Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Work Life Balance – Other Stuff

HairdoneThe age-old woman’s issue: work-life balance. First, this is clearly not a “woman’s issue,” yet it is still labeled as such. Men make these choices, too. BUT, it feels different. I feel like, when I say I am leaving early to do a family-related activity, it is frowned upon, and I often do not reveal why I am leaving early. But, my male colleagues often use personal excuses for leaving early or not showing up to work and they seem fine with using these explanations.

Second, we have discussed many of the big work-life issues on this blog. For example: When should you have kids (see these blog posts: flexibility, grad school, pre/post tenure, postdoc)?  Should you take a job when you don’t have one for your spouse (see our posts on two-body problems: problems, surprisenegotiations)?

This weekend, I was thinking about the little work-life issues. Many of these issues are not about kids or family at all. Many times they concern myself – my personal well-being and how I don’t do things for myself because I am prioritizing work and other life choices first. I was thinking about it because I have been trying to dye my hair for about 2 weeks. The process takes about an hour, and I did not seem be be able to find that hour until today.  Here are some of the other things I prioritized over my personal activity: hanging out with my kids, making a figure for a paper, working on a grant report, writing this blog… You get the idea. And these other things are more important than dying my hair, so I was making the right choices, but I also want and need to dye my hair, too.

I always find the personal stuff hard to schedule and hard to prioritize such as hair, eye, dentist, and doctor appointments, or going to HR to fill out non-essential, but helpful, paperwork. Unless I am actually sick, I never go get regular check-ups. I should, but it seems like a waste of time. I go to the eye doctor once every 2-3 years and only because my glasses have broken and are hanging off my face.  I try to schedule a lot of this stuff in the summer, but that is also when I am busting my butt to get my papers out and get research done and traveling to conferences, so it still isn’t ideal. Are others like this? Am I a weirdo because I don’t keep my life on track?

I would think that it was just me except I have also been thinking back to my advisors, and I remember weird stuff coming out of their mouths. For instance, I had a graduate advisor who once told me that it was annoying when students (me, I was the only student) went to conferences because they not only missed 4-5 days from the lab for the conference, but they always had to leave early to do laundry and pack. My advisor also used to not go to the bathroom and do a sort of pee-pee dance. Maybe my advisor also didn’t want to waste time evacuating her bladder. I also had a postdoc advisor who told lab members that they should schedule dentist appointments on the weekends. I don’t even know any dentists who are open on the weekends.

So, maybe I was “raised” to be this way. I do try to be careful around my students so that I do not affect them the way I have been. I don’t want them to not go to the doctor or dentist. I don’t want them to not urinate because they feel they are wasting time. And I want to stop feeling that way, so I continue to fake it in the hopes that some day I will not feel weird about taking the time I need to clean my clothes and pack before a conference. (I am sure my fellow conference attendees also prefer I wash my clothes before the conference).

So, what about you? Do you have weird tendencies to be self-depriving spurned by an internal feeling that you are not working hard enough and still need to prove yourself? I do, clearly. I should say this is better after getting tenure. The removal of the feeling that you are going to lose your job if you don’t work hard enough hasn’t stopped me from working hard on science, but it has allowed me the freedom to go to the dentist. But, these feelings are clearly ridiculous. I try to stop them and “act normal.”

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Bad Mommy?

Travel-smallI did a lot of traveling last semester. Ironically, I had decided that I was going to take break on traveling and only do the really important and exciting stuff, but somehow I couldn’t say no. Part of it was flattery of my ego. Some of it was emotional blackmail. Over the semester, my HusbandOfScience, didn’t do as much travel and stayed home with the kids. It was a brutal winter full of snow storms and illnesses that resulted in many missed days from school. It was quite hard on HusbandOfScience.

As the old adage goes, “Payback is a Bitch,” and I am getting my just desserts this summer with his back-to-back travels. The kids’ illnesses haven’t yet subsided, despite being well into summer, although it is easier to cancel meetings than classes (thanks, summer!).

Sometimes I feel like I am a bad mommy. Let me give you some examples of my mommy-fails:

1. The baby: My youngest can’t sleep when HusbandOfScience is out of town. He wakes up every 2-4 hours even though, when HOS is in town, he can sleep through the night. I also have a hard time falling asleep without HOS next to me, so I go to bed late and get woken up a lot. I am a freaking zombie when HOS is out of town.

2. Groceries: I don’t know how to go grocery shopping. HOS does that chore and goes every week. He has a routine. He makes a list. When I go, I look like an idiot. I don’t know where things are in the store. I am juggling the scanner thing and the kids. I can’t find my superspecialsavershopper card for grocery discounts. I forget things.

3. Dinner: Another of HOS’s chores is dinner. We have a set menu every week to simplify things. You know, “Macaroni Monday,” Taco Tuesday,” “Whatever Wednesday” (that’s a bad one – can’t really ever figure out what to do there) “Pizza Thursday,” “Finger Food Friday.” I have no ability to organize dinner. I can’t get food to all come out at the same time or when anyone is actually hungry. This means the side dishes sit around while the meat parts take forever and I am chopping veggies for the salad. I always make way too much or way to little. And I burn things. I burn a lot of things. I often set off the fire alarm.

Sometimes, especially the public displays of missing mom parts (like the shopping), I feel like I am not a good mom because I don’t do ALL these things well. But, then I think that this must be how all families are – not just mine. Doesn’t every family have a division of labor where one person specializes in some chores or the other. Unfortunately, the split is especially pronounced and annoying when the other person travels. The traveling in academia can be crazy.

Thinking back, I realize that when I was a kid, the same thing happened. Both my parents worked, but my dad’s job was the only one that had travel associated with it. When my dad would go out of town, my mom made the craziest lunches. See, this was one of my dad’s jobs in the house – he made the lunches for school. When my dad was out of town, I would get crackers with peanut butter instead of a sandwich, no drink, and 3 moon pies in my lunch. It must have been difficult for my mom to get us out of the house. I wonder what other things happened that I never even noticed.

So, in the end, even though I feel like the house is falling down around me, my kids are sick, and I am getting no work done while my husband travels, I think it really isn’t so bad in the long run. Further, just because I don’t normally get groceries, cook dinner, or am the go-to parent for my child, doesn’t mean that I am not a good mom. It just means that when HOS travels I am a single parent, and these things are more difficult because I have to do them all. How do single moms do it?

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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.

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.

Working Mommy Equals Great Mommy

Mother holds Child

Mother holds Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was just visiting a nearby IvyLeageUniversity to give a seminar. I was asked to have lunch with students and sorta do a women’s mentoring lunch thing. I know some people find being asked to do these mentoring lunches strange or somehow unfair, but I don’t. There is no better way to change the social views of people than to convert the younger generations. We can talk more about this in other posts… but this post is about something that was brought up at the lunch.

Two of the lunchers were female postdocs who had children. They lamented that, even though they have husbands who could, and did, stay at home with their kids (awesome!) and/or their kids go to daycare, they feel *bad* about leaving their kids. I know exactly how they feel. In fact, just that morning, my child had a fever. I had already scheduled for several months to drive to IvyLeagueU, so I was not going to cancel. My HusbandOfScience took off the day to stay with our child – canceling all his meetings and getting someone to cover his class. My child was very sad when I left out the door. He was crying and wanted to hug me – a rare event since this child prefers Daddy. I felt very bad about having to leave and go to give this talk. Further, I also felt guilty about making my husband stay at home. I ended up leaving early to get back home – missing the opportunity to dine with my colleagues at ILU. This was an extreme circumstance, and has happened to male colleagues – in fact the man from ILU who invited me also left early when he came up to visit me at UofState. But, did he feel guilty about leaving early? Probably not.

In this post, I want to talk about why you should not feel bad about leaving your kids to have a career. In other posts, we can talk about the circumstances of having to stay home with sick kids and how you make those choices.

On a normal, daily basis, I don’t usually feel bad. I have several reasons or rationalizations to support my choice:

1. Daycare is better for my kids, personally. Just because you have kids and you are a smart person, say a Ph.D.-level scientist, does not mean you will be a good mother. Kids need different things at different stages of their development. I am not able to determine what I should be doing to educate my child at each of these stages. But, I send my child to a great daycare with awesome early-childhood educators that DO know what my child should be learning and working on. Thus, I feel like my children are better in the care of professional childcare experts, which I am not. Basically, the ability to have a child does not give you the power to be a great mom.

2. It is important to set an example. My mom worked full-time when I was a kid. I went to daycare, and I still knew my mom loved me and we had a lot of fun together. I know my mother felt guilty and bad about leaving us kids, but it turns out that she set a really great example for us. Because I knew she loved me and gave me a lot of attention, and was still able to have a career, I know I will be able to also be there for my children and also still have a career. In general, I feel like setting the example as a Career-Driven Mom is  important – especially for my own kids. I have a girl and a boy. For the girl, I hope to serve as an example for her personally. For the boy, I am hoping he brings home a significant other who is also a whole person.

3. Working moms are better for kids, in general. Recent studies have shown that children of working moms are just as emotionally healthy and capable as kids whose moms stay at home – if not more so (publicity with initial source material linked can be found here). I think these types of studies are important for women, who like my mom, felt a huge guilt about having a job. My mom made a lot more money than my dad and was in a technical field, although not an academic, so her working was essential for our family to have a good life – a house, cars that run, and the ability to move to neighborhoods that set us in good schools. By increasing the income level for our family, she set me up to have a better life – better access to education, which I fully utilized.

All choices in life require a cost-benefit analysis. For me, being a mom and having a career has way more benefits for my kids than costs. I spend time with my kids every day (as long as I am not traveling) and all weekend. The time is fun because I try to pay a lot of attention to them – and not work and especially not cleaning the house, etc… I hire people to clean the house and do the gardening, so I have more time with the family. We have more money to go on vacations and have a nice house in a good school district. I follow the principles set forth my by parents that the kids school and well-being takes precedent over my comfort. If I had to, I would drive 1 hour to work in order to live in a good school district. Luckily, I don’t have to.

So how do you feel? Do you feel guilty? Do you feel liberated? How can we all feel liberated? Post or comment.

Back in the Saddle Again


Saddle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of us, for some reason or another, have to take a hiatus from traveling, networking, or some of the other parts of our jobs. Coming back can be a challenge. I think many women, especially if they have tenure, take a big reduction in traveling once they have kids. Sometimes it can be difficult to get back in the saddle of long-distance traveling after a long time away. Plus, being away from kids can be sad if it you haven’t been away from them much.

Here is one woman’s story of getting back in the saddle. Enjoy!

I was really divided over whether or not to come to an international meeting, because I didn’t know that many people on the schedule, and honestly I was a little scared. I think everyone thinks I am good at schmoozing, but I had cut down travel so much the last few years that I am out of practice. I haven’t been out of the US/Canada since 2005 — I forgot to bring a European power adapter, felt very stupid and had to buy one at the airport. I was tired and jet-lagged the whole time I was there. I was also feeling really shy — I feel that I look so much rounder in all my business clothes after having kids. I didn’t know that many people at the meeting, and it was mostly really old guard white guys. Many of the participants were from Europe and were used to a more hierarchical academic system, and I forgot that many of those kinds of guys treat me like an infant.

Even worse, I was missing the kids so much that I didn’t feel like talking about science much. I ended up talking about the kids a lot whenever I tried to schmooze.  One of the few people I knew at the conference was a guy of whom I think as a mid-career mover and shaker. I just assumed that he was very well-connected — he’s done well in his career, he’s very friendly and gregarious, he’s gotten some awards, and he’s already on some editorial boards. We ended up eating many meals together, and surprisingly, he told me that he does not like travel much. He usually just goes to society meetings, and has never been to a Gordon Conference. He also told me that he is not good with strangers, and that he was missing his family a lot, also.

So it got me thinking. Maybe not everyone is traveling and schmoozing as much as we imagine they are, while we stay at home turning down invitations and cleaning up baby vomit. And maybe things have changed enough that, once we are done cleaning up baby vomit and are ready to get back in the saddle again, we’ll find that people are more accepting than we think.

Another good thing came from this meeting. I got an invitation to be on an editorial board from the trip, and I think we will have an invited article out of it, also. So it’s been a real positive, even beyond the “international invited talk” on the CV.

My impression is that this WomanOfScience is very brave and good things resulted, so congratulations to her! Any stories of getting back out there? Fears, concerns, or stories of bravery and success? Comment or post.

The Trouble with Teens

Here is one more story on kids. Enjoy!

Both of my children were the result of unplanned pregnancies. How two biologists had two unplanned pregnancies I cannot explain. But in retrospect, we couldn’t have planned it any better.

I got pregnant with my first child about 4 months into my postdoc. I was terrified to tell my IvyLeagueWorldFamousAdvisor. But he and everyone else were very supportive. One MaleFaculty told me he liked having pregnant women/mothers work in his lab – they were focused and driven and got more done in 8 hours than many graduate students did in 16 hours. Three years later I had my second child. Yes, having children put a dent in my work output and my postdoc years were longer than the current average. But I wouldn’t do it any other way.

What does it take to be a scientist (or lawyer or Google executive or …) with children? First, you must have a good support system. This includes your spouse or partner, your advisor/boss, and your lab mates. And day care providers. We shared a nanny with another family, and I realized after one week of her caring for my first born that he was much better off with her during the day than he would be with me. She was (still is) a saint. Second, you must be focused and driven. I didn’t have time to hang out chatting in the lunch room. When asked “how do you do it?” I would say “you just put on the blinders and take it one day at a time.” Third, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I often asked my lab mates to fix cells, change the antibody on my western blot, or start overnight bacterial cultures for me. Fourth, take my Mother’s advice: Don’t worry about how clean your house is (play with your kids rather than fuss about such frivolous things). And don’t make a battle out of food (choose your battles).

When my kids were toddlers, I was shocked when our pediatrician said she was quitting her job to stay home with her pre-teen and teenaged children. She told me they needed her more now than when they were toddlers. I did not and could not understand. I said “But the hardest years are behind you. How could you quit your job now?” Ten or so years later, I totally understand. When they hit middle school, they need you in a different way. It’s not “sit on the floor and color with me” kind of needing you, it’s “be near (but not too near) me and/or drive me to soccer” kind of needing you. You can’t just hire a babysitter anymore. And that time driving in the car is so important for conversations! So the really good thing about having kids as a postdoc is that when your kids hit middle school, you will be post-tenure and able to set your work load and schedule. I say no to a lot of things. I often leave before 3 pm to be home after school. I now get a lot of work done sitting at the kitchen table after school or sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice.

Is this a XX thing? My husband does not feel the same need to be there for our kids in their teen years. He also works in industry and his job is much less flexible than mine. So is it that he can’t leave work at 3 pm and thus doesn’t even entertain the possibility of being home for our kids after school or is it that his XY makeup prevents him from feeling that he needs to be home for our kids after school? Maybe we’ll have time to talk about it when the kids are off to college.

How about your story? Post or leave a comment!

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