges
Saying no is one of Beatriz’s biggest challenges as, like many of us, she likes to please people. She’s trying to teach herself to say yes intentionally only when she really wants to do something.
Beatriz says she has a perfectionist tendency; she always tends to think whatever she is doing can be better. That can lead her to keep working on a paper, for example, trying to perfect it instead of submitting it. She knows she can’t wait to release work when it is perfect because it will never be perfect.
Her perfectionist tendencies also manifest in her reluctance to delegate. She sometimes feels she can do the task better, but she knows this hinders her productivity.
Age has given Beatriz wisdom and perspective. She’s found that as you get older and more experienced and aware, “you tend to work more with yourself than against yourself.” She’s trying to make the non-perfectionist stronger than the perfectionist within herself and to focus on internal demands rather than external demands.
Family is important to Beatriz, so she tries to be very conscious of how she balances her home and professional priorities. Beatriz’s husband has had a demanding job as well, so due to not having extended family around she had to sacrifice some things so she could be with her children while they were growing up.
A life and productivity challenge arose last year when her husband was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of a semester when she was teaching two courses as well as caring for her grad students. She made intentional choices of how to use her time during that period. “If I were to die tomorrow,” she says, “I would be replaceable at the university, but I am not replaceable for my loved ones.” That knowledge helped her to put her relationships and husband first while he was sick.
Her first priority was to take care of her husband both physically and emotionally. “When you hear the word cancer,” she says, “you always think the worst.” She wanted her husband to know she was with him through it all. That meant she learned to let a lot of things go.
Communication was an important tool for her during this time. She was open with her department chair about the situation, letting him know she would be at the hospital or at home with her husband when he needed her, but reachable via email as needed. Many people reached out to her and supported her, providing meals for her family and many other kinds of help. “Good friends always come through,” Beatriz says.
Her husband responded well to the treatment and he is improving. She is trying to focus on the positive.
Favorite productivity tools
Beatriz says while she’s comfortable with technology, she’s a paper person and always like to see things on paper. She has always had a paper planner to track her projects and tasks. She does use Outlook calendar at work and has recently started using the Todoist app to manage her tasks. She likes that she can access it from her desktop or from her mobile device wherever she is. She tries to plan no more than two to four tasks to get done each day.
What happens on a day you feel gets away from you?
These kinds of days tend to happen to Beatriz when she doesn’t plan her day. When it does happen, she tries to stop and focus on her breathing. She said when you start breathing you start to relax. She started meditating this year due to the stress she was dealing with. In moments of stress she also sometimes goes to the bathroom and splashes her face with fresh water. This is a way for her to restart and feel refreshed.
If things get chaotic, she looks at her list and just sticks to what really needs to get done. She tends to be more reactive when she is not well rested, so she tries to focus on getting quality sleep so she can be more proactive in her life. It’s hard to cope with anything when you’re not well rested.
What’s on the horizon for Beatriz?
Professionally, Beatriz is focusing on her writing, with a goal of writing at least 25 minutes each day. She has joined an accountability group at the university. It’s working well for her because they meet each Monday and share whether or not they’ve met their personal goals. She’s motivated to complete her goal so she doesn’t have to report to the group that she didn’t.
On a personal level, Beatriz is enjoying her family and is planning to complete her bucket list item of walking the Camino de Santiago, which is a pilgrimage in Spain. She has always wanted to do it and she finally has set a date to do it.
Last words on making a life that matters
“Sometimes we define success in our personal or professional life by comparison to others. I think we should define it in our own terms,” says Beatriz. As a professor, Beatriz is more satisfied with her job and life if she defines success on her own terms and not by comparing herself to others.
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Beatriz Martín-Pérez is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Ottawa. She was born and grew up in Madrid, Spain; however, she moved to North America to attend university 27 years ago. She lived in Houston, Texas, during her undergraduate years and attended graduate school in Toronto, Canada, where she finally settled. She has been in the university environment for the last 15 years. As part of her responsibilities as a professor, she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, leads a research program supervising graduate students in their thesis work, and serves on several committees. She is a wife and a mother of two boys, ages eighteen and fourteen. She is currently in the planning stage of pursuing a life goal of walking the Camino de Santiago next spring.
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