Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Oops! I took on way too much.

As you might have guessed by my absence, I have been a bit overwhelmed and trying to dig myself out for the last weeks. I am writing one proposal due 9/15, writing another short proposal due 9/29, giving a seminar at another university (next week), giving a seminar at my own university (next week), preparing for two conferences early october and early november, and writing an invited paper due 11/01. Oh, yeah, and setting up my lab. Umm, it was a bit ambitious, but seemed like such a great idea at the time.

So what do you do when you find yourself committed to way too many things, and not really in a position to back out of any of them? The first time this happened to me was in grad school, when I was taking this class that takes 20-30 hours/week in homework, plus trying to get data out for a conference I was attending. My advisor was practically screaming at me to forget about the class, but I ethically couldn't give it a lackluster effort and feel good about it. In that case, I did end up letting the class slide a little, resulting in a 1 letter grade drop in my final grade. But what did I learn from all that?

Finding myself in this predicament increasingly often (I now understand why no one can ever find professors in their office): I thought I would give you my thoughts. I would also appreciate any of yours.

Digging Out of the Hole
1.Do NOT take on any new projects that are not absolutely required. Even if you really, really want to. [There goes my women in STEM stuff for a while, (sigh)]
2.See if there is anything that can be politely dropped or backed out of.
3.Prioritize remaining projects from most important to least important. This is difficult. Most important does not mean favorite, it means most likely to advance your career.
4.Let the little things go. Get take out for dinner, consider the laundry service at the dry cleaners.
5.Work on the projects with the highest career impact first. As deadlines for less important projects approach dedicate a limited amount of time to completing them. Do not use more than the allocated time.
6.And the hardest part, learn to realize that you don't have time for everything and get comfortable with turning out less than perfect work. Also, learn how to tell when people won't notice it is less than perfect, and economize on those ideas rather than the important ones.

Well wish me luck getting out of my hole. Oh and on top of everything else my mother in law and mother are coming this weekend. Yahoo!


At 3:59 PM , Blogger ScienceWoman said...

Good luck with everything. I think this is a lesson that some of us are forced to learn time and again.

At 9:50 PM , Blogger SciMom said...

Oh my, I'm not sure which is more stressful - all the work you're doing or having your Mom and mother-in-law visit you at the same time.

I think it's hard to say no to a lot of these things because being asked to talk, being asked to write an invited paper, validates us as scientists. It's a difficult lesson, and one which I think we all struggle with, no matter whether we're new faculty or experienced faculty. I would only say that at this point in your career, you need "bang for your buck". Think about whether the task you are being asked to undertake will serve to advance your career. All the best....

At 11:57 AM , Anonymous tenurestressed said...

That is rough. In hindsight, I wish that I had prioritized more by career importance rather than deadlines. I don't get along that well with my mother in law, so when she comes, I tend to go into "I have to work lots of extra long hours" mode and she and my husband get the kids to bed while I trot off back to work. When she is not in town, I make it top priority to be sure I am home in the evenings, but I make use of her visits to get more work done. This may seem like bad hostess behavior, but she visits several times per year so I do get to see her a fair bit. The only problem is that this might give her the impression that I am more of an absent mom than I really am!


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