Archive for: July, 2016

Stepping through the week of returning to work

Jul 31 2016 Published by under Uncategorized


I wake, laying quietly in bed, thinking of how interesting the last three months have been… That first month of a new baby – whoa. Did the world start spinning at a different speed? A few months ago, I could barely figure out how to physically get out of bed and get food into me, let alone this crying newborn. Now, we have a nice little routine going. In fact, my days have started to feel like they are missing something. Immersion in the outside world, perhaps. It does feel a little repetitive if I don’t get out and do something with baby. Wake, feed baby. Play a bit, feed baby, try to convince baby to nap – ahhh! Stress – baby, please nap. Repeat eat, play, nap. But I like predictable. I like routine for this growing little synapse machine. When things are predictable, I know whether or not I have a good handle on things, and know how to make them better the next day. I feel a little proud – I got her to a good place. But underneath that pride is a little worry. Me going back to work won’t undo that, right?


Little munchkin is so sweet playing there in the crib when I walk in at the (lately) usual time to get a smile before I pick happy baby up. Oh, the smell of baby. Intoxicatingly relaxing. I go about my routine, now acutely aware that the luxury of these slightly repetitive daily activities is about to come to an end. Mental note –enjoy every second of this day. It takes a lot to remind myself not to stress. We didn’t get munchkin accepting bottles yet. Despite weeks of trying and many different types of bottles. To me, there is a lot to stress about. To future me, this stress is probably laughably tiny. But, I am not future me.

Deep breath – enjoy everything about today.

Ahhh! Baby will starve!

Deep breath – oh, that baby is so cute.


Today is supposed to be overlap day with dad– the next caretaker. One of the ideas was to have it be Dad-led day. But there are so many chores and tasks and a yard project to work on. Dad ends up working outside most of the day. He has been around, knows the routine, and knows the tired/hungry signs, I think. All the sudden the day is over. There wasn’t actually much overlap today, but everything will be fine, right?

Mental checklist – did I get everything I need into my purse from my other purse (formerly known as diaper bag)? Did I make enough food for the next few days? What is lunchtime, again? Did I get the A/C adapter and all the other parts and pieces for the breast pump? Did I pack enough ice for the milk to sit on? How am I going to carry all these bags around tomorrow?!? Uhhhh, crap, I have to wear normal clothes again – crap, none of these pants fit me! Hmmm, where did I put those stretchy waistband maternity slacks, again? Ahh, that is much more comfortable. Eww. I have to wear a bra again – these nursing tank tops are waaay more comfortable.

Ahhh! Baby is not taking a bottle!

Deep breath.


Wake up, feed and walk the dog, make breakfast and get dressed. I am leaving a little later than I did pre-baby to try and breastfeed her well before heading off to work – without early wakeup. So far, so good. I will hit a little traffic, but, oh well. I filed the paperwork to switch from 9 hr workdays back to 8 so that I don’t have to be gone so long. I will miss bi-weekly day off, but maybe I can get back to it, eventually.

As my car rolls up to work, I have these very strange emotions. I am excited, nervous, anxious, and second guessing myself, all in one flash. It is a little surreal, because I have not gone through these motions in months. I feel the same as the familiarity floods back, but it is weird. Everything is different. I have a kid. But I am still me. I guess I am still figuring out what being a mom means.

It is very strange to bring this extra giant bag with me full of pumping stuff. Thankful for pinterest in its suggestions about what to put in a pumping bag, but man, this thing is huge.

Whoa – emails galore. I did occasionally sift through work emails, but there is a lot to catch up on at my computer for the next few days.

It is very strange to take the elevator down to the pumping room when the time comes. I am so thankful for my other recent mommy coworker who shows me the ropes and offers me advice for my very frequent questions.

Ahhh! Is my baby eating? Check the baby tracking app. AHHH! She hasn’t eaten anything yet and it is 2pm! She will starve! Ahh!

Get home – awwwwww! Baby is soooo cute! Mmm, I missed that baby smell. Oh, wow, she is really hungry.


Back at it. Ok, I know what to expect in the morning now. Tank up, baby, ’cause you did not eat enough yesterday.

Hmm. I should probably go get a few things that fit better. Wardrobe still feels very limited.

My coworkers are very understanding, for the most part. Some ask questions about how it has been for me and relate with their own experiences. Some are so sweet and just want to see pics of baby. Oooookkkaaaayyyy, I guess I can show you some of the 20 bazillion on my phone.

Ahh! Is baby eating today? No bottle, still! Time to call the doctor. What other mom friends do I have that I can ask about this?

It is really nice to ease back into work. There are not a lot of expectations placed on my to get anything done immediately. I find a way to make myself useful today, but still just playing catch-up and reorienting myself to lab.

Get home – oh dear, baby is really, really hungry, but I pumped all day. Not good.

Whoever gave me the advice to return on a Wednesday instead of Monday, I want to hug you.


New game plan. Tank baby up, still continue to get her used to a bottle, but husband brings baby to me at lunch. Oh man, I am tired today – the several addition nighttime wake-ups last night were unwelcome and exhausting.

Pump and watch adorable videos of baby.

Start getting organized for the thing I want to do next week at work. Read through a lot of the old work I did before I left to remind myself of the small details.

Oh man.

Survived the week. And so did baby, despite her drastically different eating habits. While in some ways, my stress persists about baby regressing from a nice healthy schedule, all in all, we are all still good. Next week is a new week. We can attack with a new strategy.

The saga continues…

I am so thankful for my other mamma friends who have given me such solid advice, on this blog, and elsewhere about not having high expectations about jumping back into work. I would normally expect myself to jump right back into the deep end, but hearing other people talk about it has helped me wade in more slowly from the shallow end. It is ok to take my time.

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Book Club – Lab Girl

We recently read Lab Girl, the nationally bestselling memoir by Hope Jahren, PhD. Dr. Jahren is a Professor at the University of Hawai’i Manoa where she runs a Geobiology Laboratory. She also blogs about interactions between women and men in academia at The book is mostly about her life and career path, but it also weaves in interesting vignettes about plant life that appear as metaphors related to aspects of her experiences.

Lab Girl image

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

fishprint: I read this book, in part, to find a relatable female scientist. I probably wouldn’t have admitted this at the time, but I like her writing, I love her Twitter presence, and I really wanted to relate to her. So, I spent the first half of the book hating it. Until finally I recognized I’d brought all these expectations to the book. Then I could let all that go and read it.  Do not read this book if you want a relatable female scientist role model to compare yourself to. Read this book for a well written, complicated personal story. You may relate more to the grad student who quits, “sneering on her way out that she didn’t want a life like mine”, but that’s OK. No one, probably not even that student, was really being asked to have a life like Jahren’s. But the proximity of the book (and worse if you work for her, I imagine) makes you compare and question.

peírama: One thing the book relies on and yet only briefly touches on directly is how Jahren’s relationship with Bill is important to her success in science. There are the straightforward ways, that he works for almost nothing yet works harder than most employees would and that he is a consistent presence in her lab from before she even starts her lab throughout her career (a trait which can make someone invaluable if they are competent, which Bill seems more than). Then there is the personal aspect of it. As Jahren readily admits, doing science is hard. There are setbacks from the natural world and from the world of people. Having someone interested in the same things as you, thinking about the same questions as you, who you get along with, who is there to support you when things get tough, makes things so much easier. I think the way our scientific society is set up to put people out on their own without a built in network and constantly ripping scientists away from people they know is counterproductive. Jahren lucked into a situation that should be more common in science – scientists with common interests working closely together, supporting each other, and working toward the same scientific goals.

Curiouser&Curiouser: Unlike fishprint, I had not heard of Dr. Jahren before reading this book, but I think I initially expected to find a role model in Lab Girl.  I did not.  I found very few specifics in her story relatable, but these 3 themes resonated with me.  

  1. In science you do not act alone.  I felt like the second half of the story was basically a platonic love letter to her best friend/lab manager.  While at times I felt awkward when it seemed to me that she was writing for/to Bill, (even though he said he would never read the book) I appreciated the sentiment that led her to want to say thank you and make sure credit is appropriately shared.   
  2. Being a scientist is hard work. ‘Nuf said
  3. Your personal struggles impact your career both positively and negatively.  It’s not always possible to check your personal baggage at the door.  

SweetScience: Dr. Jahren has clearly worked hard throughout her education and career, but it seemed like many major elements (i.e. certain jobs, her work partner Bill) just fell into place for her. This is not to say that she didn’t earn and work to keep those things, but I can relate to feeling like some things just come to you, even while things you try so hard for remain elusive.


Here are a few quotes that resonated with us. (Pages refer to original hard-cover edition)

  • “…my true potential had more to do with my willingness to struggle than with my past and present circumstances.” P. 18
  • “As much as I have loved being a scientist, I am ready to admit that I am tired of all the hard things that should be easy by now.” P. 25 (stated in the context of funding, but widely applicable)
    • C&C: This was one of my favorite quotes from the book.  I feel discouraged at least weekly by how much of a struggle it can, and will continue to be.  
  • “…there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help.” P. 44
  • “On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known.” P 71
  • “…because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.” P 277
    • SS: I can’t directly relate to this because I feel that female scientists are common in my field/generation, but I do think it’s interesting and important to understand that someone has felt this way in very recent history. Further, I can relate to the idea of ‘making it up as I go along’ as it feels like everyone is struggling through the decisions that need to be made early in one’s career in a way that is probably different than previous decades, given the overabundance of PhDs, lower relative number of traditional academic research jobs, and wide array of other science-related careers open to us. There’s no clear path, and no history of scientists having to navigate these conditions.


What surprised you about the book?

SS: I was surprised that there was virtually nothing relating to the interactions between women and men in academia that are the focus of Dr. Jahren’s blog, and a talk I saw her give to a Women In Science group. Given that she’s had plenty of experiences relevant for the subject and is clearly passionate about the topic and changing the state of academia’s treatment of women, I wonder why she didn’t draw attention to those issues in this book. Maybe it will be the focus of book number two?

f: She still doesn’t sleep. She still goes to the lab every night.

P: I was also surprised about how she talked about working all night like it was normal and how her family seems like afterthought.

C&C: I didn’t pick up on her struggle with mental health issues early on in the book, and so I found her description of her interactions and environment unnerving and often depressing.  Once she made it clear that there was more going on than a selectively empathetic, extremely driven person I was able to let go of the idea that an “ideal scientist” should follow her model, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the second half of the book.  

I also was shocked by Bill’s living conditions until they get to hawaii, what a loyal friend to stick it through!


Are there any messages in the book you disagree with for yourself or as a role model for young scientists?

SS: I don’t love the propagation of ‘the absent-minded professor’ stereotype, particularly the scientist who is so passionate and caught up in their work that they are up all night excited about a potential discovery at the expense of their personal lives; it is possible and indeed common for a career in research to be ‘just a job’ and that’s something I feel is a valuable message for young scientists.

f: Many of the pronouncements in this book are things that have worked for Jahren, and are not broadly true (or good) for other people. She is in lab all day and then hits the lab again every night starting around 10:30pm. I doubt she sleeps more than a few hours a night. And that’s OK for her, it makes her happy, and it works for her team (Bill). But seen as a message, it is a damaging one. My first PI bragged about sleeping 3 hours a night. In fact, every boss I’ve ever had has tedious glory days stories about being in the lab all night. They are not all successful, but they all want to cast themselves as passionate, committed night owls. Why? Is that really when they do their best work? That’s when I start breaking things and deleting files. Not sleeping and not caring for your health can look like a thing that interesting and successful people do, but it’s not going to work for everyone. In defense of Jahren, she’s just telling her story. It’s messy, it’s literally manic, and her life would only work for her.

Oh, and that part about trying to weed out the students who value their time. Sigh.

P: She paints a picture of a world where a certain type of man is what the world sees as a scientist, and thus she and her best friend/lab tech who is a man but doesn’t fit that description are science outsiders who have to work twice as hard as everyone else to gain scientific acceptance.

I do not argue with that, as that is clearly true. However, she paints an alternate picture of a stereotypical scientist. The scientist that can’t stop until they’ve answered all the questions. The scientist who works until their knuckles bleed and needs no other sustenance but a good question. I think a lot of people, including myself and my fellow bloggers, love science and consider ourselves scientists but also do not fit that stereotype of a scientist.

One sentence that caught my eye in the very first chapter was “I glanced at the clock and noted that my son had gone to bed several hours ago.” She makes clear that her priority is science over everything else. That is not how I want to live my life. Yes, my husband is perfectly capable of putting my children to bed and does on many occasions, but I like to put my children to bed. My children and my husband bring me joy and I knew a life with a husband and children was something I wanted as surely as I knew I loved science. Hope Jahren has written a memoir, so perhaps it is unfair to criticize what is only her own story. Her way is one way to be a scientist. Perhaps the problem is not that she has told her story without any acknowledgment of other alternative ways to be a scientist but that there are not more stories that make it to the mainstream of those other alternative ways to be a scientist.

C&C: From the description in the book I don’t think Jahren can be considered a viable role model for most young scientists.  She has a unique set of challenges and gifts (she has found the most loyal employee ever and neither of the seem to need to sleep?!) that make her career and life choices reasonable to her, but I can not see them leading to happiness or scientific success for most people.  


Who would you recommend this book to?

SS: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about what it means to be an academic scientist, or who likes different memoirs.

f: People who enjoy memoirs and science. I would not pitch it as an “inspirational female scientist”.

P: On the whole, I enjoyed this book as a book. That is to say, I enjoyed reading it when not thinking critically about what message it was sending and whether I agreed with that. I think it tells a compelling story of a woman finding her way in the world. It flows well and drew me in.

I also think this book is good for anyone interested in the natural world. I learned a lot about seeds and trees.

C&C: I think people who feel marginalized and/or struggle with mental health issues may enjoy the book.


All in all, most of us enjoyed reading most of the book, and we’d love to hear what you think too – tell us in the comments!

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Do the same rules apply to all genders as mentors?

Image source:

I have great summer student. She was a student of mine at my previous institution and came to do research in my current lab for her summer internship. On her first day I was really busy and sorry I didn’t have time to do much more than set her up with her training, so I said, “Why don’t I take you out to lunch tomorrow?” I thought it would be a good chance to catch up and get to know her better. So we went out and got to chat about what was going on in her life and she asked me a lot more about my career history. It was great, and exactly what I would hope for from a mentor-mentee relationship.

And then, because I always love over-analyzing things as a gender-based thought experiment, I wondered how this would be different if our genders were different. Could taking a student out to lunch to get to know them better be perceived as inappropriate if my student was male? Probably not, but it would almost certainly be less comfortable for me and probably for the student. What if I was male and my student was female? That gave me pause. Of course this one event was within the bounds of normal mentoring, but I could see the potential for something like this to make a student uncomfortable or to be the beginning of a series of problematic events where the power differential* makes it difficult for the student to say no to increasingly line-crossing interactions.

Should I be okay with behavior that I don’t see a problem with in one gender combination, if I do see it as a potential problem with a different gender? The image above is an extreme example (since everything Leslie Knope does is extreme and awesome), but there are many things that can seem not noteworthy coming from women that would never be acceptable from men.

On the one hand, I think it is even more important for women to get close and mentor other women to help them overcome the obstacles we continue to face. However, when I think about a man mentoring another man [preferentially], it makes me feel like the old boys club is being perpetuated. Is it fair to think that one is essential and the other should be avoided, as long as there is an imbalance in the field?

Further, why should the line be drawn in a different place for me as a female mentor than for a male mentor? Should I hold myself to the same standards and distance that I would expect from a man?

There are certainly ways male and female mentors may have different benefits, for either female or male mentees, and for this among many reasons, it is advisable for a student to try to have several mentors. But what should a mentor take into consideration for his or her interactions with different trainees? How does one give each student the mentoring they need or deserve without favoritism, and is it possible to support stronger relationships between more similar people without perpetuating the existing hierarchy?

I’m really asking! What do you think?

*I’m not factoring sexual orientation into the equation here, mostly because the focus is on gender-based power differentials, and I’m trying not to consider sexual or romantic circumstances; I do recognize that people who are not heterosexual or cisgender may have even greater cause for worry or discomfort when presented with unclear lines in social situations related to the workplace.

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