Comment on the Comment (Realism vs. Negativity)

I started out the week writing about my crazy family schedule– and then blabbered on about the importance of showing folks interested in this career what it really looks like.. day in, day out … from the inside. Many of you have posted comments on my two previous posts- and I’m just delighted by this. But gosh- it always comes back to Whimple’s comments.  His comment on the thread on my last post touched on lots of things –  what effect such crazy schedules might have on kids, on marriage, on my ability to be fair or family friendly later on in my career … should I be promoted… sit on study section etc. etc. ..

So, I started out writing a reply to Whimple- and to others of you who commented on the last post- and it just became too long… so I made it a post instead. Here goes:

Whimple-  I adore you too- but believe me, I’ve seen it all.

First, our schedule wasn’t always so crazy.  We seem to go in cycles of crazy and sane schedule wise. When I did my Ph.D., I did not have children until the very end. I worked very 8-5 , and rarely (unless to take care of cell culture) on the weekends- same after my older daughter was born for about 2 years time. In my fourth year of vet school- there were periods of craziness depending on what clinical rotation I was on.  This was unavoidable, because horses just don’t foal 9-5, and that little dog with the flail chest might crash, and it won’t be on your schedule. When I was a postdoc and my husband was a pre-tenure TT faculty,  and our children were small, our work/family schedule was easier- mostly because I bore most of the child care responsibility, and I wasn’t particularly invested in my job at the time.

Second, I’m not going to lie to you- our schedule has been nuts in the last 2 years- with cycles of continuous grant writing- while hours spent grant writing may feel productive (we write lots of pages)-unless the grant gets funded, they are not.  But these hours take away from actual productive work – running the lab, mentoring and paper writing (the only work that counts by NIH standards, I’m depressed to say). No papers… no grants … vicious cycle. I hope we are going to break that cycle now. And- needless to say- no grant equals NO JOB. I have lots of skills and am not afraid of doing something else- but I have chosen to give this career a try and give it my best effort. … and my kids are now old enough to keep telling me they don’t want to move away from this town and their friends, and they say that I better get my grant.

Third, my children are no longer day-care age (as they were at earlier points in my career). They are school age, and with school age come after school sports/ events/ and extracurricular activities- and also school events that occur during the middle of the day as well. Now we are not just juggling two adult schedules, we are also juggling schedules of two sets of kids events and activities. Instead of 2x schedules to manage, we’ve got 4x. It’s actually exponentially more difficult. (Kind of like 2 kids is more than twice the work of one.)

Fourth- then there is marriage. DrMrA is, as I’ve stated before on this blog, the bedrock of my existence. We have been together almost two decades. I’m not going to lie to you about that one either- we have so much joy- but we can also be as pissed off at each other as the next couple. There will ALWAYS be competing influences that challenge our relationship – whether they are job issues, whether they are kid issues, whether they are aging parent issues or whatever (and I can tell you we have them all!)… but in my heart I know that we have a marriage that we are both committed to- and if adjustments need to be made, they will be. And, I suppose I failed to mention that we frequently see each other during the work day- as our offices are close.  This is something we have been fortunate to be able to do for most of our relationship.

And finally- how will I behave when and if I’m so fortunate to get tenure, be promoted, and sit on P&T or study section?  I suppose only time will tell. But- I will say this. All of my grad students and my post-doc have kids (in fact, most of them have TWO kids). Two babies have been born to lab members in the last three years- and there may yet be another. One of my lab members bears the majority of the child and household responsibility because the spouse travels continuously for job responsibilities. These lab members are pretty 8-5, but when something critical needs to get done- they find a way. Personally, I think this is an excellent thing- a life skill really- that I hope I’ve been able to teach them by example. Since I’ve been here we’ve recruited 4 faculty members, the majority were women, the majority were people with children … most had >1 child. So, I think I should be judged not by what I might do at some hypothetical point in the future, not by what I might think- but by what I have actually done to change the face of science (or just my institution), or the family friendliness of science by my own actions. When it comes to P&T and study section- I might actually have to be on the inside to be able to change things for the better- I’m doing my best to make this happen.

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9 thoughts on “Comment on the Comment (Realism vs. Negativity)

  1. Not to forget: since as a scientist, we work on things we like, we find intriguing and our work is quite satisfying on a personal level. For me, that affects my general attitude towards life, and my behavior at home. With a less satisfying job, a schedule like yours (or ours, which is BTW similar, but more flexible) might seem tough or may affect the kids. But I believe that an overall positive atmosphere of a family home is more important than the total time spend – we can better spend less, but quality time with our families than more but grumpy time because of a not fulfilling job.

  2. fia- Excellent point. Really excellent. I love my job- I find the subject matter fascinating. I have the freedom to pursue the projects I find interesting and important- and that I hope will make a difference. There is a lot of power in that. I want my kids to see that- that they can make a career doing something that they really enjoy- there is nothing like a live demo. And yes- of course- I’m a much happier person doing the job that I do, than I would be otherwise. And I really believe that to be true.

  3. These lab members are pretty 8-5, but when something critical needs to get done- they find a way. Personally, I think this is an excellent thing- a life skill really- that I hope I’ve been able to teach them by example.

    But for the last two years, this isn’t the example you have been setting. Maybe there’s lessons to be had from your lab members. 🙂

    So, I think I should be judged not by what I might do at some hypothetical point in the future, not by what I might think- but by what I have actually done to change the face of science (or just my institution), or the family friendliness of science by my own actions.

    It’s not a judgement, and my opinion of you is positive, not that some anonymous opinion on the internet would matter in any event. I think in a lab setting most leadership comes from example, rather than instruction. It is going to be a tricky business, if you endorse the 8-5 + temporary mission-critical extensions life model of your students, to explain to them why they should behave as you say, rather than behave as you do.

  4. Whimple- It all hangs on your definition of temporary- and how long it takes for something critical to get done. For me – 6-9 months is temporary, at the stage I’m at. The last 2 years have been hard, not always because I’ve been the one working crazy hrs. – there have been long stints of that in the other half of my academic career couple. Thus, I think I have shown my trainees by example that when a job needs to be done you step up and do it- and this isn’t 24/7 365 day a year thing for me- sometimes it is a 6 month thing- and then there are periods that are easier. When children are sick or otherwise need care, I drop what I’m doing. I pay almost no attention to my trainees absences for any reason (because they are all extremely responsible and honest)- because these usually have to do with child care, illness, and other legitimate issues that are none of my business and are genuine work-life balance things.

    But also importantly-, the employment of my trainees hangs on my ability to get funding to keep them employed. They know that their ability to do science (i.e. stay in the lab) depends on me being able to bring $$. Period. This is a huge responsibility, one I don’t mind- but I can’t always do what you might consider perfect pc behaviour- while I’m bailing water from the ship!

    And I didn’t mean to imply that you were judging me- I meant that in a more general way.

  5. Whimple- It all hangs on your definition of temporary- and how long it takes for something critical to get done. For me – 6-9 months is temporary, at the stage I’m at. The last 2 years have been hard, not always because I’ve been the one working crazy hrs. – there have been long stints of that in the other half of my academic career couple. Thus, I think I have shown my trainees by example that when a job needs to be done you step up and do it- and this isn’t 24/7 365 day a year thing for me- sometimes it is a 6 month thing- and then there are periods that are easier. When children are sick or otherwise need care, I drop what I’m doing. I pay almost no attention to my trainees absences for any reason (because they are all extremely responsible and honest)- because these usually have to do with child care, illness, and other legitimate issues that are none of my business and are genuine work-life balance things.

    But also importantly-, the employment of my trainees hangs on my ability to get funding to keep them employed. They know that their ability to do science (i.e. stay in the lab) depends on me being able to bring $$. Period. This is a huge responsibility, one I don’t mind- but I can’t always do what you might consider perfect pc behaviour- while I’m bailing water from the ship!

    And I didn’t mean to imply that you were judging me- I meant that in a more general way.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  6. drdrA (of the last comment)- Ok, this is confusing- perhaps you could choose another screen name… otherwise there are two of us goin’ by the same name which complicates things for readers of the comments… just sayin’

  7. Just wanted to add my two cents as another person very grateful for all the realistic views into your daily life and everyone else who has posted their schedules in the comments. It’s extremely important for those of us not yet in the midst of such precarious juggling acts to see the variety of ways different dual-career couples have chosen to manage their work and family balance.

    P.S. – DrDrA, I think you’re talking to yourself. That middle comment was just a copy of the previous comment with “P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!” stuck on the end. Not sure how it happened, but I don’t think anyone is trying to steal your pseudonym…just sayin’ ;-P

  8. Aspiring Mommy-scientist… Yeah- I thought I was talking to myself too- until I noticed that the duplicate comment didn’t come from my IP address, didn’t have my email address attached to it, and had a link to a different blog! Clearly, it’s either not me, or I have another personality that I don’t know about. 🙂

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