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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A little aside

If you have a chance please, check out my sister's blog over at Janus Professor. She's having a rough time right now and could probably use support from any of you who might have had miscarriages in the past.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Look Back at My First Year

It is the beginning of a new year here at R1U and I thought it might be a good time to reflect on how far we've come.

First off, general thoughts:
Last year I observed that being a faculty member was like getting kicked in the pants up the side of a steep cliff. I still agree. In many ways, it reminds me of having a baby. The naive blissful pregnancy period followed by the harsh reality of poopy diapers and 3 AM feedings, but combined with awe and amazement at having produced something so beautiful. I love my job. It is the best job in the world. I get to study what I want, when I want, the way that I want. I work on problems that have the possibility of changing the world as we know it.

On the other hand, I feel constant pressure. It is difficult to secure grant money and even after I get one award, I am looking to the next. I am responsible for a growing number of people and I have difficulty committing to support students when my funding situation is only known for 2-3 years and they will be here for 5. But, that is the nature of the job. I have to take it on faith that I will get a grant between now and 2 years from now. And I know I will, I just don't know when or for how much.

We had an amazing year. We went from this:
Lab Week 1 Lab Week 1

To this:
1 Year Later 1 Year Later
1 Year Later 1 Year Later

Since we started up we have put out 2 papers and a review article (all from my postdoc). We also have two promising lines of research that I hope to produce publications soon. We have established three new collaborations.

I wrote 6 grants last year and 1 got funded, 1 I still haven't heard on one(expected Oct).

I lost one postdoc, but gained two in replacement.
I have one Ph.D. student, 1 M.S. student, and 1 BS-MS student
I have 6 UGs and 3 HS students.

On the negative side, I think maybe we have too many people. It is difficult to manage everyone. Although I think I am doing an okay job right now, I am worried about what happens when I teach in the Spring.

My first teaching assignment was okay. I loved it, but my reviews were really mixed. A lot of students slammed me for mistakes on lecture and handout materials. Of course I was writing everything for the first time so it was kind of expected, but students are demanding. Also, I foolishly did not believe that I was much faster than my students at solving problems and made tests that took me the amount of time allotted. Students mutinied. In my second teaching assignment, I slowly adjusted the test length (at least my length when I took it) until I found the right multiplier, which in my case turned out to be 5. So I take tests 5 times faster than my students, which I still find hard to believe. I think things will be better this year.

This is perhaps my favorite part of the job. This year I had a chance to serve as a consultant to our local science museum, to teach HS teachers how to use -ology in their curriculum, to design experiments for middle school students in -ology, and to demonstrate -ology to my daughter's pre-K class. It was awesome. I love the chance to bring science to the local community and especially to bust stereotypes about the kinds of people who do science. I try especially hard to be stylish when serving in these outreach roles.

In summary, as Frank Sinatra would say, "It was a very good year..."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's that time of year

Thank you so much for your comments on my last post. It is really hard sometimes to know why kids do what they do and easy to assume that parenting is the root of the problem. Moving my sons bedtime earlier helped a lot, and also I have been much firmer with him and can say that we have seen an improvement. We also met with the teacher and found out that she wasn't that concerned, she just noticed that my son is hard to discipline. (All too true.) I think we are on the upward swing.

This time of year is hard for all of us. My husband is returning to the 2nd year of his MBA program. It should be easier, but there will be a few night classes, so some single parenting nights are in my future. My daughter started Kindergarten, which is really a step up from preschool. She actually has homework, virtually all related to coloring or writing, but homework nonetheless. She has always really liked school so I was disappointed to find her relatively uninterested in HW. She tends to do the minimum to get by and I am trying to encourage her to really commit to each assignment. My son returned to preschool and as you can see has had some trouble adjusting. And me...well I'm blogging from home today because it is the 1st day of class and I spent 30 minutes looking for parking and couldn't get any so I packed up and went home. Things are busy for me. It is the Jewish holiday season so I have missed a few days for that. I had two faculty retreats (one for each department that I am in), and I turned in a major proposal last W. Today is a bit of a breather before launching into the next one.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My son is a bully

So yesterday I get home from work and the nanny tells me that my son is throwing things at, kicking and biting other children (not all on the same day thank G-d). We discussed an action plan and have a good strategy outlined, but I am disappointed. Am I a bad parent? Am I not spending enough time with my children? All these thoughts are running through my mind.

As background, my son, who is 3, has always been difficult. He doesn't really listen and typical punishments (time outs, loss of privileges) don't seem to alter his behavior. Positive reinforcement works, but only when an immediate reward is possible. He doesn't have a long enough attention span to remember that a reward will come at the end of the day or even the end of the morning. I am very frustrated with him, as he is in stark contrast to my angelic daughter who pretty much listens and does whatever she is told.

In diagnosing this specific problem, we realized that he has also been having potty training issues (see last post) where there were none before and taken together the acting out and potty training could be signaling a traumatic change in his little life. We realized that he recently started preschool, and although he went last year, he was only 3 days/wk and now he is 5. Also, because my daughter started kindergarten, we had to move his nap time so that she can be picked up from school. This is bad because if my son has a rough day, there is no opportunity for additional sleeping because we have to pick up my daughter. Nap time can't be adjusted because it is sandwiched between preschool dismissal and picking up my daughter. So the first step of the plan is to move his bed time earlier.

The next step is to identify methods of feedback from the teacher and a positive/negative reinforcement system to go with that. My mom suggested having the teacher right a quick good or bad behavior note that my son would have to share with myself and husband every day. If he was good then institute positive reinforcement (i.e., extra book with mom or dad); if he is bad institute negative reinforcement (i.e., time out in room, no TV).

We think this is a good strategy, but my son has been so difficult I am asking you guys if you have any suggestions. Also has this happened to any of you? Am I a bad parent, or is this sort of normal to happen once in a while? I feel terrible.

Friday, September 07, 2007

My last 18 hours

There are many reasons that I love my job, but I never thought that avoiding vomit and excrement would be one of them. Last night was a banner night and I cannot tell you how happy I am to be in my office right now.

It started when I walked in the door last night. I had stayed late because my daughter's school had a parents night and we booked a sitter so I knew I didn't need to make dinner. I walked in the door to see my husband holding my daughter's hair as she leaned over the toilet puking. The nanny was explaining that it started about an hour ago. Within about 30 seconds, the doorbell rang and reliable sitter entered. Turns out reliable sitter is a gem. He is mature, responsible, and has 3 younger siblings. He was not phased by the stream of projectile vomit and agreed to sit even though my daughter was vying for a role in the exorcist.

I proceeded to show him where all the food for dinner was, give cell phone numbers, discuss bedtime routine etc. I told him to promptly call if there was any change in her condition. Even though she was obviously sick, she had no fever, and seemed to be totally fine (as in ready for the playground lets run around kind of fun) when not leaning over a toilet. So my husband and I decide to attend the parents night.

As I am preparing my husband points out that my daughter actually missed the toilet fairly significantly and as it is well known that he has a vomit aversion would I er...well...clean it up. So I throw a robe over my clothes pull out my "ewww" gloves and start cleaning. Turns out he did not exaggerate. It was on the sides of the toilet, the floor, and even the wall. Thank g-d for Clorox.

So we go to the event which was fine, we come home, and she hasn't been sick since we left. Great, sigh of relief, get children in bed. Go do yoga. As I am sitting in the last part of the meditation beginning to feel truly relaxed, my daughter appears upstairs, face covered in well..you know...saying she had an accident could I please come help her.

So...I put husband in charge of cleaning daughter and begin to clean her bed...only to find that the waterproof sheet looks more like a shredded flag in the heat of battle. I instruct husband to get steam cleaner, at which point I realize that my bare feet are wet, which could only mean one thing.

So I clean the bed and the floor, tell husband to search for back-up waterproof sheet and make bed. Daughter is sitting in the corner of the room whimpering, while we say its fine don't worry no one's mad at you, we love you. Okay, bed gets made.

At this point I should mention that our washing machine broke on Monday. I'm setting here thinking either I risk the machine, which leaked copious amounts of water on the floor last time or I go to a Laundromat TONIGHT. I go for the machine and pray. Turns out last time when it "broke" husband added waaay to much soap so it probably just oversuds. Machine completes cycle I go to bed.

Sleep was actually good. Husband has left for gym, he got up at 5. Wake-up retrieve sheets from dryer. Realize that daughters lovey "bunny" is not there. She has had this lovey since she was born. Horrible realization occurs that bunny is probably in trash with towels used to clean up mess. I put on robe (still covered from last night in yucky), dust mask, and eeww gloves and begin to dig through trash to find bunny. Bunny, looking disgusting, is found and tossed in washer with robe. More prayer to the appliance gods that washer completes cycle.

Everything seems under control. Daughter is sleeping. Son is getting dressed for preschool. Start to make breakfast. Son begins crying. Go see what problem is. Son has had an "accident" is standing in giant pile of excrement.

Go to laundry room put on eeww gloves and clean up excrement. Son is still crying. Clean up son, help him get dressed. Phone rings. It is nanny. I pick up the phone and beg her to get here. She says there is massive traffic jam will be late (at least she was not ill). Eat breakfast. Continue to get son ready. Nanny arrives. I race out the door thinking how glorious it will be to be in my office in 15 short minutes. Looking forward to an exciting day at work, after all I'll take a faculty meeting over vomit and excrement any day.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New School Year Resolutions: First Report

Well my new year's resolution are underway:

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
I attended a pool party for my son's preschool. I met one new parent (a dad) and unfortunately he spent most of the time talking to my husband about technology, but it counts for something. I'm still waiting for the volunteer list to come out for my daughters school.
  • I will try to make at least one new friend
My husband has a coworker who adores period romances (think Jane Austen). I tried to schedule a first meeting to go see "Becoming Jane" together, but our schedules haven't worked out. I will have to work harder on this.
  • Go to lunch at least once per qtr with my old ones.
Well we didn't go to lunch, but I have had meetings with both members of my lunch group to discuss possible research collaborations in the last week. Given that 1/2 to a 1/4 of the time was spent talking about kids that's got to count for something.

And although it is not on my list I am 2/3 through the sweater that I have been knitting for 3 years and vowed to finish before winter. Note 1/2 of progress is within last two weeks so this is meaningful.

So here's hoping to a better year next year, with more friends, activities, and dare I say grant money.

Hit Counter by Digits Who links to my website?