Debenedetti finds work-life balance in accomplished University career

By Vanessa Zamora
Vista, Calif.

Pablo Debenedetti is a man of many accomplishments: Chemical and biological engineer. Dean at Princeton University. Recipient of countless awards. But what does he think is his greatest contribution? “To the world? My two children.”

While Debenedetti is well known for his contributions to the scientific world, he makes it clear that his family is his first priority. In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter, also a professor at Princeton, wrote an article entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which focused on the difficulty of balancing a job and a family. Debenedetti, however, shows that men deal with this problem as well.

“It is a big challenge because your job tends to eat a lot of your time,” Debenedetti said, “but it is important to try to find a balance. It’s a struggle but it’s really important that … one tries to bring up a healthy, happy family.”

Even as he balanced his family life, Debenedetti still managed to win various honors, such as the J.M. Prausnitz Award in Applied Chemical Thermodynamics and the Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry of Liquids. He has written over 200 scientific articles and one book, “Metastable Liquids,” which got named the “best scholarly book in Chemistry” in 1997 by the Association of American Publishers.

Currently, his main project deals with what some have called water’s “split personality”: When water is very cold, at a very specific level of pressure, it can split abruptly into two different liquid forms.

Just as Slaughter did, Debenedetti has found that it isn’t always easy to both pursue his career and stay involved in family life. Still, he said via email that the Debenedettis “always had dinner together as a family, and as many meals as schedules allowed during weekends. Yearly family vacations in South America (which continue to this date) have also been central to us.”

Debenedetti’s son, Gabriel, said in an email that as he was growing up, he was able to experience the University, and see his father’s projects in process. Though he never understood them, “that didn’t stop me from staring at the equation-filled chalkboards for what felt like ages.” Despite that his father’s job was demanding, Gabriel said that “he was always great about making sure I (and my sister) got to see what he was up to.”

Pablo has achieved great things throughout his life, but being able to balance his work and family is among his greatest achievements. He said in an email, “Love, a sense of purpose, finding fulfillment in intellectual and professional growth and accomplishment, and making learning central to our lives have all contributed to bringing and holding us together.”

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