Attributes of Scientists: Perseverance
I am currently at a fantastic meeting for Undergraduate Women of MyFieldOfScience. I was brought across the country for this event, and today I am giving a talk on my research with some background information on myself. I love these events! The undergraduate women, who are uber-underrepresented in MyFieldOfScience, are so excited to be here. Once you group 10-20 schools worth of women together, it is a lot. Women who are isolated or the only woman in their department can connect with their peers. It is wonderful, and I am excited and honored to serve as their mentor for this short time.
Throughout the meeting, there has been a theme that has clearly emerged to me. Several of the speakers and students have described their perseverance within science, or that perseverance is a key attribute they look for in applications to REUs or graduate school. I was thinking about it, and it is really true. Although, sometimes I might call it stubbornness or pigheadedness, and it can backfire in those forms resulting in close-mindedness. But perseverance is a better term and has a slightly different meaning. It reminds me of Madame Curie’s struggle to discover radium (for a funny post on Madame Curie from another Awesome WomanOfScience, go here).
So, here is one story from me about perseverance. It is about how I got to this meeting for undergraduate women in MyFieldOfScience. It is meant to be funny, and just be a silly example of the stuff scientists will put themselves through to fulfill a promise. Enjoy.
This story starts on Wednesday morning. It was like any other Wednesday morning except the baby was sleeping in. I have two kids – elementary age and toddler age – and we still call the toddler the baby, because he will likely always be the baby. Now, the baby doesn’t sleep in. In fact, the baby usually wakes up far before I want. But today, was different, and the brief reprieve of his late slumber was making our morning cyclone a bit calmer.
I almost was worried I would have to wake him, when I heard his lovely WAIL, and I made him a bottle and was bringing it to him. When I turned on the light, I realized he had puked all down the side of this crib as he was standing over the railing crying. This kicked the morning cyclone up a notch to Kansas Tornado that Brought Dorothy to Oz level. One of us was cleaning the baby and stripping him down while the other was stripping the bed and wiping it down. And now we were worried. What was this puke about? Was he sick with a stomach bug? Or did he just cough too much and make himself throw up? Or did he swallow too much snot, the evidence of which was still sluggishly dripping from his cute little nose, and that upset his tummy. After the ruckus, he asked for a bottle, and kept it down, he had no fever, so we assumed something besides sickness had caused the puke. We took him to school and they admitted him, despite our story of puke. Hooray for our daycare service – they are the best!
Unbeknownst to us, the puke cleaning job was infecting us with a stomach bug that was biding its time to strike. On Thursday night, my husband got hit. He was up all night evacuating his insides. Most of this I had no idea of, because we have both learned to sleep through quite a bit of noise and motion with two kids. I was set to fly across the country, and felt totally fine. I woke at 4am, showered, and got out the door for a day of flying and uninterrupted writing time (I love that you can work uninterrupted on airplanes – no meetings, no phone calls, just you and your computer).
During my 4 hour layover, it hit me. A nauseating feeling in my stomach. No, I thought, I can’t get sick. I am already traveling. The second flight offered me a much needed afternoon nap in the *most comfortable of positions* with my mouth drying out as it hung slack jawed while my head was jammed against the window. I woke to the upset stomach and started downing the antacids I always carry when I travel – just in case – and getting a ginger ale from the flight attendant. I was able to ignore the stomach ache while working, and got a bit done. I felt like Patrick Dempsey in Outbreak in the airplane scene (They didn’t have an internet picture of Patrick Dempsey with a sickly sheen and coughing, and I didn’t want to buy Outbreak, just so I could screen capture that image, so here he is playing with the monkey infected with the Ebola virus or whatever):
Luckily, I didn’t actually look like him. Nowadays they won’t let you on the plane if you are sick. Anyway, the stomach thing got worse, but I persevered. I went to dinner. I talked to students. I made jokes. I got into a playful argument with a ManOfScience over whether one should clean your own toilets, or pay someone else to do it, provided they have the money. He thought people should clean their own toilets, and I thought you should pay someone to do it, so you could spend more time with your family having fun. I wasn’t as upbeat as I usually am, but I put on a good face.
It all came down after I got back to my room. I slept upright trying not to puke all night. I felt strangely normal around midnight and was able to sleep for 5 hours when I was woken by my intestines bubbling back into my stomach making me queazy and burpy. These are ominous signs. At 7am, I puked. I puked hard. I have puked enough times to know by now that holding your hair is secondary to holding your nose when you puke. No one ever talks about it, but hard puking makes it spray out of your nose cavity, too, and you have to hold your nose to block that passage. (Helpful tips on puking from your local scientist.) I got puke all over my pajamas. It was nasty. I did feel a a lot better after puking up what looked like last night’s dinner and yesterday’s lunch from my layover airport. How does the body do that?
I bagged my puke clothes, showered, got dressed, and prepared for the day. I went to the hotel lobby, and worked with them to figure out how to get my clothes laundered. The hotel is run by students, and they were not sure it was possible, but after some pleading and creative problem solving on my part, they figured it out, so that I would have clean PJs by 7pm. Note to people who don’t yet travel too much: Hotels can do lots of stuff. You have to ask, but they will often do it. It sometimes comes with a price. I was willing to pay as much as $50 to get this stuff laundered in a hurry. It ended up costing 15 minutes and $3.
Day 2 was much better, although I was still sick. I ate and kept it down. I mingled, I served on a panel about REU programs. I submitted some letters of recommendation and tweaked my talk based on the format others were presenting. I went to dinner. And this is how sickness spreads across the country. It was holding steady in my state and now I have brought it across the country to another state. I try to be good and wash my hands, but I cannot know who I infected. So I apologize, in advance, to the bright, motivated, young Women of MyFieldOfScience that I probably infected on this trip. Yet, I persevered, and you will too.
So, should I have canceled? Should I have turned around at my layover when it was clear where I was heading with this illness? It would have saved some other people a 24-hour bug, but I made a promise to be there, and I want to help mentor this lovely, bright, smart, wonderful generation of Women of Science. I would make the same choice again. What do you think? Post or comment. You can follow this blog by pushing the +Follow button, and you will get an email every time I write a new post.