The Science of Dreaming

As a neuroscience graduate student Avis decided that the growth of her family would help form her professional career. See how she strives to stay sharp and achieve a good balance between work and life in our latest Dream Big.

Avis Brennan Hains

City / State
Redwood City, CA

What was your big dream?
My dream has been evolving: When I was a kid, I either wanted to be a chef, a hairdresser or a veterinarian. Somewhere along the line, I decided that neuroscience was a better fit and went off to graduate school to study the brain. Through school, I never had an absolute picture of my ideal career- I just knew I wanted to stay intellectually active in a field that didn’t preclude having (adequate time for) a family. I now have a brand new career and a one-year-old daughter. My BIG dream is to be active in the development of both, and perhaps sneak in some exercise and a date with my husband.

How did you accomplish it?
Setting priorities has been critical. I met my husband very early in my graduate training and together we developed career and family goals that made sense for us. We made the decision not to “wait” to start a family, but to instead allow the growth of our family to inform our professional paths. I finished my research while pregnant and managed to write my dissertation as a new, exhausted mom (thanks, in large part, to my mom, who flew across the country to help me!). Upon becoming a parent, I realized the real value of my time. Much to my surprise, I found myself more decisive, efficient and goal-oriented in my approach to work. Although through school I felt very “open” to career choices, upon becoming a mom, I realized the niche that fit the best for me and my family and I went after it aggressively. My current accomplishment of the career-family balance is a work in progress. Everyday I learn how to use my time more efficiently- how to ask for help, how to say no, and how to let things go and make the most of my time with my daughter and husband.

Where did you find inspiration to get started?
My confidence to make it all work evolved from watching my own mother achieve the work-family balance. My mom was essentially a single parent who ran a successful business and always put me first. In my own life that just seems like the only way. There is also an element of necessity, both for our family finances and for my own sanity. Fantastic daycare options really help, and a supportive husband is essential. It’s only been a few months in my new career path, but so far, the adjustment has been as exciting as it is exhausting.

What motivated you to keep going?
The necessity to have an income, the desire to stay sharp, weekends (!) and ultimately, the desire to instill in my daughter a sense that a demanding, fulfilling career does not have to be at the expense of quality time with family and friends.

What’s your next Big Dream?
A family vacation and the NYC marathon!

Who is your hero?
The person who invented the baby bjorn.

What do you wish you did better?
Operate on very little sleep.

What book is on your night stand?
Dreams from My Father, Cookie magazine.

What is your favorite lipstick?
Burts Lipstain is in my bag, and I just discovered Palmer’s chocolate mint coca-butter lipbalm- yummy!

What is your favorite quote?
I use way too many clichés, and I’m trying to be better about that. I don’t really have any go-to quotes. I guess for inspiration, I prefer pictures (or youtube videos!) to quotes- and my “favorite” changes on a regular basis.

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