Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for February, 2014

Desperately Seeking Mary Poppins

mary_poppins_by_nightwing1975In my last post about traveling, I mentioned the plight of my poor HusbandOfScience while I was away. Since he is a HusbandOfScience, he had several deadlines during the time when he was shoveling snow while tending to 2 children. I think I have finally convinced him that we should get a housekeeper/nanny. But, how do you find one?

Here are some helpful tips from WomanOfScience, Robin:

For new parents, it’s understandable if they both prefer to minimize travel for 12-18 months postpartum, especially for lactating moms. Pumping milk and pouring it down the sink in the women’s bathroom at a conference is not my idea of a good time.

Once you are ready to travel again, I would recommend having a nanny (or, possibly, a grandparent) available at home to assist the parent left behind, to alleviate the stress of solo parenting. It’s especially helpful if the nanny can help with laundry, shopping, driving kids to activities, cooking, and at least light housekeeping.

Nannies deserve decent pay so prepare to have less disposable income. An ideal candidate might be a semi-retired adult who will mostly work a few hours/day before or after school/daycare (or both), and who is also available on an emergency basis to cover the daytime hours in case of (heaven forbid) a sick day or snow day.

When our kids were little we spent a lot on nanny salary (often nanny-sharing with another family); and, later, private school tuition + after school nannies. The trade-off is that for a long time we drove older cars (purchased used and kept for well over 10 years) and lived in an older home in a not particularly trendy neighborhood.

I viewed each nanny as a professional co-parent and we did our best to treat them with kindness and respect. Most stuck around for a long time. There were a handful of nannies who didn’t really work out and stayed for less than a year, but most stuck around for two to five+ years. A tip: One way to promote a nanny’s loyalty to your family is to put her on your family cell phone plan, on the condition that she will keep the phone handy when on duty.

With good support at home you and dear husband should both be able to travel without too much stress on either of you. And with all the frequent flyer miles you earn, you can take the whole family on a nice vacation.

The tricky part is what to do when both you and your dear husband need to attend the same conference. Your best bet is to have both a familiar nanny and a beloved grandparent stay at home with the kids. That way they at least have their familiar environment even if not all the familiar people.

Here is something that we did for you to consider: hire a personal assistant. This is one benefit of living in a college town. There are often college students who will do stuff you need for money. I currently have a personal assistant. Sounds weird, right? It’s totally awesome. Here is how I did it: Last year, at the beginning of the fall semester, I had a small infant, a 6-year-old, and a basement crowded with crap. I needed someone to help me while I was on maternity leave to get my house in order. HusbandOfScience and I had spent the past 5 years living in a house, but not really maintaining it or organizing it. No time while trying to get tenure.

So, I put an ad on the electronic job board at UState. I specifically asked for a personal assistant/organizer. I was specific about heavy lifting and cleaning. I had several applicants, and one very good one in particular. We worked out a deal for hourly wage and discussed some of the grosser aspects of the job. She didn’t run away screaming, and thus we landed someone to help us clean and organize the house. The basement went from impenetrable to organized and actually clean. This year, we hired the same student to watch and drive our oldest to after school activities, such as gymnastics class. Unfortunately for us, and happily for her, our amazing helper is graduating this year.

Next year, I want to graduate to a real housekeeper/nanny. I figure, in the 1900’s people who did even work had staff in their house. Now, HusbandOfScience and I work 60 hours per week on our jobs and we are supposed to be able to keep our house tidy, clean, with fresh sheets, and clean toilets? No fair! We can’t afford full time staff, but I think it would be better to have a functional house with a house keeper instead of a rats nest and new stuff that just gets trashed because we can’t do the upkeep.

What do you think? At what stage do you make the leap to full housekeeper? Post or comment? Push the +Follow button to receive an email every time I post.

On the Road Again

Travel-smallI am wrapping up the end of a couple weeks of travel. At first, it was nice to have a break from my gigantic class and my crazy household and the snow snow snow, but I am ready to go back home and get into a comfortable groove again. I am sure my HusbandOfScience will also be happy to have my help around the house again, too.

HusbandOfScience and I seem to do a lot of traveling. This semester, I am traveling for 3 conferences and 3 seminars. That doesn’t really seem so bad, unless you add in the travel of HusbandOfScience. If we each travel once per month, than someone is traveling every other week!

I think I should start phasing out most seminars, but people come back and ask every semester. You feel flattered and you feel guilty for saying no. The requesters come back and ask you again so nicely and politely.  So you make a date for a year in advance hoping that FutureYou will be in a better position than PresentYou as far as traveling. But FutureYou has always been in a worse position because PresentYou is an a-hole who keeps schluffing her travel onto FutureYou. This is all screwed up even more because some fancy, exciting invitations might come up on shorter notice than one year causing all wave function to collapse into a coherent travel particle.

But, here is a problem with phasing out going to give seminars – we get evaluated every year on our research accomplishments that help to determine the measely 0.5-0.7% raise you might get. People who don’t travel are dinged because they must not be important enough. Seminar invitations count toward your visibility as an academic, so you don’t want to ignore them completely. So, what is a happy medium? How many seminars is enough to make sure you are getting out your research message, but no so much that you drive your wonderful SignificantOther bonkers because you are never there? And is it really important to travel at all?

Some of my WomanOfScience friends who have new babies are having trouble getting back into the groove of travel. They are saying “no” and feeling guilty because it is for family reasons. Again, I ask if this is hurting their career? It seems to me that if they get out a reasonable number of scientific papers and other written works each year (say, 2-5?) then their scientific research “cred” is really not in jeopardy. I think not getting manuscripts submitted and published is a more negative issue for your career than the number of talks you give. So, I don’t think these MothersOfScience should worry about getting back to the swing of travel so fast, if they want to take a few years to settle into motherhood before hitting the road again. For when you are ready to get back, I have a lovely post contributed by one of my mentors and AllAroundWomanOfScience about this topic called, “Back in the Saddle” you might want to check out.

One thing I do want to say is that I get a lot more manuscript writing and submitting while away traveling and on the road (actually mostly on the airplane) than I do at home. So, for me, keeping up that paper count may depend on my seminar schedule being full.

What do you think? How essential is travel? Does it matter more before or after tenure? Comment or post. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

Chicks Be Crazy

CrazyLadyI wanted to call this post, “Bitches Be Crazy” but Robin told me that I shouldn’t swear so much.  I do try to limit my swearing here, and those of you who know me know that I have quite a potty mouth in person. But, to engender the positive, problem-solving atmosphere I try to create in this blog, I will try not to throw it in your face so much.

So, I called it “Chicks Be Crazy” and I will take time to explain what I mean by this. First, I wanted to use “Bitches” because in academic science, being a tough, but liked women is often hard. You get stereotyped as either a Mommy-type, a Whiner, a Push-Over, or a Bitch.  Of these, being a bitch is probably the most powerful, and is often the side to which successful women often error.

But, actually, it isn’t the word bitch that upsets me so much, perhaps because I am over feeling bad about it. Instead, I am more concerned with the word, “Crazy.” I call crazy “the c-word” (yes, I am aware of what the real c-word is). The problem with the word crazy is that it shuts down all argument in science because, whatever science is, it cannot be crazy. Crazy means illogical and wrong. Science is based on facts and cannot ever, ever be crazy. Yet, the c-word is something we often call women to describe their actions.

So, my first plea is that we stop using the c-word for other women. As I have said before, WOMEN ARE AWESOME! But, sometimes women are not awesome. We are all guilty of woman-on-woman crime of calling another women crazy when they are acting out about whatever issue is concerning them. So, let’s come up with something more specific and concrete to describe their actions instead of jumping to the c-word. If another woman is panicking and running around like a chicken with her head cut off about something, let’s call it stress or panic, which is what it actually is. If someone is disorganized and scattered, that is different. If someone is yelling or crying, then they are angry or sad. See, it is easy to avoid the c-word.

Also, I feel fewer people call men “crazy” even when they act out. If a man is mad and yelling, he is angry or pissed off. If a man is running around, trying to get things done quickly, he is stressed out. If a man is disorganized and a bad manager, what do we call him? Not crazy, just crappy, I guess.

As I look around my department or other departments, I find that the women who are more likely to be c-word are older women in male-dominated fields. I realize that these women have been driven c-word by their male colleagues. To put this in context, we have to do a little role-playing. Imagine if you will, you are a smart, driven, dedicated person. At some point in your career, you come into contact repeatedly with some person/people who do not listen to you, cut you off, undermine you, or otherwise put you down. These people are likely your colleagues in your department and avoidance is not an option when you must serve on committees with them, have meetings, and just run into them in the hall. Although this is a low level of being put down, and this person/these people may not do it all the time, you never know when you ideas and suggestions will be ignored or disparaged. Now, you are in that situation for 15-20 years. To make matters worse, when you go outside of your organization to give talks or attend conferences, you are successful, people listen and respect you, and you are often honored for your work and how smart you are. These praises from the outside are in stark contrast to the disrespectful treatment you get on the inside. And over time, you just get nuttier and nuttier, especially when dealing with the buttheads in your organization.

As one of my good friends and WomanOfScience put it:

I think this is all related to the phenomenon that I have seen which I call (for lack of a better phrase), “there’s another one, but she’s nuts.”  You meet a young female faculty member in a STEM department, and you say, “Oh great!  They finally hired a woman in (Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.).” Then you catch yourself and say, “Oh no wait, there is that older female faculty member in (Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.) but she’s not very active/bat**** crazy.”   It seems like many STEM departments have a young, energetic, fabulous woman and then an older woman who has made it through but is isolated, not very active, nuts, or all three.  It’s like there is this crazy old auntie staying in the guest bedroom.  She’s become so isolated that you forget she is there most of the time.

I know you are asking, as I am: What is the cure? I don’t want to be a crazy, bitter old lady in my department. Luckily, there is a treatment, and it is free. Your colleagues have to treat you professionally and with respect. This treatment may not be available in all areas, unfortunately. The solution is to move to an area where the treatment is available.The other solution is to not care at all, but most women in science aren’t so socially out of it that this is a true possibility. It seems that these are the only hopes of not becoming the department nutter.

What do you think? Post or comment. Push the +Follow button to receive an email every time I post.

Maternity Leave Considerations

Yawning-1I was recently having an email conversation with another WomanOfScience. She was describing her concerns about getting a tenure-track faculty position. She has a HusbandOfScience, and a one-year-old BabyOfScience, and they will all be on the job market very soon. She relayed a story about how, two weeks after giving birth, she was on the phone with a program officer at a FederalFundingAgency. The baby cried, and she was embarrassed and had her HusbandOfScience move the screaming baby to another room. She felt that the PO might think she wasn’t serious because she had a baby. This made me think of several things:

Would a man with a kid crying in the background have been as anxious about the sound?

People have all kinds of noises in the background of phone conversations. What if a dog had barked? That is annoying, but does owning a dog make you less serious of a candidate?

She was worried that having a baby would make her seem less dedicated, but she was having a phone conversation with a program officer 2 weeks after giving birth! What could be more dedicated?

I think we need to discuss that maternity leave is partially a medical leave! It isn’t just women being hard on themselves. When I was prego as a postdoc, I had two advisors. One was a WomanOfScience who had two kids, and knew that having kids can actually make many dedicated WomenOfScience more efficient and productive. The other was an OldWhiteMaleProfessor who had a stay-at-home wife while his kids were young. When I told him I was pregnant, he was happy. And he said how I was lucky that I had such a supportive advisor like him. This, as I know now, was a red flag.  Anyone who says they are super supportive is probably trying to convince themselves. As the end of my pregnancy loomed closer and my belly loomed larger, he started driving me harder. He would make me stay late – until 9pm to meet with him on a couple of occasions. My belly became too big to actually work on parts of my project. In particular, I was aligning optics, and I noticed the beam shoot across the room because my belly had accidentally moved the mirrors in the front of the optics table. I decided it was getting dangerous to be a fat prego in the optics lab. There was plenty other stuff to do, so I decided to work on other stuff.

One of the other things I was working on was a manuscript. My WomanAdvisor was reading drafts, making edits, and pushing it forward. My OWMP Advisor would not read it. WA said it would be best if I got it submitted before the baby came. I agreed. OWMPA still wouldn’t read it.  He finally read it and said it was ready to submit AFTER I gave birth!

One night I was working late, OWMPA asked me, “What are you doing on your vacation?” I said, “What vacation?” He said, “You know, when you are away.” I said, “That’s not a vacation, its maternity leave.” I was flabbergast. He said that he just wanted to check that I would be working while I was away. This was pretty ridiculous because up to this point, I have had one paper published in a high profile journal, a second that he wouldn’t read, and I already had a job waiting for me at UState, which I was postponing for a year to stay in the lab. In what world would I not come back to work? How could I possibly quit and give it all up just when I was getting everything I wanted?

Further, I have something to say else: MATERNITY LEAVE IS NOT A VACATION! It is a not a leave for fun. VACATIONS DO NOT START BY HAVING YOUR WHOOHA BLOWN OUT OR BEING CUT IN HALF LIKE A MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT! Maternity leave is a medical leave because you have had a traumatic event destroy your body. It feels like you got hit by a truck, and you can barely move the next day. And, it takes you 6 weeks to physically recover from the experience. So, I hate when people act like maternity leave is anything but what it really is – a medical leave!

Let’s put it in terms an OWLP can understand: If you have surgery for, let’s say, a kidney transplant which cannot be done laparoscopically, and requires you to be cut in half, you would not expect that person to be reading papers and coming into work before the doctor-prescribed recovery time, right? It would be insensitive to expect that person to work, so why is to cool to ask that person to, say, submit a manuscript 6 days after giving birth?

So, let’s get real.

Women: don’t put so much pressure on yourself to act like everything is totally normal right after giving birth. Your husband may be able to go back to work right away, but you cannot because your body needs to HEAL. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take your leave, get some sleep, and figure out being a mom. The time is really very short, and will not harm your career to be away for 6 weeks. What if you were in a car accident? and had to recover for 6 weeks?

Men: don’t act like maternity leave is not a real, medical leave. Women need time to recover, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t dedicated. It doesn’t mean they aren’t going to come back. Give them time to adjust. It will be alright.

I hope my description of the post-birth experience didn’t swear anyone off of having kids. Post or comment. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

Productivity and Effort

ProductivityPlotI just gave my State of the Lab address to orient the newest students joining the group to the ways of the lab. I have described the State of the Lab address before herehere, and here. In that address, I have a slide on how important it is to rest in science and to take breaks. It is very important to get a good nights sleep. It is essential to stop and eat. Doing exercise is also good for the body and mind. Taking breaks and getting sleep gives your mind a chance to work out solutions to problems. Ultimately, it makes you more productive to take these breaks. In the lab, I have been known to supply modeling clay for students to use during breaks. We ended up with a wonderful menagerie of little animals thanks to these breaks.

The entire discussion was prompted by the fact that I sometimes get a very hardworking and dedicated student who starts doing overnight runs and working non-stop. Inevitably, their Productivity goes down. I think that people of all ranks and stations do not realize that Productivity is not always a linear function of Effort. Figure 1 shows the true dependence of Productivity on Effort, which is really more of a parabola. I want my students to be in the linear regime of the curve. Although this is not the most productive location, the linear regime is good because if they need to give a little more Effort it will likely result in more Productivity. Indeed, being up at the apex, which does maximize Productivity, is very dangerous. If you need to add a bit more Effort, you will actually be less Productive. Further, that’s the region where small mistakes could cause accidents in the lab.

I was thinking about this over the past 2 weeks because I am living at or near the apex currently. Even my students told me that I need to get back into the linear part of the curve. They are right. I am running myself ragged, and it is only the second week of classes. This is because I am co-teaching 440 students in 2 sections for the first time and flipping the class to boot. The email burden alone is astounding. The most stressful part for me is having 30-50 unread emails in my inbox all day. I don’t even read them because I don’t have time to respond, so I read and respond in the evenings. This has been perhaps the most stressful, and I did not realize how much anxiety this would give me.  In addition, I had a paper returned from review that needed to be revised with 10 days (that’s the shortest turn around time I ever had).  Before I was given this teaching assignment (mid-semester last fall), I already made arrangements to travel 3 weeks during this semester for conferences. I am planning to use this time to actually work on research during the semester, which I would probably not have the opportunity for if I wasn’t co-teaching. I have two half-finished manuscripts that I need to get out before spring break! My service has also picked way up, and I am just barely performing there. I  dropped out of a few of the less important service items – even though one was university-wide.

I should say that even though I feel like I am at the apex, or perhaps past it, I am still getting 8 hours of sleep per night. Somehow I magically found Friday was easier, so it could just have been an adjustment period? Or maybe all the students don’t do my class on Friday. Only time will tell. So, I finally did have time to write this post on Saturday night.

So, where are you sitting on the Effort-Productivity curve? Post or comment!

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