Realism vs. Negativity

There were some interesting comments on my last post- which detailed some of the crazy scheduling that goes on in our household of two kids, two academic careers. Some of these comments surprised me and kind of tied in to a couple of comments rattling around in my head from a faculty friend.

I attend a small regular gathering of faculty- a mixture of junior faculty and more senior and tenured faculty. Some of the members of this group are of the opinion that more senior people shouldn’t be negative in front of more junior people. While I agree that negativity for the sake of negativity is a bad idea- I disagree that those more senior should leave out what are >1/2 of the important details of their careers- so as only to present positive images. In fact, I STRENUOUSLY disagree.

Why? Because usually when people at these gatherings are negative about something (complaining, frustrated etc)- it’s usually because they are encountering some professional, administrative etc. or personal difficulty.  When that frustrated person details their issue for the group- it means we all can offer solutions, maybe one of us that is better with ‘the system’ already has experience with a particular issue (how to do compliance paperwork, or get compliance folks to respond to requests etc- just for example) , and for those of us who don’t- well, we can learn from those in the group that do. What I’m tryin’ to say here is that rosy faculty lunches, while fun academic faculty bonding experiences, lose a lot of their usefulness if you censor people to the positive.

Now- I know you all are saying to yourselves- how the heck did we get there- from the comments on the last post??? Well, I didn’t want to leave you with the impression from my last post that this double-academic-career-schtick is all bad. Maybe I unintentionally gave that impression to Bikemonkey….who said…

As a counterpoint, it IS possible to choose variations on a theme. In fact this ability to choose is a big plus in the crazy dual science career thing. It is possible to intentionally do less than the max- just so long as you are prepared for the potential consequences.

Just sayin’, for the dismayed readers..

Quite right Bikemonkey- I didn’t want to give the impression from my last post that my life is hell. It is not. Far from it. The scheduling task is immense. But no more immense than any other couple with two kids and two demanding careers (quite right, Mad Hatter)- let’s say physicians or attorneys. But the flexibility to come and go as I please most of the time is a bonus of this career that is rare in other, more traditional demanding careers. If I want to take time off in the middle of the day to go have lunch with my girls at their schools, I do it. I have never missed an event at their schools (well, that’s a lie- I missed K graduation for my older daughter… but I was out of town, and that’s the ONLY school event I have missed in 5 years and I still feel so freaking guilty about it that I had to bring it up here).  In fact, I once missed faculty meeting (GASP!) because I was at an event at my kid’s school.

or Whimple (whom I love to hate, hate to love, whatever)… who said…

Not that you asked or anything, but I don’t think it’s fantastic. By my family’s standards your schedule is dysfunctional. We couldn’t / wouldn’t live taking turns alternating between who “gets to” work from 8:30 am until late in the evening, arriving home after the kids are already asleep for the night.

Whimple- dude, see previous paragraph. In fact looking around at my faculty friends, esp. those in other places with 45 minute + commutes-  we have one of the more ‘functional’ existences going. More functional in fact than some of my stay-at-home mom parents who feed their kids meals in the car on the way to soccer practice, 3 sets of music lessons, and dance class 5 nights a week. We actually sit down at the table for dinner (the three of us that are present), or (gasp again) play with neighborhood kids in the evenings after the homework is done.

But- I digress. I wrote the last post to give you a shot of realism about what this two TT academic career, two kids thing REALLY entails, because I believe that any of you choosing to go this route might want to do so with your eyes open (this one is for you neurolover). You might want to know that there are other people who do it and who survive and thrive doing it. You might want to know when someone else fails at it and what the frustrations are. You might want to know that there is a lot of stuff you could sweat- but not very much of it is worth sweating (like leaving faculty meeting or seminar early for your kids school). You might want to know real details … like how we schedule out our grant deadlines so they don’t overlap. You might want to know you are not the only one handling this …

I know I wanted to know- but no one that I knew when I was in school had two kids and two tenure track careers … in fact I know very few people in my current position that do. N=1.

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13 thoughts on “Realism vs. Negativity

  1. As neurolover wanted in the previous thread, there are us guys out there doing the same thing. My schedule isn’t quite as bad yet because my daughter just started day care when my wife started her job two weeks ago. With that said, we both juggle many things between work and having a child. We are lucky in that we are currently both working at the same institution, but we only have one car. My wife does not have a faculty job here, but we still get in at 7:30 to drop the Wee One off at day care and be at our desks before 8:00. Unfortunately (for me), it also means we have to be out around 5:00 to pick her up as well.

    Even though this schedule has been a hit to my hours in my office, it does allow me to see my daughter more. She goes to bed before 7:00, so otherwise I wouldn’t get to see her all that much during the week. I now do the dinner for Wee One/bath and bed time/adult dinner thing, then head back to the office on the days that I need more hours. It’s worked so far and is not too much different than my non-academic friends who have demanding careers. It is what it is and we wanted to have a family and both love our jobs. If we wanted to make more time for ourselves, we could sacrifice one or the other, but we’re happy.

    It also means that at home we split the duties when it comes to housework, cooking and the Wee One. We alternate which one of us showers in the morning while the other preps breakfast and gets the Wee One settled. We eat together and then the other will shower while the already-showered one cleans dishes and packs up lunch. It has actually not been as crazy as we thought it might be and it just requires some organization… and getting up early, but we don’t get a choice in that either. The Wee One wakes up at or before 6:00 and there is NO snooze on that alarm.

  2. Thanks drdrA, for that realistic insight. I wanted to comment on the last one, but was too busy (two PhD thesis’ to write & two kids). I always thought it would be a plus to have the kids early in the career, so that the “worst” would be over during TT, but it seems I forgot about all the extracurricular activities…

  3. I love the realism, and I think not having it misleads students tremendously. What I do think is important is to be careful not to say that “it can’t be done.” I’ve heard that from too many, usually, women. Someone might read a description, and say that I wouldn’t want to do it that way, but that’s not the same as telling them that it can’t be done.

  4. I personally know at least seven different sets of dual-academic-career families (5/7 of those with both spouses on tenure track), and one of those families had five kids at last count! So it can definitely be done. BTW, Neurolover, I have heard people say that they don’t want to do it, or that it wouldn’t work for them, but I’ve honestly never heard anyone, man or woman, say that it can’t be done.

  5. I’m all for realism, but I’m dismayed at how many times I’ve heard it said that it can’t be done, especially when it comes from (1) female grad students who are in the midst of deciding whether to continue in science, and (2) old farts who are going to vote on my tenure. I consider myself a fantastic example to the contrary – two kids, active research, teaching awards, blah blah blah – and I find it rather insulting to be told it can’t be done. Actually, very insulting.

    Don’t get me wrong – I have made some sacrifices along the way in my career and there are many things I would like to be different. But how many academics have the perfect job? How many academics, male or female, kids or no kids, don’t complain about something? Or, in some cases, everything?

    The only thing I would add to your last post is that two kids are so much more challenging than one, but also so much more fun. And, get this for inspiration: my kids cleaned the house yesterday!! The 5 yo directing the 3 yo….

  6. One more data point for what it’s worth…

    We are a family of 2 TT assistant profs (3.5 years into the positions), a 5 yo and a 2 yo. We live by the bikemonkey view that “It is possible to intentionally do less than the max- just so long as you are prepared for the potential consequences”, and similar to whimple’s comments on last thread, the verdict is still out on whether it will “work” for us.

    Our typical weekday schedule: parents up at 4 am, both exercise and first parent (let’s call him “daddy”) showers by 6 am, daddy gets breakfast for kids and gets them dressed, “mommy” (that’s me) laid out the clothes and made the lunches the night before, mommy gets showered and dressed while kids eat. As an aside, for us an investment in an elliptical trainer and a stationary bike for the spare bedroom was money well-spent in terms of our efficiency and general well-being. Like drdrA I often try to do a little reading, editing, or experiment planning during the exercise time, but I confess that sometimes I indulge in a DVD from Netflix. Daddy leaves around 7:30 with kids to drop off at preschool/daycare, mommy cleans up after breakfast, straightens house, heads to work. We both get there ~8-8:30. Like drdrA, days are busy with meetings, seminars, endless interruptions and trying to keep staff and students on track in the lab; not a lot of writing happens, but I do my best. Daddy leaves work at 5 to pick up the kids and fix dinner, I leave at 5:30-6, we all sit down for dinner ~6-6:30, then clean up dinner, bathe kids, fix lunches for tomorrow, read stories, bed for kids 8-8:30, and I am beat so I go to bed by 9 as well. Of course there are the nights before a big deadline that either mommy or daddy will stay at work until 9, 10, or later, but I would say that happens maybe once every 2 weeks, it is not the regular thing.

    Weekends: we do try to make up some for the lost productivity of our weekday schedule choices– both parents put in ~3 hours each at the office on Sat and Sun, some writing gets done, and catching up on work jobs that slipped off the radar during the week. We usually change shifts around lunch time, meeting at home for a family lunch, and meet again at home for dinner. Maybe once or twice a month we will spend a weekend morning on a family outing all together and I will skip going in to work; daddy almost never makes that choice. On Saturdays, daddy’s time with the kids includes grocery shopping and washing/drying the laundry, mommy’s time with the kids includes folding/ironing/putting away laundry. I would say that we share both childcare and housework pretty equally. On the topic of housework, I wholeheartedly endorse recruiting the help of a housekeeper to do the major cleaning twice a month; this has been a lifesaver.

    Travel: One great big monkeywrench in this finely-tuned schedule is work-related travel. As we academics advance in our careers, we get increasing opportunities and obligations for grant review, invited talks, chairing meeting sessions, coordinating with distant collaborators, etc. I’m am not yet to the stage where I need to travel more than a couple times a year, but my spouse’s professional trajectory has been steeper, and he travels 1-2 times per month. This is exhausting for him, but is at least toward furthering his own career. It also exhausts me and cuts into my work productivity (shorter workdays during the week and no work on weekends), with no comparable professional reward. At times it creates some tension between us. No commenters have yet addressed how they deal with work-related travel, and I’m curious how other families handle it.

  7. DrdrA, thank you for posting your schedule in the previous post. I, for one, found it very informative (despite it overwhelming me). One of the biggest challenges, in my mind, to pursuing an academic career is lack of information of what I’ll actually be getting myself into. So I appreciate your laying it out there for us. Makes the whole career a lot more transparent.

  8. Pingback: Comment on the Comment (Realism vs. Negativity) « Blue Lab Coats

  9. Things aren’t so different if one half of the couple is non-academic but still professional. The arrival of our second son last autumn coincided with moving (house and both jobs, starting new lab as my first independent PI position for me), as well as building a house, so the concept of a ‘schedule’ vanished for a while -but the primary reason for the move was to try to get out of an untenable situation (~4-hour commutes for my wife each day, ~1.5 hours plus child transport/duties for me), so we needed to develop one!

    Not sure that we’re there yet, but right now: up ~7. Earlier is possible for J but frankly not for me on a routine basis. Between us, organise selves and boys – bottles, lunch snack, library books, lunch for J, breast pump parts, laptops, on and on! – and leave with one boy each. If it’s a class morning for me, my drop-dead arrival time at my office is 8.30, and I tend to be up against it; otherwise maybe 15 min later. Similar for J. The thing that has slipped at work is paper writing; I am struggling mightily to get back to more time on that ‘vital but never urgent’ piece. The lab is coming together really wonderfully, though!

    Leave at 4.45 (if teaching day) or 5.15 (if not) to collect one boy; some days to swimming or kickboxing but usually (store and) home. [I hear the effect of multiple child schedules! Right now 2 kids have probably been ~1.8x the workload of one, but it’ll get more demanding I know..] The time that I actually get to do most of my work – class prep, grading, in theory papers and reading – is after ~9 p.m. when boys are in bed, homework done, day discussed, J falls asleep on couch, I’ve finished cooking and cleaning. Bed ~1. Rinse and repeat.

    And little on the weekends normally workwise. Both of us feel hugely guilty for not ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in terms of workload and productivity – especially me when I read academic blogs!! – but this is where we have played out so far. A housecleaner is on the near horizon and should help, but things were supposed to get easier than this… sigh. Maybe – ha! – after the Challenge grants that are due next week and I have not yet started to even &%$*&#(# look at yet… {/*runs off screaming. Well, back to grading actually.*/}

  10. Its really interesting to hear everybody else’s schedules (mine is on the last post). Makes me feel less alone in the struggle!!

  11. The worst part really is the guilt that I should be doing more (combined with fear that all of my competitors *are*, and cold knowledge that I didn’t deserve the job in the first place… which is possibly not true but feels that way!).

    OK, right *now* the worst part is a student paper that includes the phrase “the designated bregma ubiquitously expunged expended glucose and enervated.” Can someone please track down whomever is rewarding folks in Freshman Comp. for random word insertion and shoot them? Argh! [Closely followed by an entire class who just took exam 2 (of 3), which contained a repeat Q from exam 1. Which we had gone over in class following their missing it the first time. And not a single student being able to provide the answer or even an attempt. Grrr… yeah, it’s a ranty day. Sorry :)]

  12. DrdrA,
    Thanks for sharing all of this. While the idea of living on a schedule like that doesn’t sound like great fun, it does sound realistic and fair. Besides, I really don’t see there being too many options when both people in a relationship have demanding careers they want to pursue and kids to boot. It seems to me you either work out a schedule or one of the people in the relationship has to let their career take a backseat while they pick up the slack on the home front. In fact, those two options pretty much sum up all the faculty I have ever met that have a spouse with a PhD. Either they take turns, or one of them just lets their career dreams go.

  13. microbiologist xx- That’s so sad. I couldn’t ask DrMrA to let his career dreams go- and he is the biggest proponent of mine… and don’t get the idea that there isn’t any flexibility in the schedule. One predictable thing about our life, is that almost nothing is predictable. Just when you think you’ve got it all nailed- you realize that you forgot to shop for gifts for two birthday parties, and then one of the kids starts throwing up, and one of the heels falls off your favorite pair of shoes. We just have to roll with the punches. I’ll also mention that I’m looking forward to an extended vacation this summer-since we didn’t take one last year…

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