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.

On Juggling

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the tight scheduling required to run my household, family, and career- and this morning I was looking over the posts in my reader and noticed something from Isis on some of the changes causing disarray in her universe. You want to know what being inside my life is really like on a daily basis- raising two active daughters, with an academic career myself and having a spouse with an academic career? Here is your big chance.

I’m up at 6:15- and some mornings I roll directly out of bed into my gym clothes. I wake up the kids, scarf down a banana, and I am out the door by 6:45 to go to the gym.  During my hour of cardio I’m reading something- like perhaps that prelim, or a manuscript draft that I’ve been working on.  I make it to work by 8:30 or so for a day of endless interruptions. DrMrA wrangles the kids- breakfast, lunches, backpacks…. and making sure everyone is appropriately dressed (not so easy with my girls who seem to want to wear shorts and t-shirts even when it is 40 degrees outside)- and getting one to the bus stop on time at 7:25, and the other to school at 7:30- then he heads off to work. Things work this way 3/5 mornings per week.  On the other mornings- I stay home to see everyone off and DrMrA takes off early.

Now- the kids are in school until mid-afternoon, and we have a sitter that picks up the LittleA, takes her home, sits with her to do homework and piano practice.  Things weren’t always like this- we previously had both kids in an after-school program at their school, where they could stay until 6 pm.  While this was economical- it wasn’t perfect. When the kids were at this program, they would come home exhausted, and we would always have some sports practice of some sort- soccer, or music lessons to attend. So- on those nights (which was 4 nights out of the weekday last year), I would leave my office at 4:30- pick up kids at school, we would go directly to practice for the one child- I would take the other child and we would arrange some dinner- (a car picnic as my kids like to call them), before picking up the now totally beat kid (after 1.5 hr on the soccer field), then we would either head home or off to the practice/lesson for the other child. On such nights- which were really more the rule than the exception- we wouldn’t get home until 7:30 or so- and the kids and I were basket cases.  I have a rule that each child can do no more than 2 extra-curricular activities- but you can still see that if one of these activities is a sport that the schedule is totally insane. But I digress- The arrangement with the sitter makes life easier- this is because she also has a car, and she can take the children to their various practices during the 3 pm-6 pm hours, at least one way.

DrMrA and I negotiate who is going to be home ‘early’.  By ‘early’ I mean 6 pm, when one of us arrives to let the sitter go and start dinner.  In the last 6-9 months, I have worked late nearly every week night. Why?  I simply have a hard time getting all the writing of papers, grants, and revising of text done during the day. There is always some fire that needs to be put out, some faculty meeting to attend, some teaching to be done, some job candidate (this can steal like 3-4 hours from your week per candidate) or seminar speaker ( at least a 2 hour deal to attend the seminar and talk with the speaker one on one) coming though, not to mention the day to day running of the lab and talking with my own students etc., that has to happen during regular business hours. This schedule was exhausting for me, and it lasted for some time such that DrMrA’s days at work were very short- which I know was frustrating for him. The pendulum has now swung the other direction such that DrMrA is having many more late evenings because he has a few upcoming deadlines. But, I hope you can appreciate that things are almost NEVER shared 50/50- it’s been more like 90/10 one direction, and now 80/20 in the other direction. This is just something we have accepted, and although it sometimes causes tension, we have learned to live with it.  Also note that although our offices are quite close together- we could not carpool and be able to have such a schedule.

From the time we hit the door in the evening we have about 2 hours with the children. This time includes making sure homework got done, playing out doors if possible, reading together,  running any errands that just can’t wait, getting ready for the next day, bathing and bedtime. And the children need to talk to us- it is no longer like when they were babies and we could finish the diaper change and multi-task while they were playing/eating/ etc. Now they are older and they need 100% of our attention, they need guidance- and this isn’t something that can be multi-tasked. Anyway, while I make the two hour evening hours sound pretty easy- the children- who remember have been at it essentially since 6:30 am, are tired and not as agreeable as they might be if their days weren’t so darn long.  The kids go to bed between 8 pm and 8:30 pm- and when I’m home with them this usually means that I have about an hour or two where I can work (or blog!) uninterrupted until DrMrA gets home.  If he comes home earlier we can actually have some semblance of grown up time, if not I am usually awake enough to have a 15 minute conversation before I pass out with exhaustion. Only to do it all again the next day.

I haven’t even mentioned when or how the house gets cleaned, the lawn gets mowed, groceries magically end up in the house, the bills get paid, the kids get to the dentist/the doctor etc, …nor have I mentioned my aging parents, my sister,  bla bla bla…

Does this schedule work? Yes, it works. Is it always fun?  No, it’s not always fun, and I don’t always know that I’m doing the right thing for myself or for my kids. There are days I’d like to give up my career and work part-time as a veterinarian in some clinic with lovely short hours (9-3), sure there are.

But- I don’t think I’d last very long at it- because the truth is that despite how crazy the schedule sounds- it all ends up working somehow.

Tenure Clock Stoppages and Productivity: Re-post

I have previously posted about tenure clock stoppages and the fact that there is no concurrent NIH productivity clock stoppage (then there was a follow up post as well)… I thought that in light of the discussion about gender over at Drugmonkey, which in recent comments seems to have shifted back around to tenure clocks and the productivity gap… I would re-post my original thoughts on the matter here for anyone who missed it the first time or would like to continue the discussion we were having at that time – see below for the text of the original post.

I see that Drugmonkey has also posted a round-up of all the posts on other sites driven by the conversation that’s been going on around the blogosphere about this in the last few days.

Ok, here’s what I wrote the first time:

The P word: P for Productivity.

I’m thinking a lot about this right now… and I want to put this in the context of tenure clocks. Continue reading

It’s the season…Academic Job Search Reposts..

It’s prime season for looking for an academic position. Departments have evaluated their needs and desires for hiring for fall 2009, have put out their ads and are looking for the best candidates. I know several postdocs out on the academic job search trail even as I write, and even my own department is hiring. Before I have to spend a good portion of my time in the gym working off all those dinners I’m about Continue reading

Dissolving the Lab

No, not mine. HA- fooled you. I’m down at the moment, but not out- at least not yet. On my last post… Enrique left a comment about PIs having to dissolve their labs…

Topic: what happens when your PI’s gov. grant is not renewed (resubmission # > 1) and the concomitant dissolvation of the lab. Anyone want to hunker a guess on the time said dissolvation will take?

Well, I’ve had a front row seat to this for the last couple of years. DrMrA was struggling with his renewal for more than two years. I don’t usually share too much about DrMrA- he’s not into publicity- so I’ll just share how this went from where I was sitting. First, Continue reading


The end of the week is within reach. I am overwhelmed with work at the moment… so this will be only a brief celebratory post.

DrMrA found out this morning that he was awarded a federal grant that he applied for. After submitting in the neighborhood of 20 federal grant proposals and struggling with funding quite a bit in the last 5 years (despite excellent productivity and good journals) Continue reading

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 13)

Your seminar-giving, interviewing, chalk-talking skills are going to get better and better the more interviews you go on. But you will not get better at waiting for the search committee to decide on their favorite candidates. As Physioprof pointed out in the comments to my last post about this (Pt. 12), it’s very appropriate to inquire about the status of a search, and inform the chair of other offers once you have an offer in an institution of equal or greater quality (I don’t know if that’s the right word but you get my drift). Every search committee I have been on has interviewed all 4-5 candidates they flagged for an interview before they have a discussion about/make a decision on who is the top candidate. I think that sometimes when there is a clear favorite, an offer goes out prior to this- but I haven’t personally seen a situation where that happened. Then, if you are the lucky winner, the chair of the hiring department Continue reading

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 11)


Now that we have covered the preparation and practice of your interviewing ‘seminar’ and the chalk talk- we can spend a few minutes on the interview itself. Usually the inviting department will prepare a schedule for your visit- hopefully you will get a copy of this schedule a few days before you are to travel. Make sure you get a copy in advance… if necessary, ask nicely. Continue reading

Now what?

Well, my soccermom-dom has reached a critical point. Most of the members of my older daughter’s soccer team, including the coach, are going to go competitive next season (i.e. no longer ‘recreational’ now ‘club’). This transition involves try-outs, and if she makes the team there will be lots of traveling to games out of town, two tournaments per semester, and a much longer soccer season. The traveling will involve at least 3 hours of driving for 1/2 of the season’s games, in addition to two practices per week and the regular schedule of home games that we currently have.

I am honestly conflicted about whether or not we should let her play up to club soccer. Continue reading

Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 5)

Moving from the RESEARCH TRACK to the TENURE TRACK…

There is no delicate way to talk about moving from the research-track to the tenure-track. Many institutions have Assistant Professor for Research positions (on the non-tenure track, also sometimes called Assistant Professor(R) and may be similar to Instructor positions). These are useful positions, because typically they allow you to write and submit your own grants, but in reality they are glorified post-doc positions in many cases. These are generally soft-money positions- meaning that the institution doesn’t contribute much (if at all) to the salary of these employees. Different institutions have different requirements for giving these titles, and different policies about how the salary gets paid. I am not trying to be overly negative about these positions (I had one myself, after all)- because actually they give you something you didn’t have as a post-doc- the ability to write/submit/and hold a federal grant…. And this is enormously valuable prep and pay for if and when you seek a tenure track position.

Make no mistake though- a tenure-track position will not be handed to you as the next step up in the department where you are non-tenure track faculty. You will have to go out on a national job search, and probably get a written offer from another institution- before the institution where you are non-tenure track faculty will offer to put you on the tenure track. Why? I hear you cry. It’s pretty simple. Departments like to hire candidates that they think are competitive in the market, and that are going to be able to successfully get federal grants. They have to use their judgment in many cases on that second part- but as for the first part- how can you possibly be considered competitive in the market if you apply for only one tenure-track job…. In the department where you are currently non-tenure track? Right- you won’t be.

I have met a whole lot of two-academic-science-career couples where ½ of the party is in a non-tenure track faculty position… usually the woman. From personal experience I know that these fine and capable women will NOT be offered a tenure track role without a going on a national job search- even if the tenure-track (or tenured) part of their party is federally funded, a great colleague etc. Unfair, maybe- shortsighted, probably- and in fairness there are lots of reasons for this that would take me pages and pages to elaborate upon (note both PP and Drug Monkey’s comments). So- if you are in a non-tenure track position and have aspirations for a tenure track one (regardless of your situation) don’t WAIT for a tenure track job to fall from the sky, and don’t wait for one HOPING that somebody notices how hard you are working and how valuable you are. YOU MUST ACTIVELY GO ON A FULL FLEDGED JOB SEARCH, even if what you want is to convert your current non-tenure track position into a tenure track one…

Ok, gotta go- getting questionable sideways glances from other soccer moms… plus I have twice almost gotten hit with the soccer ball while writing this. It’s a sign.