Impact

(by peirama) Feb 10 2018

One day, when my son was two or three, he did not want to put on his shoes. This is not unusual for a two-year-old, of course. But on this day he didn’t cry about it or throw a fit, he made up a song. His song went, “I don’t want to waaaaaste my time, I don’t want to waaaaaste my time, putting on shooooes today, putting on shooooes today.”

I’m sure he has forgotten this incident and this song, but I have not. I sing this little tune to myself sometimes. It is catchy and the sentiment rings true to me. It turns out I, too, hate to waste time.

Something I’m struggling with right now is using I devote to volunteering most efficiently. There is so much to do in this world and I have such limited time. I really want to make the maximal impact that my time and abilities allow.

I started volunteering with an organization last winter. Like many people, after the election I felt a need to get involved. There was a flood of new volunteers, so while there were many volunteers, the group felt very disorganized. They were not used to having so many hands, and so probably did not make the best use of the hands they suddenly had available. This year, so far, there is more thought and planning into what areas we can have impact. I really enjoy the planning and the idea that the time I put in will be put to better use. The planning itself does take time, but hopefully will be worth it.

I also volunteer with my local women in science group. It is a great grass roots group, entirely run by volunteers and started by student and postdocs. I am the outreach chair, and as such I organize volunteers and plan events to empower girls in science. Here, I am the organizer rather than the volunteer being told what to do. In this situation, I have to ask myself, how do I maximize my time and my volunteers time? I feel the need to plan most efficiently, but sometimes that leads to mistakes that then waste time.

I also think about whether my efforts are duplicating those of others. Other groups do science outreach with kids. What am I adding that is different enough to be worth it? If I am not doing something different, of course my efforts are not a complete waste. However, my time might be better spent volunteering for those other groups rather than organizing something myself.

Do you volunteer? Do you organize volunteers? How do you make an impact or deal with the struggle of limited time?

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New Mom in a New Job

(by ragamuffinphd) Jan 29 2018

I had no idea what to expect during my first week back to work after maternity leave at a brand new job. Just before my son was born, I landed a new academic postdoc position after being ousted from my first*. The subject matter, though generally enthralling to me, is way outside the scope of my technical/intellectual expertise. And though I knew that I would be starting over and had been looking forward to it, I could not have known how that would feel once the time came.

The first few days, all of my willpower went toward the following:

— Getting my son to daycare intact

— Figuring out where/when/how to park on a campus that sells far more parking passes than it has spaces

— Figuring out where/when/how to pump in a place with no designated facilities, and in several different buildings across the campus

— Adjusting to having zero immediate colleagues who are moms**

— Relearning material that I had sort of let slip from my mind since high school

— Between a mother and son with chronic medical needs, juggling way too many medical appointments with my husband

— Learning the schedule of outside-of-lab obligations including lab-mandated seminars/dinners and fellowship-mandated meetings/workshops

— Getting home in time to feed and see my son for 5 minutes before putting him to bed

The first few days, I cried alone in the bathroom more than I expected. I absentmindedly missed turns on my way to daycare and work. I missed kissing my son goodnight twice***. I freaked out about my milk supply dropping. I put WAY too much pressure on myself to figure it all out and be productive too quickly.

Now, three weeks in, things have not calmed down much. However, I’m more familiar with my surroundings and the personalities of my colleagues. I am very slowly getting used to not seeing my baby all day every day. I am giving myself a little leeway, having kicked so much butt at everything so far (several glitches notwithstanding). It all still feels very messy and exhausting and hit-or-miss, but I’m not crying every day anymore.

 

*Though the timing felt awful, it could not have been better in the long run to leave my previous position ASAFP without burning bridges.

**Being able to talk to other moms versus dads DOES make a huge difference. Especially moms who have experienced pumping breast milk at work. This will improve as I meet people through my fellowship and in different labs.

***Since my sweet boy was sleeping through the night at that time, this absolutely broke me.

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Getting to know you

(by sweetscience) Jan 26 2018

What I really wanted to know.

Image from: http://www.fallingfifth.com/comics/20070105

In my courses this semester I have over 100 neuroscience students, ranging from just-declared sophomores to early grad students, and I am trying to get to know each one! It’s a challenge but I know it’s important, especially for the early level students, to feel connected and comfortable talking with a professor in their field, and even if all I know is their name and face, that could improve the chances of their being comfortable with me. Throughout the first weeks of the semester I ask each student to tell me (verbally or in writing depending on the size of the class) what brought them to study neuroscience, what excites them, and what their goals are.

It is remarkable (but not surprising if you know or remember college students) the range, from  “I have no clue what I’m doing but this seems cool,” to “I was drawn to neuroscience by a specific event and am on a path to medicine/research with a specialty in this ultra-specific sub-field.” One thing that has struck me is how many students are drawn to the field because of a first-hand experience with a brain-related trauma or disease, especially given the young age of the majority of my students.

More than anything though, it is refreshing. I love to see things through their wide (but not naïve!) eyes, hear their personal stories, and especially to learn about things I’ve never heard of that sparked their interests!

And I have one piece of advice for them, and everyone at this stage – try everything! Anything you think you might be interested in, any opportunities you’re presented with you think might be even a little interesting or beneficial – do it! Even if what you learn is that you don’t like that experience, that is extremely valuable as you home in on your goals and personal path. In some ways, this is most valuable advice for people who are so set on their path they don’t try it, or anything else, so if they at some point come to the realization that their top and only choice won’t work, it is devastating and difficult to find a new path. And while it’s never too late to try a variety of experiences, it’s never so easy and so cost-free as this early stage in your career.

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New Year, New Job, New Working Mom: My First Week

(by ragamuffinphd) Jan 15 2018

Whose idea was it to start baby’s daycare and mom’s new job on the same day?

I have been a mom for 4 months. My son has been through two surgeries, chronic issues with cranial helmet therapy, gone from remarkably low to average growth percentile, and is the happiest smilin’est kid you will ever meet.

The fourth trimester was, for me, deeply harrowing. I have new-mom PTSD. Only in the last few weeks have I begun to forget how intensely off-putting some of the struggles of new motherhood have been. Only now have I begun to find my groove as a parent, and be able to thoroughly treasure every waking moment with my tiny human. This is the worst time to hand the love of my life off to a caretaker as I attempt to unearth my scientist brain and return to work.

While I was pregnant, I participated in a marathon of job interviews. I was grateful and humbled to find a new postdoctoral position, fellowship and mentor with whom I looked forward to starting fresh following maternity leave/unemployment.

My first few days have been crazy, emotional and messy. I was: late dropping off my son, later getting to work, proud to have found a place and method for pumping and storing milk (neither intuitive nor straightforward), only mildly uncomfortable around my new colleagues (none of whom have children), grateful for the kind and supportive welcome of my new mentor (who does have grown children), thrown off by already juggling my son’s and my medical appointments during the day, saved by text messages of support from a few working scientist-mom friends, exhausted and lovesick by the time I picked up my son from daycare.

My son’s first few days were long, hot and exhausting. He was: too warm in our caretaker’s home, totally happy in her arms, able to nap less than half of his usual amount (yikes), somewhat afraid of the two slightly older babies who wanted to play with him, disrupted by medical appointments on several days, and smiling sweetly when I came to pick him up. He was a champion.

I am thrilled to be once again in a laboratory environment (I think), read a few papers (with my newly altered brain) and even attend a couple seminars. In time, I hope to be able to do scientific research again. I have resolved to not let the overwhelm of my first few days determine how I feel about being a working mom. I will let myself figure that out in time.

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Resolutions 2018

(by peirama) Jan 11 2018

Happy New Year!

Please share yours in the comments!

SweetScience:

As you may have been able to tell from my last post and analysis of 2017, I was just happy to have survived, and thrilled to be moving in the direction I want, hard as it may be. So I have no ambitious goals for 2018. Other than teaching 8 classes, half of which will be new, moving into a new home in a new state, establishing healthy relationships with family in the area, and caring for my own family, including welcoming baby number two!! I’ll be happy to get through all these major changes the best I can.

peírama:

My resolutions are to improve at my job, continue to network so that it is not a huge chore if/when I am looking for a new job, and to continue to stay involved in my community without overdoing it. I am pretty happy with where I am in my career and my life, but it has taken a lot of work to get here. I am sure the future will hold more challenges, so the best I can do for now is to enjoy and to take steps to buffer against those future challenges in whatever form they come.

Curiouser&Curiouser:

My resolution this year is to give myself time to find my bliss. I spend a lot of time thinking and working on being good at my job, motherhood and wife-y-ness (yup that’s totally a real word); but I want to make sure I have space to think about what I want to be doing, not just what needs to happen right now.  Am I happy in my job or do I want to try something new, do I want more kids, do I want to start dancing again, should we pack up our family and run away to our imaginary mountain farmhouse/library/art studio and all those kinds of questions.

saraswatiphd:

I’m not a New Year’s resolution person.  I think they’re kind of overrated.  If you want to do something, why wait?  Do it now, don’t wait for the calendar to give you the green light.  But this year is different.  I’m waiting for something.  Like a sign to give me the go ahead.  

I got a sign of a sign a few months ago, sitting in my doctor’s office, going over my very suboptimal lab results.  We talked about lifestyle and diet, about stress management, about this and that.  She said that I needed to make a change how I approach my health – tune into my body, listen in closely to what it’s telling me.  I never have.  My body is something I abused for a while now – staying up too late, not dealing with stress well, not exercising, eating crappy food, or not eating enough all together, forgetting to take my thyroid medication…  It’s catching up to me.  I was surprised.  Afterall, my body hasn’t failed me yet (besides autoimmune thyroid issues and chronic insomnia that is).  Stress is something I thought I had to experience in order to prove to myself and everyone around me that I was taking things seriously.  This (tenacity? stupidity? immaturity? dedication?) is something that got me through undergraduate work, graduate school, and my postdoc (during which I had twins), allowing me to get to a place in my life where I love my job and appreciate the direction in which my career is headed.  This approach worked for me professionally.  But my body begs to differ.

So, my New Year’s resolution is to take my health seriously, before I start having serious health issues.  Eating wholesome foods, exercising regularly, managing my expectations so that stress doesn’t get the upper hand – those are on my (probably first ever) resolutions list this year.  I am giving myself time to mull it over and construct a plan.  If I am successful, I will hopefully ease into it in the next couple of months and continue throughout the year.  Kind of like a warm up run before I cross that start line.  We’ll see how I do.

NotaRealTeacher:

Like saraswatiphd, I don’t like resolutions. I prefer goals, which are a type of resolution anyway, so here are some of my goals for 2018.

In 2017, I found myself feeling so impatient. Impatient for the next career move, for the bigger house, the next car (hello minivan, I can’t wait for your sliding doors). When I take a step back, though, I am able to rationally articulate that things are going great for me. I have a teaching job I mostly love, two healthy kids, a successful husband and an adorable (albeit tiny) house in a desirable area. In 2018, my goal is to be steadfastly patient. I’ll still be looking forward to my next big thing, but I want to embrace all the good I already have.

Ragamuffinphd:

I only have one overarching goal for this year: adjust to life as a working mother, allowing myself the respect, patience and flexibility to find out what that means for me and for my family.

Before I realized that I wanted children, my goals and the attitude with which I pursued them were all about me. My dreams, my time, my ruthless obsession with academic scientific research. My perspective has already changed drastically (after 4 months of baby), and I hope that this more relaxed open-mindedness will be the driving fuel of my future endeavors.

Megan:

I am trying something very different this year. Every year, my resolution is to do more, to do better, to work harder, to improve. But 2018 needs to be different.

I started 2018 on New Year’s Eve with a stomach virus that didn’t let me leave the bathroom, let alone participate in any festivities. Frankly, I’ve been sick since around mid-November, with one thing after the next. I have a toddler in daycare and the microbes are ruthless. I need to face it: I’m completely run down. I’m often up past midnight, doing laundry and chores, writing emails, reading. Then, at 6-6:30AM, my adorable son starts babbling, then yelling, from his crib– and, trust me, toddlers don’t get that you can sleep in on weekends.

This year, as I was huddled sick and shivering on New Year’s Eve, I started thinking of possible New Year’s resolutions. Should I try to write more? Exercise more? Clean more? Network more? Make more of an effort to visit elderly relatives? Yes, I probably should do all of those things. But as I was contemplating them, I swear my churning gut screamed at me: “YOU NEED TO DO LESS!”

So, that’s my resolution this year. I don’t know exactly how it will translate yet. Maybe I’ll look into getting a maid? Try to go to bed earlier? Finally ditch our beloved but broken down old car that requires constant maintenance? I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but my body has put me on notice: it’s time to do less.

Just thinking of ways to do less instead of more already feels like a radical change.


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2017 Resolution Revisit

(by peirama) Dec 27 2017

At the beginning of this year we shared some of our goals for the upcoming year. Here are some updates on how we’ve done.

How has your year measured up to expectations? Please share your success (and failures) in the comments!

peírama: Last year I had three goals. To gain confidence in order to progress my career, to eat healthier, and to have a positive impact on my community. I have done pretty well. I would not say that I am much more confident, but I am somewhat more confident and I have gotten a new job where I feel respected. Also, in the process of actually getting a job and starting it, I have learned more about myself and the people around me that has made me more confident because it gave me a new lense on the world.

I have eaten healthier in fits and starts, although that has pretty much gone out the window with the holiday season. It feels good to know I can eat healthier, though, because it makes me feel in charge of my health and not as guilty when I do decide to choose the less healthy options occasionally.

As to having a positive impact on the community, I have done that through getting involved. I am involved in my local women in science group; I joined the leadership and advocacy team of Planned Parenthood, which supports reproductive health equity; and I joined the PTA and got involved in the fundraiser. Sometimes it feels like a lot, like maybe I’m doing too much. At the same time, it feels so good to be doing something to make the community I live in one to be proud of and to do my own little part to fight the bigotry and uncaringness that sometimes feels like it will swallow us all.

 

SweetScience: I accomplished my main goal – transitioning to a new job! It wasn’t what or how I expected at all, but I am so happy that this is happening. Unfortunately I am still transitioning out of my old position, but I think I am doing this as gracefully as the situation allows. I will definitely have some lingering tasks over the next months that will keep me tied there in my “free time”. I completely failed my resolution to be a better family member and gift-giver. But my new job will give me so much more flexibility that I am confident I can improve this in the future! My transition still being in-progress, I have not settled into a new community and local service as planned, but I have continued as much charitable giving as I could manage. Honestly, I’m just happy I survived this year.

 

Curiouser&Curiouser: My big goal this year was to transition to being a mom and it went really well. I love it (something I was worried about) and while I’m still learning how to deal with the lack of sleep this has been my happiest year ever.

I had to leave work a month early because of complications with the pregnancy so I asked for and accepted help more than ever the first half of this year (one of my 2027 goals). The project continued without me and while some things were not done as I would have done them, the project is ongoing and my transition out and back in has been pretty smooth. As for my other work-related goal, I’m not sure that I’m on track with my career but I’m working on it.

 


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Jealous.

(by saraswatiphd) Dec 22 2017

Thursday night. Christmas tree glowing in the corner. Stillness. My husband is hanging out with friends. He won’t be home for hours. I hear quiet soft snores of my boys coming through the still evening air at me in waves. Cats trying to jump in my lap. Walking around me in circles. Looking in my eyes. Dog nuzzling me. Another gulp of wine.

My legs are still cold from sitting on the harsh concrete. I was sorting, looking, folding. Baby clothes. I still have them. From the time when my boys spilled all of their homemade food on them – quinoa, peaches, blueberries… From the time I tickled their tummies with my nose and they laughed hysterically and then grabbed my hair in a nonchalant fashion and tried to pull it in their mouths. From the time I cried, leaving them in their cribs, running into another room, listening to them cry, thinking how I couldn’t take it any more –there was only one of me and two of them. But they were babies. So chubby and lovely and sweet-smelling. That intoxicating smell of their heads. I don’t remember the smell, but I remember the oxytocin surge, filling my heart with pride, with love, with this immense feeling, larger than life, I never felt before and never thought I could until the moment that I did. Yes, the clothes, the clothes of the boys in the gigabytes of photos, with them smiling, or frowning, getting into mischief, or feeding the cat, or falling asleep sitting up.

My husband had a vasectomy exactly a year ago. We won’t be having any more babies. We are so grateful for the two amazing boys we have. Can’t believe they’re half-way done with first grade already. But I haven’t been able to part with their baby clothes. Yes, some went to some of my friends, and that felt good. But today was the last of the newborn – 12 month clothes I put together in a bag for a mom in need. I don’t know her. She is someone the PTA is trying to help out. I hope these clothes will be loved and snuggled with and photographed as many times as they were seven years ago. And the favorite ones, although snug, still getting yet another day, one more picture, one more laugh. Tomorrow when I drop them off, the emotional attachment to these clothes will finally be severed. We will have extra room in the garage.

I couldn’t have any more kids. It would break me, I am sure. Not sleeping, for what felt like eternity, after having twins. Not being able to carry on an adult conversations, not remembering simple things – basic science I learned in grad school. But I’m jealous. I’m so jealous of other women, who despite the hardships still want to have yet another baby. And do. And snuggle and bond. Gaze at them as they pop off the breast, falling into a milk coma. Or get that coveted smile that no one else in the room does. Or hold them and listen for their pouts quiet down, because at that stage, only mommy can do that kind of magic.

I chose my career – and that was the right choice for me. It fills me with a sense of accomplishment and joy, leaves me challenged and frustrated, hungry for more. There is only my immediate family at the end of the day. There is no room for a baby. But I still feel so much. Jealous.


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What’s in a name?

(by Curiouser&Curiouser) Dec 19 2017

I defended 7 years ago this month…. and I’m still a Research Scientist 1.  I had hoped to be up for a promotion last year because I felt like I kicked butt all year. When I had my year end review, my supervisor said I did great and was up for the top merit bonus… but no mention of a promotion.  I mustered up the guts to ask how I was doing “in terms of career development” and he said “Great! You’ve only been with us for 2 years and it usually takes ~5 to get a promotion so you are right on track.”  I was bummed but I was also 5 months pregnant (and sick as a dog) so I had other things on my mind and I let it go.
It took me a little time to get back into the swing of things once I came back from leave in September.  But now I feel like I’m back and ready to take on really juicy interesting projects. I’m also looking around and seeing that other people in other departments are getting promoted and I feel like I am getting left behind. I’m starting to worry about my ability to transfer to a new company… will it be held against me that I’m still a Research Scientist 1?
Some days these thoughts/worries motivate me, make me work harder and try more.  I skip pumping sessions and pick up the baby late so I can squeeze more data out or be at a meeting hoping my presence and input might be the little bit extra to push me over the edge into an “early” promotion.  Other days not getting a promotion makes me question my ability and value as a scientist. Should I just quit and stay home with my new baby? Open an Etsy shop?  Paint?

I recently started talking with a new mentor in the Contracts and Alliances group who suggested I might be able to try out her group or Project Management. I thought about it long and hard (and after some twists and turns) I talked to my supervisor about it. He was supportive but also encouraged me to stay the course if I wanted to stay a scientist. I decided not to pursue it at this time but I still feel torn. It’s hard to move forward when I can see so many interesting options and feel under appreciated (sometimes). I think the idea of not being a scientist anymore is also really sad/scary to me… who would I be?  Would I be happier in a different profession?  For now I’m just trying my best at work and sorting through the options hoping for the patience to take the time to see how things go in the new year.


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The current state of science career paths

(by peirama) Dec 14 2017

We recently received an email asking the following: “I just wondered if you had any words of advice on how to manage the love/hate relationship with the current state of science career paths?”

peirama answered in a previous post. Here are a few more answers:

Danielle: I became very jaded during my PhD, it seemed like I was trapped in a low paying job that I couldn’t quit. All I could see were the problems with the field. The toxic advisors, the low pay, the uncertainty, the lack of benefits and stability. With some distance from that experience, I know that for me that was a necessary part of identifying what kind of a scientist I want to be. Being a PI and running a research group is not a realistic career option for me. I love research, but I also love my family, making a better income, and weekends. I could not commit to the protracted low-pay of the postdoc training period or the geographic uncertainty of the faculty job search. I love working with scientists on infrastructure issues and systemic issues that impact research and scholarly communication.  So, I am taking my wet-lab neuroscience training and using it to work to work on systemic issues, infrastructure, and policy. When you see the flaws in a community, a system, a company, or other organization perhaps it might mean you’re in the position to do what needs to be done and improve it.*

 

I’m focusing on improving access scientific research and data, as well as opening access to the profession of science in the hopes of making research reproducible and making the field a realistic career option for others. Want to get inspired by all the people working for science to be an awesome, inclusive, career? I encourage you to check out VangaurdSTEM,  Mozilla Science, Software and Data Carpentry, OpenCon, Rescuing Biomedical Research, Bullied into Bad Science,  Future of Research, and ASAPBio. People are working for a better future for science – and you can get involved!

 

* I do not advise this person to continue their graduate training if it will lead to debt and stress, and if they’re not enjoying the day to day research environment (which can be quite miserable depending on the research group!). As a non-traditional student myself (started the PhD at 31), I know that I was in part proving something to myself. You can do amazing work without a PhD. You can have enormous impact on the world without a PhD. Many of the smartest and most successful people I know do not have PhDs – heck, some of them didn’t finish high school and others never went to college. This person already has a master’s degree.  A Master’s degree is an awesome accomplishment. I’d encourage them to question why they feel like they need to get a PhD, why they want to continue in academia, and where they want to be in 5 years.

 

SweetScience: It makes me so sad to think of all the amazing talent lost due to discriminatory or even harassing work environments. As one of the rare women in science who doesn’t feel like these pervasive issues have actually affected me or my career directly, I won’t say much on this topic, but I can tell you what I do to stay on the love side of the love/hate relationship the reader mentioned. When I see writing, especially editorials in scientific journals, or hear speakers at scientific conferences calling out discriminatory practices or discussing them in any light, it makes me so happy that people are talking, labeling this as unequivocally unacceptable, and bringing it to the attention of those who need to hear it most. I try to make sure this feeling outweighs the sadness that comes along with reading the distressing stories, and to do that, I consciously remind myself that this is the beginning of the change! I also try to do everything I can (now mostly as a mentor) to support individual young women in science, again with the idea that this is the only way we can move forward from a toxic history.


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The hardest semester of my life

(by sweetscience) Nov 30 2017

Don’t worry, this post isn’t a complaint. I had the hardest semester of my life but I got something great out of it.

I started a new job this fall – one of my top-choice careers, at one of my top-choice institutions! I am teaching undergraduate neuroscience students at a large university in a place I love, near family. But of course it couldn’t be that simple. Because of family-related issues, I couldn’t move there and get started full-time right away. So all fall I’ve been commuting between two different states to work part of the week at my new job and part of the week at my old postdoc research position. As you can imagine, it’s been a terrible to commute, and especially difficult to be away from my family, even part-time. Add to that health issues, deaths of family and friends, and more, and it’s been a nightmare overall, and a struggle to get through each day and week.

Despite all that, I found that I loved my new job and was excited about it throughout the semester, regardless of what else was going on. I looked forward to planning how to teach each lesson/topic, talking with students, and evaluating their performance. I love virtually every aspect of it! This was a stark contrast with my old job. Even though I couldn’t wait to return home to my family, I dreaded going back to my job in the lab. I did not want to do lab work, did not want to write or research, and, to my surprise, did not even look forward to helping my students with their research projects.

Realizing these thoughts and feelings about my work made me so happy that I could be confident about my choice in career paths. Up until I accepted this teaching position, I had been thinking that I would be equally happy doing that or teaching and running a small lab with undergraduate students at a small liberal arts college, where I could focus on the students more than cutting edge research. Now I realize that that would have been a mistake and I just can’t be excited (or do a good job) for research-related activities, outside of teaching students about research on an intellectual level.

So here I am on the home stretch of the hardest semester of my life (so far…), fully excited about my move to full-time lecturer, and for a fresh start for the new calendar year! It feels so good to be confident about my career choice and path forward.


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