Madeline Dahm Prioritizes Life in the Work/Life Balance

Santa Barbara Science Writer, Musician, and Surfer Aims for Symmetry

Madeline Dahm Prioritizes Life in the Work/Life Balance

Santa Barbara Science Writer, Musician, and Surfer Aims for Symmetry

By Leslie Dinaberg | June 30, 2022

GARAGE FREEDOM:  After battling breast cancer at 24 years old, Madeline Dahm makes sure that surfing and playing guitar are as important as work in her life.  | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

For many people, it takes the majority of their lives to realize that work isn’t what it’s all about. Science writer Madeline “Maddy” Dahm got her wake-up call early, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24. 

A freelance science writer juggling multiple projects at the time, Dahm said she was very stressed out even prior to the diagnosis. “I basically had to quit all my jobs right away and transition fully into treatment, chemotherapy, radiation, mastectomy, and the whole nine yards of treatment.” 

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

When she was well enough to get ready to rebuild her life and begin looking for work again, her priorities were firmly in place. “I know that I need to be passionate about what I do; that’s really important to me,” she thought. “But also, I’m not going to waste really too much more of my life time that I have.”

Reflecting on a “normal work week,” Dahm said, “you get pretty burnt out by the weekend, and then you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ll do this stuff I love during the weekend.’ But by the time you get there, you don’t really have that much motivation anymore. You just kind of want to chill.”

Rather than put the things she loves — which include surfing and playing with her band, Queentide — on the back burner, Dahm decided to only commit to a four-day work week this time around. “Having that one extra day a week enabled me to take time to go to doctor’s appointments and all these follow-up things that I had to do.”

Now 27 and healthy by all indications, Dahm continues to limit her work time in favor of flexibility. “Surfing and music are always kind of wiggling their way into my everyday experience in Santa Barbara,” she laughed. “I’m kind of constantly running in between surfing and work, and I love being able to just kind of bolt off and also work remotely for a while.”

With an in-demand skill set — making scientific concepts understandable to the general public — having flexibility in her work doesn’t mean it’s not interesting and meaningful. A UCSB graduate who studied physical geography with an emphasis in hydrology, Dahm spent a portion of the COVID lockdown time working as a writer for CIMMYT (, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, in Mexico City. 

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Her work there revolved around plant genetics and research, agronomy research, and “really fascinating conservation agriculture techniques intended for use for the global south.” 

Now living back in Santa Barbara, Dahm had multiple job opportunities and parlayed her experience into working as a science writer for a large agriculture food systems research company in town. 

Prioritizing the work-life balance is still key, she says. Her boyfriend was with her in Mexico, but now he’s at UC Santa Cruz finishing up his studies, and a flexible job allows her to visit him for weeks at a time. Her workspace reflects this balance as well: She and her housemates have set up a creative coworking space/band practice spot/surfboard storage unit — all within the confines of their garage.

Read all of Leslie Dinaberg’s stories in our special issue, “The Way We Work,” here.


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