Archive for the 'motherhood' category

Part-time work in academia

Having it all can be a bit controversial. You can have it, or you can’t have it, you should have it or you shouldn’t.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want it all, but I do want a little bit of everything. Which brings us to a recent development in my career, part time work.

I personally feel that the current standard for work, either 40 hours a week or work as much as you can fit in without completely losing it, is for the most part unnecessary, unhelpful, and unsustainable for a happy and productive life. In the 1930s John Maynard Keynes predicted that by now we would be working much shorter weeks, perhaps as low as 15 hour work weeks*. Studies have shown that a 6 hour work day increases health without decreasing productivity **. So why do we continue to do it? There are a number of practical reasons and a number of cultural reasons. Universal healthcare would go a long way toward changing the practical reasons, though of course there are other hurdles. What about the cultural reasons? How does one change a culture? What if we ignore the societal pressures and find a way to make it work for ourselves?

My interest in part time doesn’t mean that I am not interested in working. It just means that there are only so many hours in a day and in a week and I’d like to spend more of those with my children. They grow so fast and I am afraid I am going to regret having spent so much time at work when they’re older. I also need time to maintain my health and make sure I’m sane enough to enjoy my time with them and be patient with myself and my family.

So after talking myself out of it for over a year, I recently took the plunge. I realized (with some help from a University provided therapist – definitely something every school should have and promote) that nothing was ever going to feel like the perfect decision and sometimes you just have to treat life as an experiment and try things. So I ignored all of my doubts, summoned my courage, and walked into my PI’s office.

“I’d like to request to work 4 days a week 80% time,” I said. “Can I think about it?” he replied.

I waited anxiously from the morning until I saw him leave for the day at 5pm. All night I stressed. Is he going to fire me? Is he going to say yes? What will I do if he says no?

I got summoned to his office the next morning. “I’ve thought about this a lot,” he told me. He proceeded to explain how he knew many of the most prominent women-in-science thought leaders in the country. The thing they’d ask, he said, was what I want for my career. So before he would give me his answer he wanted me to answer this question.

“Why,” I asked, “have you not asked me this before? I have been a postdoc for over four years. Why is it important now when it hasn’t been before?” He said some things about how he’s talked about it with other people in the lab*** but did not answer the question. He told me he that he had an answer that he thought I’d like but he didn’t want to tell me until after we had the discussion about my future. He said not to tell him now but to think about it. So off I went. To think about my future. Because that’s something that had never occurred to me to do until he asked. Obviously.

The next day, despite my fears of him not taking me seriously, I admitted that I did not think that the amount of time I wanted to commit to my family was compatible with being a PI. To my relief, and my chagrin, he agreed. He commented that when he was a young father he spent no time with his children. He questioned how the only person in the lab still considering tenure track, a woman with a young child, does it.

My mind revolted and split in two. I am pro women in science! I am as passionate about that as I am about science! Mothers should be able to be successful professors! Am I living up to a terrible stereotype? What am I doing? But…thank goodness he isn’t rejecting me for not being on the path to tenure track.

Once we got this discussion out of the way he told me his plan, a 3 month trial of the 80% schedule. If everything goes well, if I am productive, we will continue that way. So that is where I am. Three weeks in I am loving the arrangement.

I want to have a positive impact on the next generation of scientists. I do not, however, want to be a successful principal investigator at the cost of my quality of life. I hope instead I can help to make part-time science more mainstream in my own little way. When the goal is not “freedom at any cost” but instead “reasonable flexibility” the gains are smaller and the precise definition of “a win” is more vague. If I can be productive at this level and go on to have a successful career in something, I hope I can provide a positive example of of a balance that works for me.

 

*https://www.theguardian.com/business/2008/sep/01/economics

**http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-10/the-six-hour-workday-works-in-europe-what-about-america

***How is this relevant to me?


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I get it now: Reflections of a seasonal stay at home mom

I used to balk at the prospect of staying at home with my child. My mother in-law has frequently and less than gently suggested and touted the benefits of staying home with her own small children. “I’m a busy body,” I would respond, and “I like to feel like I have value outside the home.” I frequently reposted articles to Facebook that touted the benefits of staying in the workforce, partially to reinforce my decision. (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/how-much-does-it-cost-to-leave-the-workforce-to-care-for-a-child-a-lot-more-than-you-think/). I’d vehemently disagree when people argued that childcare is too expensive to allow them to work. (Here’s my math: 2 kids in daycare at an average of $1,000/month is $24,000 dollars a year: A lot of money, definitely, but certainly not more than the annual income of many of my colleagues.)

I work part time as a high school teacher. I love the work, but the pay (especially as a part-timer) is admittedly low. Many perks counterbalance my small paycheck. Among these are ample breaks; I get every holiday off, plus two weeks at Christmas, a week for spring break and 10 weeks off in the summer. I cherish these breaks, both for my own sanity and the precious time with my small daughter (and soon to arrive baby boy!).

The first few weeks of summer, I often feel antsy. I frantically clean the house during naptime and create projects for myself. I organize, weed the yard and bake healthy muffins. Within a few weeks, though, my toddler and I get into the groove. I read books, listen to podcasts and frequent the neighborhood park. I make regular trips to Target, and we never run out of diapers or paper towels. I make dinner every night, get the laundry done at a non-frantic pace, and get us packed and unpacked from a multitude of summer trips. When my husband gets home in the evening, instead of flitting around the house to finish our chores and prepare for the next day as we do during the school year, we spend quality time together. We reflect on our days and plan for our future. We pour over the unreasonable number of photos and videos of our daughter I’ve accumulated in a short 10 hours, and climb into bed content instead of exhausted. My husband recently commented, “I feel like I’m on break, too,” despite working 55+ hours per week.

As a result, this summer, I have for the first time really, truly understood why many families choose to have one parent stay home (and I don’t think it’s usually financial). With one of us home, our relationship is better and our life is less stressful. We have time to chat about our days and energy to go out to dinner occasionally just the two of us (without feeling like our daughter lives in childcare).

I’m certainly not ready to leave the workforce. A lifetime of internal dialogue regarding the benefits of working when combined with a deep love for my work in science education is not outweighed by my recent revelations. However, I vow to be relinquish my previously judgment over those who choose to do this life differently than I have and to be more open minded. Maybe one day I’ll be a full time stay at home mom. Or maybe I’ll work full time. But for now, I’m thankful for this season.


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The Interview Question I Was Completely Unprepared For

Sep 06 2016 Published by under industry vs academia, Interview, job search, motherhood

Today’s guest contributor is currently a postdoctoral fellow in New York City. She holds a PhD in Neuroscience, and her research interests include neuroanatomy and psychiatric disease. She has posted with us previously and is back in a two-part series to share her experiences with different job interviews around the time she became a new mother.

At 9 months pregnant, I had two promising phone interviews. One was for an academic job. The other was for a medical communications firm.

Given my advanced pregnancy, and how unpredictable babies’ arrivals can be, my contact at the medical communications firm decided not to attempt to schedule a formal interview, and instead she proposed we meet and talk at a coffee shop after work one evening.

She bought us both hot chocolates, and we found a quiet place to talk. I’d researched as much as I could about the firm, but was still surprised when she told me about the breadth of work that comprised medical communications. It was, as I was aware, communication of drug information in a comprehensive way to the public and prescribing physicians. But, as I learned, it also encompassed communication about science to clinicians to inform trial design, presenting clinical data to businessmen and women, and even branched into regulatory affairs. I found myself growing increasingly excited about the potential impact I could have in this career field, and how much I could learn.

But then she gently turned the questions to me, pressing for information about my own background and career thus far. All went well and fairly predictably until she asked me a question I never anticipated.

“What can we do to support you in your role as a new mother?”

“I’m sorry?” I responded, thinking, ‘This is a trick question!’

“Well, if we go forward with this, we’d want to make this position work for you. We want to provide the support necessary for you to be successful here. What do you think you would need from us?”

I think I opened and closed my mouth a few times. I just could not think of what to say.

“Do you think you would want to start part-time?” she prompted, “Or maybe work from home a few days a week?”

I was floored. Was this not a trick question? Was she seriously asking me? In all the discussions I’d had at work as a postdoc, despite having successfully obtained salary support for myself through a fellowship and obtained additional grants for my research, no one had ever asked what professional support I would need through my pregnancy and transition into motherhood. Even though my friends and colleagues congratulated me on a personal level, my pregnancy was largely framed as a liability– something that we could overcome if I were productive enough. Despite the massive changes to my personal life, life in lab rolled along the same as it ever had. If anything, I felt pressure to work harder to prove I was still dedicated and as capable as I ever was– and I honestly think my lab was better than most in terms of their treatment of a pregnant postdoc.

So I had never considered the question before. And I was still speechless.

She smiled, “Well, why don’t you think about it? I’m sure it’s hard to know now how your life will change over the next few months!”

We wrapped up our talk, and she proposed I get back in touch once I was ready and had taken some time to adjust to motherhood.

Reflecting on the interview afterwards, the way the question was framed was also intriguing to me. Essentially, she was saying that if I weren’t successful, her department wouldn’t be as successful as it could be either– so, if I needed certain minor accommodations to succeed, it was in her best interest to provide them. Once I thought about it, this seemed like Management 101.

But I’ve never come across this management style in my scientific training in academia thus far, and this interview experience contrasted strikingly with my academic interview.

In fairness, academia can lend itself towards working flexible hours, which has been invaluable to me over the last few years, and now, as a working mother of an infant. But I consider myself fortunate in this benefit: not every academic job is flexible, and most academic jobs that I’m aware of, especially at the faculty level, mandate working very long hours (even when there is some flexibility about which hours those are).

*********

At the moment, I’m still not sure what direction my career will head in. My husband just landed his dream job in another city, so a move is on the horizon.

But after these two interviews, I think I have a better idea of what I’d like to see in an employer.


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The Postpartum Interview

Today’s guest contributor is currently a postdoctoral fellow in New York City. She holds a PhD in Neuroscience, and her research interests include neuroanatomy and psychiatric disease. She has posted with us previously and is back in a two-part series to share her experiences with different job interviews around the time she became a new mother.

This past spring, I landed two phone interviews– one in academia, and one at a medical communications firm. The complication: I was 9 months pregnant at the time.

The phone interviews went well. When I was asked to come in person, I told both interviewers I was pregnant, due in a matter of weeks. The folks at the academic job said they were eager to fill the position, that there was some urgency, and asked me to get in touch as soon as I had given birth so we could schedule an interview then.

My beautiful baby came screaming into the world three days after his due date. We had some complications, but, while still in the hospital, I emailed the academic job to tell them my baby had arrived. They responded with a few potential dates I could come in to interview. The first date was only days away; the latest date was exactly 3 weeks after I had given birth. I agreed to come at that date. I didn’t get the impression that it would be acceptable to ask for a later date.

A few days passed before my baby was discharged from the hospital, and, thankfully (so thankfully), was pronounced healthy. Over the next few weeks, my husband and I passed through the typical but brutal hazing ritual that is early parenthood. Sleepless days and nights blurred together and were equal parts both immense gratitude for our precious child and immense fear we were going to accidentally do something to harm his impossibly tiny body.

Our sleep deprivation was unprecedented. Our newborn son wasn’t able to sleep on his own and cried continuously unless he was being rocked in our arms, walked around outside, or being driven in the car, so it wasn’t possible to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. I had no idea I could actually survive on so little rest– instead of my normal 7 hours a night, I was getting around 7 hours of sleep in a week as my son alternated between crying and breastfeeding.

The interview date crept closer. Four days before its scheduled date, the director contacted me with a request that I prepare a talk on work I’d done years prior. So, in 20 minute intervals while my son napped or my husband rocked him, I pieced together Powerpoint slides from old talks I’d given, annoyed that this request hadn’t come in sooner.

The night before the interview, I discovered I still couldn’t fit into any of my pre-pregnancy professional clothes but my maternity clothes hung off me like overstretched Lycra bags. In a brain-fogged panic, I managed to get to a Banana Republic before it closed and handed a saleswoman my credit card in exchange for a grey sweater-dress.

The morning of the interview, my husband took my son out of the house for a walk at 6AM. I practiced my talk for an hour and slept for two, until my husband had to bring him back to be fed at 9AM. Those two hours were the longest uninterrupted stretch of sleep I had gotten since he was born.

My husband drove me to my interview with our newborn in the back seat and a bottle containing a few ounces of breastmilk I’d managed to pump. I hadn’t been given an itinerary so I wasn’t sure how long the day would be. My husband planned to drive the baby around while I was interviewing and I promised to text him with updates as often as I could.

The day started with my presentation. I didn’t have the energy to be nervous, and I surprised myself at how sensible I sounded. Feedback was very positive, and the questions were intelligent. I was then given the itinerary and discovered the rest of the day would proceed in a series of 5 one-hour interviews with various members of the department, followed by a meeting with an HR rep.

A department administrator toured me around the sprawling building. I trailed slowly behind her, finding it difficult to keep up. Between interviews, I went into the bathroom, where I texted my husband for updates on our son, changed the hospital-grade pads I was wearing as I was still bleeding profusely from the birth, attempted to relieve my painfully engorged breasts, and checked that none of my bodily fluids had soaked through my clothes.

Outside the building, my husband drove in circles around the parking lot for hours in the rain while our son cried and slept in his carseat.

The interviews were fairly standard and I think, if I weren’t so exhausted, I would have enjoyed talking science with the group. The only thing that caught me slightly unprepared was an interviewer who grilled me about brands and comparative prices of equipment and reagents I’d used in the past, but I diffused his line of questioning by telling him about cost-saving modifications to a protocol, which I later sent in a follow-up email.

Before I left, I met with the director, who thanked me for coming in so soon after giving birth, reiterated the urgency to fill the position, and told me they would let me know their hiring decision in the upcoming weeks.

Weeks, however, turned into months and spring warmed into summer. My son learned, blessedly, to sleep independently, outgrew his newborn clothes, and gave me his first unforgettable smile. I healed.

I sent emails with gentle enquiries as to the status of the hiring process. Various reasons for the delay were given: the director was on vacation, there was a grant deadline… as of this writing, no one has yet been hired although the job advertisement has been taken down. Clearly, the urgency to fill the position that mandated a candidate interview 3 weeks postpartum has evaporated.

A number of unanswerable questions lurk in my thoughts: Did I not do as well as I could have? Would it have gone better if I had asked to come in at a later date, when I was physically and mentally closer to my normal self? Did my status as a new mother influence the hiring decision (or lack thereof)? Was the hiring committee (all males) unaware of the endurance test they were putting me through, or was it a purposeful test of my dedication to my career?

And: Is academia, where it’s acceptable to expect a candidate to go through a grueling interview process 3 weeks postpartum, really a viable choice for my/our future?

Still, I’m glad I interviewed– even though the process tested my physical, intellectual, and emotional limits, I learned just how far my limits extend, and I know I would have regretted it if I hadn’t given it all I had for the professional opportunity this job presented. However, the experience left me with doubts about committing to a career in a field where such an ordeal would be asked for and expected of an applicant. Certainly, given the oversupply of PhDs and demand for academic jobs, this is par for the course. In this economic climate, department heads could probably line up flaming hoops for aspirational candidates to jump through on the lawns of their institutions, and we’d do it (and it would likely be the easiest part of the interview).

But is this a healthy field to continue to work in?

Next in the series: The interview question I was completely unprepared for


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A day in the life – at a conference with an infant

Jun 28 2016 Published by under a day in the life, academia, motherhood, presenting

I’m at my second conference for the year, which is also my 5 month old baby’s second conference! Luckily my partner is in the same field and understands how this works, and we could all come together. Unfortunately though there are a lot of things at this conference we both want to see, or, more often, we want to go to different sessions at the same time, so we try to trade baby duty, which essentially leads to me seeing half as much as I normally would at a conference. This experience will be different for every parent, every baby, and indeed every day, but here’s what today was like for me.

12 – 5am – I’m awoken every hour or so by baby noises – Baby is congested and I think having a harder time than normal sleeping straight through. Most wake-ups we both just go right back to sleep but about every three hours we do a feeding just to make sure hunger isn’t the issue.

5:23am – Baby has been making noises for a few minutes now, so I think this is the real wake-up for the day. I’ve been waking up all night and have my presentation today so I ask my partner to wake up and take care of Baby for now.

5:30-6:30am – Wake periodically to noises from Partner and Baby until my alarm goes off at 6:30, at which time of course they are silent.

7:10am – Wake up, unsure how I fell asleep (if I had to guess I’d say 5 months of sleep deprivation), go to the sitting area of the hotel room to find Baby sleeping on Partner, who is also sleeping on the couch. Get dressed.

7:30-8am – Play ‘pass the baby’ as Partner and I get ready for the day. Nurse and dress Baby, taking care not to get any bodily fluids on my presentation outfit (but I did bring backup clothes, as the 5 months sleep deprivation has not prevented me from learning a thing or two).

8am – We decide to forgo the Plenary session and get breakfast at the conference.

8:30am – I put up my poster and take photos of Baby in adorably nerdy onesie with me at the poster. I walk Baby through my poster, but Baby just likes the scratching noises on the poster material.

8:40am – We wonder why none of our friends showed up for breakfast. (We find out later they were out late drinking. I was in bed at 9:30 and loving it. I am not even a little bit jealous of them.) We plan who will have baby duty when and when to do the hand-off so we can both see the talks we want in the morning sessions.

8:45am – Run into a few people, catch up with a previous mentor who recalls taking her 3 month old to a big conference over 30 years ago!

9am – Partner notices that Baby seems to have an odor and quickly recalls that I’m on baby duty, so passes the baby and I head up to the hotel room.

9:10am – We’re locked out of the hotel room! The door is ajar but I can’t open it! No response to my banging on the door (like the neighbors didn’t already hate us, we have a baby!), no sign of housekeeping anywhere… I go back to the elevator to call the front desk as Baby starts complaining – they transfer me at least 3 times and finally say they’ll send someone up.

9:20am – In the room! Don’t know what was wrong with the door but I just messed with it more and it finally opened. Baby is still upset (it’s naptime) but what should I do? I don’t want to be in the middle of nursing, or diaper change, or putting Baby down for a nap when security comes by about the door… Decide changing first is the best option. Security comes at the perfect time in between events so it’s all good… except Baby, who was so tired a minute ago, now doesn’t want to sleep!

9:50am – Baby is finally asleep – but it’s terrible timing because our hand-off is supposed to be in 25 minutes, so I let Baby sleep on me and just grab my stuff and go.

10:15 – Unsuccessful hand-off wakes Baby up. I have to just get to the one talk I want to see and try not to think that I should be doing something better for Baby – Partner can handle it.

10:20am – I see an interesting talk I thought might be about a method I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to use, but actually it uses other techniques which I was unfamiliar with so now I have more to think about.

10:50am – I meet up with Partner who claims to have successfully taken awake Baby to a talk as well, but I am skeptical since I only had mild success trying that yesterday. Head back up to the hotel room, text friends about lunch plans, get Baby ready to go out.

11:30am – We meet friend from grad school for lunch. Friend has already eaten, so can hold Baby while we eat, ahhhh! We discuss everything I like – science, friends, dogs, baby stuff!

12:30pm – Back at the hotel I nurse Baby, play a little, and make plans for later. We decide to skip the next session of the conference since we weren’t too thrilled with the potential topics and have friends/colleagues to see.

1:30pm – Meet Partner’s friend/collaborator and his wife for drinks and dessert (isn’t lunchtime dessert the best?!) while Baby naps part of the time. I leave Baby with Partner so I can do my poster presentation.

2:45pm – Pump breast milk in hotel room* so Partner can come back and feed Baby during my presentation.

3:10pm – I arrive at my poster session but no one is at my poster and my assigned presentation time is later so I stop by a couple others I wanted to see first. I spend most of the rest of the time at my poster, busy almost the whole time. One researcher made my day when she came by and said she’d been having some of the same problems and could commiserate with me. Mostly it was people I knew coming by my poster but I did get some good feedback and people seemed interested in the general questions I was asking, which is where I want to take my research in the future, so that was good! I also found out that a colleague here is traveling with her 5 month old baby as well, so maybe we can get together tomorrow.

5pm – Partner hands off Baby for me to go to lab dinner with my grad school lab past and present. It’s fun to catch up and get to know the new people a little better. Baby is getting tired and a little shrieky (it’s bedtime!) but one friend who loves babies does the entertaining for me.

7pm – Baby starts scream-crying (luckily a rare occurrence these days) on the way back to the hotel but falls asleep in one minute. Now back at the hotel, how can I wake this precious sleeping baby just to get ready for bed?!

7:30pm – Partner comes back from the evening conference session so I suggest dinner with the friends I ran into on the way into the hotel. Nurse and get Baby ready for bed. I have a small bottle of extra milk from the afternoon pumping so I try to top off Baby but as I remove the cap there is a milk explosion all over me and the rug so I swear and scare Baby and run to the bathroom but I’m holding Baby awkwardly in one arm and the dripping bottle in the other and do the best I can to clean up. Baby doesn’t like this at all and is still mad about the swearing I guess, or being awoken from the nice sleep.

8pm – I put Baby to bed, scarf down my chocolate in case Baby decides to resist sleeping and needs to be put to sleep, and start blogging.

9pm – Debate showering or sleeping, decide on sleeping since Partner is still out and I want to be able to hear Baby. Get ready for tomorrow and I’m in bed around 10 (this never happens at home and feels so good)!

What I notice when I think about this day is that really not a lot of science happened. But a lot of networking happened, mostly through catching up with people I already know. I think this is the most important part of attending a conference, so my distribution of my time seems relatively in line with my priorities – lots of family time, plenty of friend/network/career building time, and a enough science to get me thinking critically about my own work and thinking about new possibilities connected to other work.

So that was my day at a conference with a nursing 5 month old infant!

*When I emailed the conference organizer a couple months ago to inquire about a lactation room, I was told I could book a room in the conference hotel, and if I didn’t have that, I could find someone who did have one who would let me pump there. I haven’t responded to this because I don’t even know what to say. This was in stark contrast to the other conference I was attending of a similar size, which went to great lengths to provide a private space for multiple people, at a location that did not have a facility already set up for such a purpose.


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No Guilt

May 18 2016 Published by under having it all, motherhood

Working mothers have a lot of guilt. Even before becoming pregnant, women worry about the perception of them in the workplace as women of a certain age – that they will have babies and take time off. They in fact may want to do just that, so the guilt appears before they have done anything.

When we get pregnant it really begins. Doctors appointments, morning sickness, complications take time or concentration away from work. “I should be working harder!” the voice says. “You are letting everyone down!” the voice says. And of course when the baby comes there’s the double whammy of guilt about not working enough and not doing enough for the kid.

I am here to declare myself an anti-guilt crusader. Enough is enough! Working mothers work hard enough between home and work and the extra burden of guilt is unnecessary.

I have started the crusade with myself and have carried on with several of my fellow bloggers. Give yourself a break, feel no guilt.

Here is why:

  1. That guilt isn’t helping anyone! You know you are doing what you can and probably more people than you think see that as well.
  2. Everyone has fluctuations in their work hours and work focus. This is a phase and it will pass. Taking it easy on yourself will get you through it easier than beating yourself up about it.
  3. It is good for the world to have you working. Women bring a different perspective, different temperament to work places (there are lots of examples of how women benefit the workplace). Also, the world needs women to have babies. We currently have no other way to bring new people into the world! Despite this, working American mothers are some of the least supported in the world. You are needed. Don’t forget that.

So next time you start to feel guilty about this or that, stop. Take a deep breath. Tell yourself that you are doing your best. If you need help, drop me a line and I’ll talk you down.


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Maternity leave – or – And I thought I knew everything!

Mar 28 2016 Published by under motherhood, postdoc, the fog, transitions

I can’t believe I have an 8 week old baby! This time on maternity leave has been absolutely precious and has flown by. So what have I learned? Well for this blog I’ll skip all of the baby stuff (I didn’t know how much I didn’t know!) and focus on the work-related things.

First, the advice my co-bloggers have given me has been right on the money. The one thing that most of them and others I’ve talked to said that I didn’t necessarily believe was that 6 weeks was just too soon to go back to work. I thought that 6 weeks sounded like a long time and this was probably mostly an emotional thing that probably wouldn’t be true for me* or would be true for people who had physical complications that would keep them healing longer. But no, 6 weeks is absolutely not long enough! Now I know from experience and lots of reading that Baby might have a routine by that age, but not a set schedule (they’re just now possibly starting to produce melatonin to get in a circadian rhythm!), and everything is still different from one day to the next. How can you leave when you’re both still trying to figure out what works? Not to mention the nights being unpredictable. In addition, I was definitely not 100% physically recovered at 6 weeks. I could have worked in that condition but I would be slow moving and uncomfortable.

The last 2 weeks have been big for learning and getting in a more predictable routine, so I feel a lot better about going back to work at 8 weeks. However, I would be grateful for another month (or longer) of paid leave. Luckily I have an awesome mom who is coming to take care of Baby for a couple months, and an awesome boss who is understanding about me working shorter days in the lab while we all adjust. I can’t imagine how differently I might feel if those securities were not in place.

Second, in my line of work (academic laboratory) there is just some work that needs to get done no matter what. Okay, there could have been ways around some of it, and no one would die or lose their job if I didn’t do it, but it was pretty important for my job and others whose work is intertwined with mine. For me, this pretty much came down to three things. 1) Just because of bad timing, I had to communicate with HR and fill out a bunch of paperwork starting the day I came home from the hospital to be able to renew my position and keep my insurance – obviously essential, but a huge pain in the butt! 2) I had to finish revisions for a manuscript under review, which involved a lot of back-and-forth with co-authors. Here I could have asked the journal for an extension or just left all the work to the corresponding author, but I thought it was important enough for me to spend what amounted to a day or two of work to get it done. And it was accepted right away, yay! 3) I’ve had to respond to a few issues here and there that came up in lab. Mostly this was so that my own projects could continue to move forward in my absence. Again, I could have let it go but it was important/easy enough for me to put in a little time. Overall, I’m not surprised I had to do this much/kind of work while on leave, and I’m satisfied.

Third, I am happy that I have reaffirmed my belief that I do want to continue my career while being a mom and so it is important to me to keep moving forward in my job and career, despite how hard it might be sometimes to split my time between two separate worlds.

I probably learned some more really valuable things, but I forgot – you’re lucky I’m this articulate right now, or even that I finished this post at all. Time to shower if Baby doesn’t wake up before I get there.

*Related but non-work related thing – I also didn’t necessarily believe people when they said, “It’ll be different when it’s your baby,” in response to me expressing that I don’t love babies (I like kids more the older they get) and don’t know if I could spend all day at home without going out of my mind with boredom. It’s so different with my baby – I’ve been with Baby virtually 24/7 for 8 weeks and I feel like I could continue indefinitely. If I got just one more nap…


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Life Lessons from Teenagers

“So, what do you guy think of this?” I asked my students, using all my effort to bite my tongue and let my students express their own opinions. I was discussing the 2014 decision by Facebook and Apple to subsidize egg freezing for female employees as part of their benefits plans. My own initial thoughts on the matter were visceral; the subtext of this “opportunity” is to encourage women to work while we are young and worry about family later.

I was discussing this issue with a group of students interested in future medical careers. They are high achievers and envision themselves as career-motivated, even as teenagers, so I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised by their positive responses to the egg freezing deal. My students thought it was wonderful. They praised the companies for allowing young women to have careers without having to “worry” about their biological limitations. I struggled to keep my own mouth shut as they excitedly envisioned their futures career women then mothers. I wanted to say, “How about supporting women with paid maternity leave?” or “Why don’t we consider more affordable childcare and flexible work schedules?” But I didn’t. I stood by and soaked in their opinions with admitted alarm.

As I reflected on their responses in the coming days, I realized that their responses could easily have been my own, 15 years ago. I was a high achieving student. I wanted to do something that “mattered” with my career—revealing a cure to cancer or discovering a new drug, something that would impact the future of the world. I vividly remember thinking that I didn’t want to get married until I was at least 29, an age much later than that of my own parents who were married at 23. As my own life went on, however, I fell in love and got married (at 23, as luck would have it). By 27, I yearned to have a child with a longing that was overwhelming and fierce.

During my pregnancy, I was finishing graduate school and looking to make a career transition. As I researched opportunities and networked with fervor, I would frequently chat with my own mother about my excitements and anxieties. One afternoon, she said to me, “Your priorities will change when you have your baby.” And I was mad. I was angry at the suggestion that all of my education, preparation and career exploration might be somehow useless or wasted.

In the end, my mother was right. My priorities did change, thought not in the negative way I had perceived. I have found a career I love; It is certainly not of the prestige I had envisioned as an impassioned teenager, but it allows me to make a difference in my small part of the world. And now, as I look forward to by 30th birthday, I hope for a second child. My hope is surrounded by tremendous anxiety regarding the cost of childcare for 2 children and how to prepare for months of lost wages during maternity leave (I’m relatively new to my job and have little accrued vacation time).

So when I mediate this discussion with my students regarding companies paying tens of thousands of dollars for egg freezing, I can’t help but wish I could have that amount of money for childcare and maternity leave. I want to tell my students how they will feel when they have their own children. I want to express to them how it feels to watch your own parents grow old and worry that they will never meet their grandchildren. I want to tell them how hared it is to leave an 8 week old in childcare. I wanted to tell them why my little girl doesn’t yet have a sibling. But instead, I listen to their excitement and say, “that’s so interesting!” because there are some things that only life can teach us, and I too am still learning.

(I certainly know that there are many wonderful outcomes from egg freezing procedures, especially for young women who undergo chemotherapy, etc. The opinions expressed here are only mine.)

More Reading on Egg Freezing:

http://time.com/3835233/sheryl-sandberg-explains-why-facebook-covers-egg-freezing/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-truth-about-egg-freezing_55db6163e4b08cd3359cc4e6


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Geeking out

Nov 25 2015 Published by under clothes, motherhood

When a neuroscientist mom who likes to sew has a child —

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she makes a neuron costume for Halloween with DNA in the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, spines as on shoulders, and a hat with dendrites (the child refused to wear leg warmers as myelin sheath).

When the neuroscientist Mom has two kids, she tries to convince them they want to dress up as a neuron and glia (using the same costume above). She is only fervently rejected.

 

When a scientist has a baby —

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she dresses her in apparel with scientific devices.

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Or scientific information (The onesie says, brought to you by letters G, C, A, and T, and the number 23).

 

When a scientist has too much time on her hands —

Etsy

She searches for nerdy items online…like in Etsy.

 

How do you geek out?


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Topics of Interest

Currently a former neuroscientist turned stay-at-home mom, I get to stay home, and watch and play with my two girls.  Old habits do not die too quickly; I often find myself observing my kids as if they are my former experimental subjects, rats.  As they grow up and acquire new and more advanced skills, many questions have come up regarding what is going on in their brain and brain in general.  Here are some questions I might ask if I were choosing a topic of research right now:

  1. Lifetime taste memory?

As I watch my 2-year old put everything and anything in her mouth, I can imagine what each object tastes like: metal, plastic, fabric, paper, wood…  Although I have not actually tasted them recently, I am fairly certain that my ideas about how those objects taste are pretty accurate.  But how do I know?  When was the last time I actually put those items in my mouth?  Do I remember from the time I was an infant/toddler when I did the extensive savoring?  And would I remember those tastes forever?

 Though I could not find exact answers to my questions, I did find an interesting study that suggested that memory for taste forms as early as in utero.  According to the authors in this article, many flavors, e.g. garlic, carrots, vanilla and mint, are diffused into amniotic fluid and breastmilk.  In this particular study, three groups of mothers drank carrot juice either during pregnancy, lactation, or never.  When the babies started eating solid food several months after they were born, they were fed cereal prepared with carrot juice.  Their facial expressions during the first feeding were recorded. The babies born to mothers who drank carrot juice during pregnancy or lactation exhibited much less negative facial expressions than those born to mothers who never did.   

The authors suggested that less negative facial expressions are due to being already familiar with the taste via amniotic fluid or breast milk.  This is one way that food culture and preferences are passed on.  The ideas of how food taste are reinforced throughout the years after birth, but exposures to non-food stops at some point (hopefully).  Are memories of metallic and plastic taste actually retained for lifetime?

2. Bilingual brain

My husband and I speak English to each other in an English-speaking country, but we each have a second language.  Before our first daughter was born I declared to everyone around us that our daughter was going to be a trilingual.  After our daughters have been born, my husband has been very diligent in speaking his second language to them. I on the other hand have been slacking off (it is more difficult and takes more discipline than I thought!).  As a result (and attending an immersion preschool in my husband’s language), my almost 5-year old is a true bilingual.  She switches between two languages beautifully.  As I listen to my daughter and husband converse and have no idea what is being said, I wonder how language is processed by and represented in brain (not just a second language, but a first language as well).  

My 2-year old is at the point where she repeats everything she hears.  Her pronunciation of some words that I teach her of my second language is sometimes better than my 5-year old’s.  Experts discuss a “critical period” for learning a second language. When you learn a second language prior to the age of 12, you speak the second language with vastly few or no accent. From my small study with a sample size of two, there seems to be age-related smaller windows and/or stages for language reproducibility and acquisition.  I am certain there are actual studies on this, but it is still fun to observe in my kids.

[I want to expand more on this topic in a later post — there are many fascinating studies out there!]

3. Educational Neuroscience

While being a working neuroscientist, I had many conversations with my sister who was a high school English teacher.  She often expressed wishes to have taken courses in neuroscience during her teacher training so that she could understand how the brain works and have come up with more effective ways of teaching.  The discipline of Educational Neuroscience is emerging to bridge the gap between neuroscience research and classrooms.  As a mom with kids approaching school-age and with learning and memory research background it is of a particular interest.  Some neuroscience findings have already been applied and implemented in schools: delaying school start time and keeping recess and physical education.  Skepticism of bringing neuroscience to classroom is there and perhaps sometimes warranted, but if done correctly and carefully, I believe there is much Neuroscience can offer to devise a method/environment for efficient and effective learning.

As my daughters exhibit any behavior, I keep asking why and how. I just hope that there are no negative repercussions for observing (or parenting?) my daughters with this type of ulterior motives…


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