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.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Working on Vacation

Well, we are on vacation right now, but as you can see I am not completely disconnected. This whole thing is really bizarre for me right now. All through my PhD and also most of my postdoc, I have always enjoyed and been eager for vacation. Now, I think I would honestly rather be working. This is because I LOVE MY JOB!!! [Okay the fact that I’m on ‘vacation’ with a 2 year old might be a contributing factor.] We are on a cruise (actually in St. Thomas right now), and I told my husband that I’m hoping for research insights similar to those of Darwin on the Beagle. But kidding aside, I have been using this time for the deep mental thought that I normally don’t have time for. I have really been considering some of the key issues in my field and my experimental approaches to them. I haven’t had any serious breakthroughs yet, but here’s hoping.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My postdoc left

Well its a sad day for women in engineering.

Last week my postdoc left. She came to me just before Thanksgiving to tell me that she was having problems with childcare. I made some suggestions to her, but didn't realize the seriousness of the issue until I got an email over Thanksgiving requesting resignation.

She was in a bad sitatuation, but not one uncommon in academe. Her husband was at a different university, and they are both international students. They have a 9 mo old baby. The baby was staying with her, but this was difficult to manage. To be honest, I don't know if I could have done it either.

On a postdoc salary she couldn't afford a nanny, so she used daycare provided by someone in their home. However, she wasn't satisified with this arrangement. The two main problems were the provider and the hours. She didn't like the provider because she saw changes in the baby's temperment and also weight loss. She didn't like the hours because she wanted to work evenings and weekends and the provider is pretty much 9 to 5. This despite my assurances that evenings and weekends are not required or expected.

She tried to get her parents to come and help, but they have children still at home, 1 as young as 6. So they really couldn't come to the US. They offered to take the baby if she sent it abroad, but she and her husband did not want to be separated from their child. She tried to get her in-laws to come and help, but it turns out that in-law problems are universal. Her in-laws never approved of her working and refused to help out if it furthered that goal. This despite their obvious ability to help.

Finally, her husband was offered a permanent position at his university. They can get a green card. She decided to quit and go stay with him. She does not have a job lined up right now, but will look for something, maybe part-time, when she gets there.

Even though she was only here a few months I could tell that she was a really good postdoc. This kind of problem happens everyday, and not just for international students, although it is worse for them. The recent national acadmies report (discussed here in Science Mag) found that fewer than half the spouses of male faculty members in the sciences are employed full-time, whereas 90% of the husbands of women faculty members work outside the home. If we want to hire more women, we will have to hire their husbands too!

I would like to see my university hire an HR liason that would work with two-body couples to help *both* members find jobs on campus or even in local industry. I know that this happens on an ad hoc level for faculty recruits. But how many dual-career postdocs are detered from academia by their negative experiences in obtaining employment at this career level. We need to tackle this problem at the earliest levels to truly have an inclusive inviting atmosphere for women faculty (and their 90% spouses).

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