Q&A With Los Angeles Times Science Reporter Deborah Netburn

Deborah NetburnThis week I met with Los Angeles Times Science Reporter Deborah Netburn in downtown Los Angeles to get her take on work-life balance. Deborah, 39, has been with the L.A. Times for nearly 10 years and is a mother of 2 boys, 8 and 5 years old. 

How did you identify your passions and choose your career?

I wanted to be a reporter since I was 7, and I really never stopped wanting to be a reporter. When I graduated from college, it’s not like I wasn’t scared, but there wasn’t a feeling that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.

Why did you want to be a reporter since a young age?

I like writing, and it felt like something I was good at. I’m curious anyway, and being a reporter gives you a license to ask people questions.

What led you to be a science reporter? 

I graduated from college in ’99. Journalism was really different then. I wanted to be a features writer. I did do that kind of work for a while in New York and as a freelancer in LA. But it doesn’t pay very well to be freelance. [Laughs]

A friend of mine got a job at the L.A. Times ‘entertainment’ section, and he said “If I ever get to hire someone, I’m going to hire you.” And so he did.

My first job was the exact opposite of what I used to do. I went from long-form to shorter pieces, more like blogging. Then I moved to the ‘home’ section, and then I got moved to national news. I found myself drawn to the science stories. When I got moved to technology, I said “I’d really like to cover science.”

So you worked a lot of different beats before getting to science.

Yes, I think there’s real value in doing things you didn’t think you could do, or didn’t want to do. Because it’s really empowering to know you can do them. So it’s worth it to take on things you’re uncomfortable with to show yourself what you’re capable of.

What does the term “work-life balance” mean to you?

I think it means that your whole life isn’t about work.

Do you think work-life balance is possible?

It’s definitely possible. I do wonder how possible it is if you’re very ambitious at work.

I find my work, ever since being in science, really meaningful. I believe in helping people learn about their world and their universe even if they don’t have PhDs. I believe in trying to make science and discoveries something everyone can understand. I am very proud to be a reporter at the LA Times, but I’m not like a world-famous science writer. I wonder how hard it would be to have the work-life balance I have now if my goals were different.

Did having kids change your thoughts on that?


I’m lucky because I have a very nice husband. That wasn’t a variable in my life. It always was very steady. So it was just work. Before I had kids, all my feelings about myself were tied up with how things were going at work, and I felt I needed to have something else. That’s when I decided to have my first kid, because my career at the time wasn’t wholly fulfilling. (I was writing about entertainment which wasn’t really my passion).

Do you wish there was one thing, now, that you had more time for?

So many things. [Laughs]

Before I had my kids, I used to do yoga 2-3 times a week. If I just went once, I’d feel disgusting. And then I went 5 years without doing yoga at all. My kids are getting older, and I can go to one yoga class a week, which I feel is heroic now.

Is there something you wish you do differently, in how you manage your time?

I think the one thing for me is a function of my job. I worked for people, for a while, where numbers were really important, like web traffic and Facebook likes. I sometimes check that at home now, and that’s not a useful activity. You know, I’m not going to be able to do anything to change it. I’m just watching it. It doesn’t feel like a good use of my time– checking how many likes your Facebook post got.

I think that’s something so many people can relate to these days. 

Do you have advice for someone starting a new career or endeavor–especially now during graduation season–and trying to find balance, while following their passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference?

  1. Planning Ahead

I would say, if you want to have a family, and you’d like to be able to spend time with your kids, it’s probably worth going pretty hard when you’re young. In everything. You can’t imagine how much time your kids take.

Go hard at work. Go hard at whatever exercise you do… That’s all stuff that you’ll have later… It’s like muscle memory. Maybe you need to pull back a little bit when your kids are babies. If you’ve shown what you can do even from an employers’ perspective, it’s worth supporting you if they know what you’re capable of and what you can bring.

I’m not sure that’s what I’d want to hear when I was young, because you don’t want to imagine that things could change.

2. Taking Time to Learn What You Like

In 2003, when my husband and I left New York, we took some time off and travelled for 3 months, to Europe and Southeast Asia. People kept saying, “I wish I could do that.” It’s like, save money and do it. I think it’s really interesting to have to wake up and figure out what you want to do every day. Because if you’re at work all day, you don’t have to think about it. After work, you just get drinks with your friends…

What if you had time to fill? How would you fill it? I think that’s really interesting, for some people, to learn what you like.

Connect on Twitter: @DeborahNetburn


Edited for length and clarity. 

6 Tips for Taking Care of Dogs During El Nino

Michelle Chahine Sinno Minjay Dog El Nino
Tail always wagging… Minjay wet and disheveled after our walk in the rain, but not wanting to go back inside either.

Three days into this El Nino weather, and I’m already feeling challenged by getting my dog enough exercise and keeping him from getting frustrated. Let’s face it, Southern California pets are not used to being stuck indoors because of rain.

That got me thinking that other dog lovers across this region may be feeling the same away. Here are some tips for taking care of your pooches and keeping them happy over the next rainy few weeks:

Get Creative Indoors
When it comes down to it, dogs need exercise and stimulation.

1. Stairs
If you live in a multiple-story home, get your dog running up and down the stairs, as suggested by Nicole Pajer on Cesarsway.com. Throw toys and treats across the staircase, in a vertical game of fetch. If you live in an apartment building, like I do, try using treats hidden in the palm of your hand to lead your dog up and down a few stories on a leash.

2. Figure Eights
One of my dog’s favorite things to do is figure eight exercise. I learned this trick last spring from Dr. Gina Kwong, DVM at the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, when we had to rehabilitate Minjay’s knee after surgery. Now that it isn’t too hard for him to do (yay for recovery), he loves it. I use barstools as the guideposts to circle around, but you could use just about anything.

The key is making “ice cream” that helps keep him on track. He is, after all, a Labrador whose attention wanders easily. I use mini disposable 5 oz. bath cups you can find at any grocery store. Fill them almost to the rim with low fat plain yogurt, and then mix in a sprinkle of melted peanut butter (melting the peanut butter in the microwave helps you mix it in). Make sure to choose natural, ground peanut butter to avoid giving them too much sugar. (Read the ingredients. It should just say: peanuts.)

One regular-sized 32 oz. tub of yogurt makes about 12 small cups. Freeze them overnight. In the morning you can use them to get your pooch to follow you around in figure eights, or any other kind of healthy exercise in your home, for as long as you want. Works like a charm.IMG_3685

Find Alternative Activities Outside of the House
No matter how creative you get, dogs (and you!) will get bored of staying indoors for days on end. And if all the El Nino predictions run true, we’ve got several weeks of storms headed our way. Another technique is to get your dog in the car for a stimulating drive and a run to the pet store. I do this with Minjay any time there’s rain (i.e. about five times total since moving to the Los Angeles area over three years ago. I think we’re going to be doing a lot more this winter. Thank you, Petco!) There, they can walk around freely, sniff goodies to their heart’s delight, hopefully interact with other dogs, and get some treats from friendly pet store staff. If you get bored of the pet store, find other pet-friendly places you can head to, like shopping malls or bookstores, for a change of scene. I’m grateful to live in Santa Monica where most shops are dog-friendly. Make sure to support these establishments and let them know you appreciate them letting you and your dog spend time there together. Now I have one more excuse to head to the bookstore several times a week, with Minjay.

Use the Time Indoors for Training and Fun
Dr. Gina Kwong from VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital suggests taking the time to work on some basic obedience training or learning new tricks. “My own dog hates getting wet, so when the weather isn’t cooperating, I spend some of our ‘walk’ time teaching him to ‘heel’ in the hallway of my apartment building. Learning new behaviors is mentally stimulating and will help keep your dog stay engaged and focused. It’s a great way to actively spend time with your dog– a win-win for you and your pet! Just remember to keep the training sessions relatively short (about 10-15min), especially if it is learning a new behavior, so that your dog doesn’t become too frustrated.”

Puzzle Treats
“I also love different ‘puzzle toys’ to keep my dog distracted. They are interactive toys that you can stuff with your pets favorite treat,” says Dr. Kwong. This is a tool a lot of us have to use anyway when we leave our pooches home for several hours while at work. They become even more crucial when morning and evening walks are hampered due to the weather. They are a great distraction and keep them mentally stimulated. But giving them too many treats, and fewer walks, could lead to weight gain. “Better yet,” Dr. Kwong says, “Portion out a part of their daily kibble and make them work for it!”

I personally love to prepare these puzzle toys in advance with pumpkin mixed into their kibble and frozen overnight. (I use all sorts of Kong toys). This extends both how much they have to work for it, and so stay simulated, and how long it keeps them distracted.

What are some techniques you use to keep your dogs happy when long walks outdoors aren’t an option?


This article was published on TheHuffingtonPost.com