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, February 26, 2009

Impostor Syndrome

I can tell that my university has a supportive environment because I always feel like everything is going so well while I am here. When I step outside the nest; however, I am prone to impostor syndrome. When we scientists or engineers get together to talk about our careers and labs and research, we always seem to boast like we are in a fishing contest. Typically it centers around how much work we have to do, but this can be delivered in such a way as to convey how well things are going.

For example, when people ask me how I am doing I am honest that our funding situation could be better.

"Although we had some success (1 grant) we really need more money to keep going."

But I always temper the discussion with, on the good side:

"we are generating lots of publications, in fact I can't keep up with them and they are piling up in my inbox."

Sometimes this is met with commiseration.

"Yeah, I can't get anything funded either and it is absolutely killing me."

But other times it is met with something else:

"Yeah, I don't know how I will handle my 2 RO1s. I just can't get enough students to get all the work done. And papers, I have so many papers to publish that it's just gone beyond the point of me being able to read them."

Now, some of these later types are my friends and I am really happy for them, but when you hear stuff like this it can't help but make you think that you are horribly inadequate and not doing very well.

There are a lot of reasons why someone like this might be "doing better" than me. They come from a higher ranked institution, they have been there longer, they don't have the same family commitments.

My sister
had a nice theory on this. She said that the people who, like me, are not doing as well as the boasters just keep quiet and so while it may seem like everyone is doing better than you that's just because everyone else is keeping silent. Well let's hope so. At least everyone here at midwestern R1U is happy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

An afternoon at Panera

So taking some of the advice from response to my last post, I spent the afternoon @ Panera today. It was absolutely glorious (and not just because of the chocolate chip cookie!). I am serving on a review panel soon and had a giant pile of proposals that were supposed to be reviewed by today. So I spent most of the afternoon going through these in the calm and silence of Panera with no interruptions! I admit reading proposals can be a bit tiresome, so I listened to a bit of Pride and Prejudice books on tape between each one (Ah! Mr. Darcy.) All in all a great afternoon. That said, I am still woefully behind in all my work.

I have three papers stacked up in my inbox. My postdoc just told me that all his experiments are working beyond our wildest dreams and we are thinking of submitting to nature. That would be a fourth paper. The stimulus package just passed and everyone is telling me to submit grants. And I have no time. My class takes up at least 1/2 of my week and stupid meetings seem to consume the rest. I have no idea how to get my head above the water, but am grateful for the travel because at least I won't have to look after kids (or husband for that matter) and can work like a fiend in the evening. Well, here's hoping to good travels.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Scheduling Time to Work

Thanks for all your support as we struggle through our childcare issues. We have interviewed a few good candidates and hope to have a replacement soon. Meanwhile Grandma is filling in as much as she can and we are very grateful.

I haven't been able to get much done lately, as you might imagine with all this drama, but it stems more from time management problems than the nanny situation. I was wondering how you guys handle time for big projects, things like editing a paper and working on grants that can best be accomplished by dedicating large chunks of time rather than 30 minutes here and there. Lately, all I have is 30 minutes here or there and I am finding it very difficult to get these larger things done. I have been thinking about scheduling time to during the week to do them and then refusing to take any meetings or other commitments during this time. The problem is often I need to meet with several other faculty that may only have an opening during that time, but if I plan the meetings then I end up with no time for me. Other than working late or working early (which I can't do until nanny situation is resolved) what do you guys do to handle this issue?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Your week in three words...

I got tagged by this meme (via email) from a friend and am now tagging all of you.

My three words:
Steaming pile of dung (whoops that's four).

This has not quite been the worst week of my life. [That honor still goes to the week that I moved several thousand miles, moving truck got lost, fell @ night while taking care of a 5 week old requiring three stitches, with no medical insurance, cat died, sister-in-law had miscarriage, and mother-in-laws house was hit by a hurricane.]

It all started in September (yes we must go back that far), when our nanny quit, or tried to quit, I should say. She saw that my son was starting full day preschool and that she wouldn't be needed as much (at least in her mind). Eventually, we talked her into working part time, three days a week. We tried to get by with this, but it became clear that it wasn't enough help about a month in.

At that point, we decided to get an au pair. My husband has a friend with young twins and highly recommended the au pair arrangement, especially for us, since we need someone mostly in the morning and evening, but not in the middle of the day. We contacted an agency, filled out the paperwork, and interviewed au pairs, all of which took inordinate amounts of both of our time. We identified a good "match", but she wanted to spend Christmas with her family (reasonable since we are Jewish), so we waited yet another month and she showed up in mid-January.

From the moment she arrived, she professed herself homesick and after only a week in the country, said that she was going to go home. We kept her for one more week then she left. For the short time that she was there, she was very good at her job and I acutally found myself sitting around in the evening with free time!

After she left we were frantic. It takes about a month to get a new au pair because of visas, etc. So we looked primarily at "in-country" au-pairs, which can arrive immediately. These are usually au pairs that, for whatever reason, didn't really fit with their first family and are therefore trying to find a second match.

The girl that we picked had several warning signs, at least in retrospect, but we were stupid and missed them all. She said that she was leaving the current family because they have a special needs child that she thought she could handle, but couldn't (very reasonable). The host family (whom we received only third-party written communication with (our first mistake)) also said that there were some hygiene issues and that she was lax with the children. We were undeterred and had her on a plane within 48 hours.

From the moment she arrived it was clear that it was a horrible mistake, and yet somehow, we allowed it to persist. After her arrival we had dinner together and she chewed with her mouth open spraying food everywhere. It was one of the more disgusting things I have seen in my life. She also is a close talker, so that's a bad combo. I chalked this up to "cultural differences" and discussed it with her after the dinner and there was slight improvement the next day. However, she also said she had been driving for five years, yet when my husband took her out for practice, she nearly wrecked four times, was honked at by several cars. She tried to turn left from the far right lane, didn't seem to understand the concept of turn signals or lane changes, stopped dead in the road several times upon being told that she missed a turn, etc. Given that 50% of her job is schlepping my kids around, this is a problem. But we, undetered, decided to enroll her in driving school (and for that matter were thinking about etiquette school).

The real kicker was the next day when my son had an inservice day. She was home with him while my husband was in and out of the house. He returned from a lunch meeting at 2 PM, and the au pair asked him, "Son says he's hungry. Should I feed him?" Apparently, it didn't occur to her to serve him lunch.

After that, I posted an add for a temporary nanny on our sitter services page. When I got home that night, I was making dinner and she was supposed to be helping my daughter do her homework. When I walked in from the kitched, I found her in the middle of a Cheeze-it food fight (all taking place over carpet) between my daughter and son. She made no attempt to stop it and it appeared to have been taking place for some time. [In case your wondering this is not a normal event in my household, and while my son is at times challenging, my kids are not crazy and uncontrollable.]

At this point I decided we should call to have her removed right away. We finished dinner, and I sent her and the children downstairs for baths. I did the dishes, and went to check on them, everything appeared to be going relatively smoothly, except that my daughter was acting a bit hyper. I sent her to her room to put clothes away, but based on subsequent events, she didn't stay there long.

I returned upstairs and had barely had time to suggest to my DH that we fire this girl, when we heard screaming. You know what I mean, the kind of scream that tells you something is *really* wrong. We ran out of the room and were met on the stairs by daughter and au pair.

Appears that daughter did not stay in her room, and that au pair shut door so rapidly that it crushed daughter fingers. Daughter begs husband and myself to accompany her to hospital, feeling guilty we both go. As soon as car is parked, I ask husband to call au pair agency to have au pair removed. At this point, I am a little worried that au pair is home alone with son and that someone will need to oversee the eviction. So, I return home to boot her out.

I am met at home by the agency local coordinater. Au pair is very upset, but clearly sees why we want to fire her and leaves without much of a scence. Problem now is that DH and daughter are at hospital with no transportation and son is sleeping at home. I cannot leave him alone, so I go to neighbors. Neighbor is happy to watch son, but her DH is away so she can't leave her kids either. So, son is wrapped in blanket and carried (through about 10 F weather) to neighbors house. Fortunately, he doesn't wake up.

I get in car, pick up daughter and DH. Daughter has broken finger, splint for unknown length of time. Get home, carry son back from neighbor's and crash.

I am happy to report that mother-in-law is currently here taking care of whole family (G-d bless her). But after she leaves on W, I am facing a month of no childcare which includes an international business trip for DH and a domestic business trip for me.

If anyone knows a good nanny available right now.....

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Girls don't suck @ Math

One of the things that you will learn about me over time is that I am a little neurotic. I cannot throw out a magazine or newspaper without reading it. I read prolifically, which helps, but am chronically behind, which is why I only just now made it to this article from the July 25 issue of Science.

The gist of the article is...you know how we said that girls weren't as good at math, perhaps something to do with their thought process, maybe their brains are wired differently....yeah we were all wrong about that, sorry.

The study was a meta-analysis, which means it combines lots of data from other studies to yield a giant sample pool, and found no statistically significant difference between girl and boy performances on math tests in grades 2-11 (the grades targeted in the study).

So it seems that the underperformance of girls in math measured in the 70's and 80's might have something to do with the fact that women weren't studying it in large numbers during that time and have nothing at all to do with ability. How would have thought?

Hit Counter by Digits Who links to my website?