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.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Childrearing Makes Men (and Women?) Smarter

I came across an interesting blurb in Popular Science recently (Nov 2006, p. 46):

So, parenting boosts mental activity? What a shock.

When comparing myself to other researchers who are not parents, I see dramatic differences. Most notably in the way that I manage my time. Anyone with a toddler knows how difficult it can be to complete a task without interruption. [Mommy I have to go to the potty. I'm hungry. Help.] And so as parents, we learn and adapt. We learn to plan important tasks like showering and bubble baths for the evening when said toddler is asleep. We learn that other tasks like laundry can be accomplished in bits and spurts in between toddler requests. As the kids get older we learn how to work on a proposal to the last possible minute before racing across town to enthusiastically cheer on the preschooler's soccer performance. We learn how to bring the preschooler to religious school, violin lesson, and go grocery shopping with the previously mentioned toddler every single Sunday while not going insane (this has a lot to do with putting a DVD player in your car.)

Yet, all of this experience translates directly to my ability to run a lab. I can handle it when my students constantly interrupt me, they are far less troublesome than the toddler at home. I have no problem working on papers and proposals 30 minutes at a time, that is probably a more solid block than I get when my kids are awake. I don't sweat the deadlines. I know that things always seem to work out somehow, someway, and that I can plan for them.

I think that parenting makes me a better scientist. Now if I could only find a way to link that to my tenure application...Fabulous scientist with lots of pubs AND managed to raise two decent (okay debatable) kids.


At 6:14 PM , Anonymous JF, scientist said...

If only they put useful life experiences in the tenure file! "Cared for friend in chemo for three months." "Didn't smack my toddler even once." "Collegial and friendly even at home."

At 12:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised there is more activity in parents' brains, not that most of that is happening in the prefrontal cortex. I would be shocked, however, if that actually translated into increased productivity and performance. You often seem more activity in harder tasks, as well as decreased accuracy. Just sayin' (as a mom of young children).


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