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, August 29, 2007

Research is a Rollercoaster

Do you ever feel like one day you just made the most significant discovery in some time and you'll have a Nature paper for sure, and then the next day you find that it's not as great as you thought it was and you need a lot more characterization before you can publish and even then it probably isn't as significant as you thought?

I go through that a lot.

We had a very productive summer here. I had two undergrads, plus my grad students, postdocs, and a rotation student working full time. I had the UGs and rotations student mostly working on things that I thought were not likely to work, but might have a great impact if they did. Remarkably most things worked out, which is great. But, everyone is going back to school now and I am afraid our momentum will be lost. On each of the three projects we are about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way to a paper, and given that our lab has yet to produce an independent paper (not from my postdoc or PhD) I really want to get some of this out!

The problem is that in some cases the student is returning to class, in other cases the project still needs a lot of characterization and that characterization makes the difference between publish now and the garbage bin. For example, in one case we had a really great result. We produced something that a lot of people are trying to make and did it in a pretty easy way that no one had thought of, BUT...the properties are not ideal. It seems like we should be able to fix this easily, but if the student is not there to work on it...and if we can't fix it...

These are the things that I worry about now. We are doing okay on money and I am writing lots of grants, but now we need to PUBLISH!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Years Resolutions (in August)

Thanks for all your comments on my last post. I am feeling encouraged enough that I am making a new year's resolution (even though it is well into the year). It feels like a new year to me though because as an academic, I am more in tune with the school cycle than any other. So I resolve that this year I am going to become more involved...with everything. I will try to attend at least one parent event at each child's school and I will try to make at least one new friend and go to lunch at least once per qtr with my old ones. I am a little nervous, but also excited.

Things here continue to be good. My daughter started kindergarten yesterday. Many of the parents were weepy, but I was only mildly so. I love school so much, I was really excited for her more than anything else. She had a great time and can't wait to go back. My son starts a new year of preschool on Monday, and soon we return to "normal" routine. Oh well...there goes my 1/2 hr of sleeping in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Top 10 vs everyone else

I had a chat with a friend from grad school a few days ago. He is a professor a few years ahead of me, but not yet tenured. He is at a top 10 institution and I am not. It was really amazing the difference between these two. I called him to pitch a project idea that I have and think is good. He liked the idea, but kept talking about the dangers of working in this field. There is a lot of competition and in many ways our small community is challenging the larger paradigm of big fish types. We can get a lot of unfounded criticism from people because they just can't imagine that what we propose would work even though we have data to back it up.

Talking to him was really quite depressing. I realize that there is a lot of competition and that some people may not see the novelity of my work or even agree with my ideas, but I don't see this as a huge pressure point. There are enough people who *do* like what I am doing that I can get funding and publish. Slowly, as data accumulates, we will be able to bring the other guys around. I don't feel that these issues limit my career. Yet it seemed that my friend does. I think this is because at a top 10 university there is a lot of pressure not just to raise money and publish, but to raise the most money and publish in the best journals. That's a lot to think about for anyone. Meanwhile, I would love to do these things, but I don't feel that they are required. And, I truly believe that the release from this kind of stress makes me a better scientist. I can focus on my work and not worry about getting scooped. It would be unfortunate, but we will still be able to publish somewhere and that is enough. I wonder if any of you have seen this kind of dichotomy? Why do people go to top 10 schools if there is going to be this much pressure? How does that contribute to work life balance? I'm pretty happy here, but I could see how all that added pressure would impact my family life. When it comes down to it I feel pretty lucky to be where I am.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Another sacrifice of Dr. Mom

I know I talked about this in one of my previous posts, but it is bothering me again. One of the greatest sacrifices that I have made to have both career and family is the sacrifice of my time, and particularly outside friendship. This is coming to light because I am in the middle of a disagreement in my family, and it strikes me that right now they are my major support. Although I am fairly extroverted, I have always found it difficult to form friendships that extend beyond work. For one thing, my time is so limited I can hardly keep my head above the water, making time for a weekly or even monthly girls night out feels selfish.

But another problem, at perhaps a deeper level, is that I often feel that I intimidate others, particularly the parents of other kids at school/preschool. As soon as I describe what I do, even in the most rudimentary form (i.e., I teach at the university), people are intimidated. It's not that I broadcast these activities, but what kind of work do you do is always a question that gets brought up somewhere in the initial conversations. Not to mention that my nanny does most of the child transporting so parents know that I work outside the home and are curious about what kind of work that is.

This, I think, as made me a little shy, and for the last several years I have had few close friends, and those I do have are directly involved in academics. I know that I should get more involved, especially in kids activities as this is a natural talking point, but I am always a little nervous about this. I guess I need to pluck up a little courage and make a little time and go for it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Dr. Mom Challenge

I am putting together a video, to be distributed to 3rd graders, introducing them to science and engineering careers. The video will include STEM professionals at local companies demonstrating cool engineering technology and faculty doing the same. However, for the last few minutes of the video I would like to quickly show the diversity of individuals working in STEM careers. I thought it might be neat to have as many different kinds of people as possible record short (~ 30 sec) videos showing themselves and the technology that they influence, particularly technologies that kids could relate to.
For example, my sister works on batteries (shout out to her), so she could hold up a cell phone and say "Hi, my name is Sister, and I work on the batteries that run cell phones." I think it would be best to use first names only because it is more personal and will create a more intimate feeling with the viewers.

So my challenge to you is can you send in videos showing yourself doing something cool or showcasing the cool technology that you work with? Also, can you pass on this request to as many people as you can think of that would be interested.

Please send videos in MPEG format to http://upload.mediamax.com/Upload/Upload.aspx.

Enter mommyscientist as the user name and you can upload your file. [Ignore the login at the top of the page.] It's my best attempt to preserve anonymity where desired.

Thanks and I look forward to seeing the videos!

Hit Counter by Digits Who links to my website?