Overwhelmed

Don’t you ever just sit at your desk mentally counting the virtual mountain of tasks that have  to be completed and feel totally overwhelmed? I’m totally there.

Yes, this post is going to be a confession of sorts, but I’m fully aware that my life isn’t unique and each of you probably have a similar mountain to the one I’m looking at right now. I am in the middle of producing 2 R01s, which, in itself is a crazy thing to attempt. I feel like I’m banging my head against both of them, never really making the kind of progress that needs to be made. The first is a resubmission, got a score (a bad one), but I’m having trouble seeing how to make the re-write work. At the same time, the initial application got scored so I feel like I MUST resubmit.

The second is a new submission of a project that I am infatuated with- but the needed techniques are going to be somewhat outside my comfort zone- so that is a challenge as well. Anyway, I’ve got study section between the two R01 deadlines, so there are a few (not to terribly many) grants to read for that. One of my trainees has two grants of her own with deadlines in the middle of all of this, for which LORs and such are needed.. and I have one paper accepted (a little good news is *so exciting*) with minor revisions- and so someone has to do those as well. Several manuscripts in various states of preparation await my attention.  I also have a talk (also good news, right?) at an important meeting for my field immediately following the second R01 deadline. Then I applied for a leadership training in my institution- and attendance is mandatory- 1 day each week for 6 weeks- to begin around the time of the meeting.

Yesterday I discovered that I can’t get back from my meeting talk in time for one of those sessions- so that training has to get put off until next year. Spent part of my evening last night trying to sort out how to make this work so I could do both- but short of me spending an entire night in the air and coming directly to training 24 hours sleepless… it is not going to work. Disappointing because I feel I really want some formal training in this area, because it will help me with potential next steps in my career. At the same time, this is just the way it has to be.

And finally, just before bedtime last night I opened my email to find my kid-sitter quit.  I found myself worrying about in lieu of sleeping last night.  I find myself scrambling to figure out how we are going to cover the kid-shuttling duties in the midst of all these other tasks…Heavy sigh… I totally thought I had that one in the bag….

One year ago some life events made me promise myself I’d be more purposeful about what I chose to do and not to do. I am not feeling good at that right now… and the days go by….

Mama said there’d be days like this…

When I don’t reach my desk until 12:30….

8:30 Breakfast with seminar speaker.

9:30 Deliver seminar speaker to airport.

9:31 On leaving airport get call from husband, relating that BigA’s got a migraine and needs to be picked up from school.

9:45 Arrive at school, discover kid has been sent back to class, wait for kid to come to office…

9:55… still waiting

10:05… still waiting

10:15 School office staff is finally able to get BigA to office from band class- a 3 minute trip.

10:30 Drop BigA off at home…

10:33 Leave house.

10:34 Hear emergency warning on the radio that the county is under a hurricane warning and worry that I just left kid at home, spend next 10 minutes tracking down which neighbors are at home that BigA can go to in case of scary weather.

10:44 Discuss lunch plan with husband by phone- its a special day for him so lunch plan will go forward… hmmm. what to do in the interim…

10:45 Discover I’m nearly out of gas

10:45-11:05 Get gas, call municipal court to see how we are going to get jury duty rescheduled to occur when I’m not in Chile, drop of summons at the court…

11:05…… Arrive at lunch location for special lunch with spouse. Try to be relaxed while feeling like there is no time to be relaxed.

12:20 Arrive at desk….. feel like the whole day is gone… because

There is no soccer practice today and the sitter has class at 5:30- so I’ll need to pick up LittleA at piano lessons at 5 pm, and pick up a few groceries to do special day cake baking… tonight….

Tomorrow:  Wash, rinse, and repeat… except with the added twist of faculty meeting, dean’s holiday lunch, and meeting with seminar speaker #2- and hear seminar… Pray that I spend less time in my car tomorrow than I did today…

(NOT to be taken as complaining because my life is good, good, good- if not busy, busy, busy)…

The Backlash to Gender Equity in Academia?

I’m done with my study section duties… and in my hotel room…. doing something useful, reading the newspaper. And what should I come upon – but this article in the New York Times today- entitled ‘Gains, and Drawbacks for Female Professors’ by Kate Zernike. In the article the gains in gender equity among faculty at MIT after a decade of intensive effort on the part of the university, set into motion after female professors there did such things as crawl around on the floor measuring out lab spaces of men and women documenting the lesser resources provided to women faculty, are described.

I’m alternately delighted and pissed off at what is described in the article. On the one hand I’m delighted that policies set in motion to level the playing field for women in science at MIT have paid off so nicely. I mean this is a good thing, right:

“An array of prizes and professional accolades among female professors has provided a powerful rebuttal to critics who suggested after the earlier report that women simply lacked the aptitude for science — most infamously, Lawrence H. Summers, whose remarks set off his downfall as the president of Harvard.”

I mean we all knew that women had the same aptitude as men do for these subjects- and that women were excluded by systematic, and “subtle and pervasive” ways. This correction is right.

I’m pissed off though- I mean:

“But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.”

Really- is this where we are now? I’ve got a great answer for that- Boys- since the dawn of time blatant favoritism has been practiced to your benefit. In fact it has been practiced to such an extent that us girls had to be BETTER than you academically… and then most of the time we were still ignored. To think anything else is just ignorant of the facts. Now, at least, the playing field is somewhat level, and now us with the double XX chromosomes just have to be equal.

And here is the second thing that irritates me about this article:

“While women on the tenure track 12 years ago feared that having a child would derail their careers, today’s generous policies have made families the norm: the university provides a yearlong pause in the tenure clock, and everyone gets a term-long leave after the arrival of a child. There is day care on campus and subsidies for child care while traveling on business.”

Wonderful that things have changed at MIT. I’m beside myself to see that this is possible. I don’t, however, want anyone to have the impression that because so much headway has been made in these areas at MIT, that means we no longer have a problem with these issues in academia in general.  It is WONDERFUL that everyone gets a term-long leave at MIT after a child is born- but at many U.S. universities- there is NO PAID MATERNITY LEAVE. While there may be day care on campus in some places, this is patchy at best and non-existent at worst. And, that last part has my mouth hanging open- subsidies for child care while traveling on business!!! Seriously, that’s awesome but I have never ever ever seen this kind of help. For someone who traveled 12,000 miles in January DrMrA and I could surely use that. I’ve no idea who even to request… or demand… this from….

And finally:

“Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, “Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.”

Administrators say some men use family leave to do outside work, instead of to be their children’s primary care giver — creating more professional inequity. “”

Yes. Quite. Work-life balance is a family issue. Until it is seen as a family issue, until care of children is seen as a family issue… I fear we are stuck where we are. Men have families as well and let’s hear what they have to say. Men have families, let’s see them take an equal share of parental leave.

Could describing personal circumstances hurt your grants chances?

I stumbled upon David’s post at Terra Sigiliata entitled “NIH biosketch change as  “kick- me” sign?” this morning.  In this very nice post, David points out a poll of researchers over at Genomeweb.com on the new NIH policy to allow an explanation of personal circumstances that may have affected progress (read publication gaps) on the biosketches that we send in as part of out grant applications. I didn’t see the poll myself when it was up- but I am pretty sure that you all can figure out how I would have voted. Nevertheless, here is what was asked:

Do you think you will make use of the new option in NIH grant applications to include possible disruptions and delays to your research?

And after being posted for a week- Genomeweb received 105 responses that broke down in the following way:

17%  Yes, I’ve been waiting for NIH to do this.
17%  Yes, it sounds like a good idea.
16%  Maybe, if it becomes applicable to me.
2%    No, I don’t foresee any delays.
46%  No way, why would you want to potentially hurt your grant’s chances?

And here I have to pause to say WTF. I’m hoping that the two percent that answered ‘No, I don’t foresee any delays’ are young idealistic grad students that haven’t experienced much of life. Cause you know, no one can really ‘foresee’ getting hit by a car, having life threatening pneumonia, how having a baby is going to affect your life, or whether or not one of your parents is going to be diagnosed with glioma. ALL of those circumstances will undoubtedly and understandably affect your productivity, and let me tell you kids- shit just happens. Sometimes a really bad shit happens.

And for that 46% of you that answered ‘No way, why should you want to potentially hurt your grant’s chances?’ I say double WTF. I guess I am at a loss to understand why ANY of the circumstances I listed above would ‘potentially hurt your grant’s chances’ if explained.  I have a difficult envisioning conversations on study section like… I think we should give so-and-so investigator a 5 because he wasn’t very productive when he had to take care of his mom for three months after her near fatal car accident. Perhaps you all think of this section as ready made for providing a section that will catch any excuse for low productivity? A section for the whining whiners to go on about how their tech is lazy and couldn’t just get ‘er done?

I, however, do not. I think of this section as a fail-safe from stupid ass comments on reviews… i.e. so and so had low productivity during X period….. when the reviewers didn’t read the biosketch carefully enough to pick up perfectly obvious cues like the applicant was in the MD portion of their MD/PhD during the period in question and WASN’T PUBLISHING because they were in professional school. I see this section as a way to explain critical issues like… had a new baby was away for 3 months- that are not otherwise spelled out anywhere in a grant application. Can having a new baby affect your productivity? I want to believe that I don’t have to explain the logistics of this anymore. Having a baby can affect your ability to get in a shower once per day, we are not even going to talk about what it can do to your ability to complete tasks that involve actual brain power. And anyone who has had a baby knows that when the maternity leave is over your brain isn’t automatically switched back on to its full pre-baby full night of sleep every single night productivity.

Maybe you all should read, this- and yes, click on that link for the study cited in the article entitled ‘Keeping Women in the Science Pipeline’ out of the UC system. Read this study and you will see that women with children have a 35% lower probability of entering a tenure track career than men with children, and a 28% lower probability of achieving tenure. Read between the lines there- put that together with the facts that women do the vast majority of child care, the vast majority of night time care etc- and that lock step rigid systems with rigid “time based criteria” and “productivity assessments” do not lend themselves to inclusion of a life in your basic science career.

Oh sigh. I guess I am hoping that when a grant comes up at study section and reviewer #1 is ready to trash the productivity of the applicant, that reviewers #2, 3, and 4, armed with the reason for the productivity gap now explained in the biosketch, will be prepared to make reviewer #1 and the rest of the panel think twice about penalizing someone for circumstances beyond their control and occurrences that are part of real life.

10,000 miles in 10 days

Study section… to home… to SciO11… to home… to distant state to give invited seminar… in 10 days. Only enough time in between to do laundry. Met so many interesting people, talked about science, science communication and more science. Saw old friends, mentors, met several new people who I hope will become collaborators. Exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. Juggling the work stuff with the phone calls from kids who (a) lost something needed for a school assignment due in 3 weeks and must find it right NOW, (b) are fighting with each other, (c) want me to take care of some ache or pain from 2000 miles away, or (d) are just having a weak moment of missing their super-mom, make for a schizophrenic existence.  And as for the traveling one thing is for sure- I’m not 30 anymore…it just seems to take me longer to recover from these crazy multi-leg trips than it used to.

To make it all more complex- BigA became a teenager this past week. It was super important to me to put together a cool teenage birthday event and try to keep the  dorky science geek mom thing (not so easy when you are on science geek 24/7 while traveling) to a minimum around her friends. We seem to have hit that age where she is embarrassed by her parents and she is so wanting to live up to the social pressures (OMG, who knew you could have a Coach purse at the age of 12)… of middle school. She’s also embarrassed by all things geeky and nerdy… which makes it tough for her parents to convince her that excelling at academics IS cool … it is just so NOT cool in the collective middle school psyche. She has however, admitted to thinking genetics is ‘interesting’, and we sometimes chat in the car about how it is possible that Little A has brown eyes when parents and sister have green eyes… There is a glimmer of hope in there that she secretly thinks science is OK. To be truthful, handling the middle school angst is more difficult than anything I do in my job, and I worry about what parts I’m not seeing when I’m not physically here.

Yeah, so this is more of a diary entry than a blog post… what can I do… my brain is JELLO….so this is all I’m capable of.

How do you find the $$ for Child Care at Scientific Meetings

Yesterday, between book chapters (and right now you all are probably asking yourselves what the hell I’m doing BLOGGING), I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar given by a scientist whose work was highly influential in my graduate career- and that was really enjoyable. But going to seminar has other great benefits besides hearing someone you totally admire talk about their great science.  Primary among these benefits, of course, is running into colleagues who normally inhabit other parts of campus, that you really really REALLY need to talk to.

I saw one such colleague come into the seminar and was only too happy to have a lengthy conversation with him at the reception after the seminar. Said colleague is trying shamelessly to entice me into coming to a particular meeting later this year (he’s organizing)…and I get the feeling he’s trying to recruit a few other scientists who happen to be young women with children as well. Our conversation took an interesting turn when he mentioned that he would like to be able to set aside resources, and find funding sources, to be able to provide child care for this meeting. We all know that women still provide the majority of child care, and this can be a barrier keeping women with families from attending scientific meetings- right?

Although I have two children, I do not take them to meetings with me. For me this is a purely personal decision, I have difficulty focusing on meeting material when I’m multitasking kids on site, and now they are school age anyway so we can’t just pull them out of school whenever we feel the urge. I emphasize that this is just my personal preference though, for those of you that choose to take your children with you to meetings, I support your decision.  Now, with that said- leaving the kids at home with DrMrA does put a pretty strict lock on his hours while I am away…. and it would be great to get him a few hours of child care support when I am away. This restriction on the other working care giver’s schedule, in addition to just not wanting to be away from the kids too much, limits the amount of traveling that I do in a given year.

As for what I have seen available for child care at meetings, the large society meeting that I attend has a child care option built in, but I haven’t been able to figure out from the preliminary program whether there is an extra fee for this. I don’t recall that any of the smaller meetings that I have attended have offered any child care, or assistance finding child care, or financial assistance to defray the cost of child care.

So here is the question,  if you want to encourage women in science who happen to have kids to participate in scientific meetings, what can you do to address child care issues that might otherwise keep them away? Throwing money at the issue is a good way, I think- it allows women (and yes, whimple, all people with kids- but let’s agree that women are generally disproportionately affected) at least to lower the barrier on this issue. If you were organizing a meeting and providing funds to defray the cost of child care to attendees with children  is your chosen avenue to remedy- how do you come up with the $$ to fund such an effort? Secondly, if you are the organizer of a small meeting- how do you fairly distribute these funds, and how far do you go in setting up child care arrangements (i.e. do you have an organized child care on site, or do you simply provide funds to allow individuals maximum freedom to set up their own arrangements)?

2nd Annual BLC Holiday Roundup

And so it goes. Another year. I’m going to try this holiday letter thing again- because hopefully I can only improve upon last time- so here goes.

We’ve had a busy year in the DrdrA Laboratory. A few high points included securing our own independent funding, publishing a few nice papers, putting in the tenure package, and graduating our first Ph.D. student. These were community efforts, if ever there were such, with everyone pulling 150%. My trainees now understand that my crazy-burning-the-midnight-oil hours have helped to keep them in their jobs for a few years more. In return, they know that I expect a lot from them this coming year. And I do mean A LOT.

But there are always a few low points, and to those I think we should confess- lest I repeat the same mistakes again in 2010. I’ve got to get faster about reading/editing and otherwise turning over manuscripts that come across my desk. There are still too many piled up here and they should be out, out, out the door. 2010 will be the year for this. Second, mentoring. Since I am shifting away from grant writing, I’m shifting back toward mentoring- and not necessarily more mentoring- but better, more effective mentoring. I realize I have trainees with all different personality types and that one size does not fit all for them. I’m going to enjoy getting to know them all better and figure out what works for each of them, and they are going to get pounded- each in their own way- to work on their own set of skills –bench, written and oral presentation. Data- and troubleshooting, do you ever find that you don’t look at the data enough? I just haven’t had enough time to ponder the data. And I need time for that. I’ll gladly reclaim that time in 2010.

As for the life part of the work-life balance, well, we’ve had quite a year there as well. BigA is a mid-career 6th grader with a 16 year old attitude. We are riding the roller coaster of teenage personality, wondering what happened to our quiet, well-behaved and ever-agreeable 5th grader. But we’ve been told that could even itself out in the 7th grade. BigA is very bookish (which we encourage), musical (which we also encourage), and full of interesting and mostly useless factoids (just like her dad, and of course he encourages that) that will someday make great cocktail party conversation. She likes mythology and the clarinet. Anyway, we are trying to teach responsibility, politeness, inquisitiveness, two languages, and a strong work ethic… she’s learning and we love her. She reminds me of myself at her age, a champion debater.

LittleA is, well, LittleA. Ever into mischief- can be the most loving and the most naughty child all at the same time. She’s the sporty one, playing the soccer goalie and really loving it. Fortunately for her parents she’s been pretty well behaved in school this year, and she seems to fit in there better than in the last couple of years. I suppose that was only a matter of maturity. Both girls love cooking, being outdoors, reading, pets (of which we sadly have none), and traveling.

As for me, well, I continue to work like mad, be a good parent/spouse, blog when I can, monitor my own aging parents, keep up with my sister and with friends. I do the best I can to balance all of these areas, and I think this usually works out. When things falls through the cracks once in a while I’ve stopped beating myself up about it- or at least I’m trying to. I’m older, and maybe a little bit wiser, and generally content with our state of affairs. DrMrA and I have our goals for the next few years set out in front of us and I feel like we are working on them together. We have solid jobs/careers that we enjoy, we have great family and friends, and we are all relatively healthy. I wish all those things for you now and in 2010.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!