Big kids take time too

Oftentimes, when we discuss mixing motherhood with an academic career (or a professional careers more generally), our discussion and anxiety center on pregnancy and babies. “What will happen if I get pregnant during my PhD?” “If I wait until after tenure to have children, will it be too late?” I think this baby-centric view of academic motherhood comes from the clear physiological demands of parenting an infant (the sleep deprivation! the leaky breasts!) and is compounded by the absolutely abominable lack of paid leave and support for new mothers in the US. But children don’t magically start taking care of themselves as age 1… or 2… or 3… or… even though their mothers are back in the classroom and lab pretending to have it all together and maybe even trying to make up for “lost time” or “low productivity” during their child’s infancy.

It would be nice if we did a better job of acknowledging that big kids take time too, and that even as our children grow older there’s still a strong time demand on parents. Continue reading

All that you can’t leave behind (on maternity leave)

My baby is less than 3 months old. I am on unpaid leave. This morning, a colleague came over to my house to discuss revising and resubmitting a grant proposal that recently got rejected. I bounced and fed the baby while we talked and I attempted to sound on top of things despite having gotten only 4 hours of sleep. A student is coming over later to discuss data for his/her thesis and I’ve got my own paper revisions to work on at some point. I’m also recovering from a physically challenging pregnancy and childbirth, providing the sole source of nutrition for another human being, and operating on limited amounts of disrupted sleep. My partner, older child, and dog might like a mention here too, but frankly they are not getting as much attention as any of us would like.

All of what I describe above is the result of privilege. Privilege to have been able to bear a healthy baby. Privilege to have a job with the protections of FMLA, which provides for up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave following childbirth. Privilege to be able to afford to take unpaid leave, after my sick leave was exhausted and midwife said I was healthy enough to return to work. Privilege to have friendly and understanding colleagues, many with small children of their own, and fantastic students who are willing to meet me where I am, rather than make me schlep my baby to campus through this anomalously cold winter. Privilege to live close enough to campus that my colleagues and students can come see me without stupendous inconvenience. Privilege to have a job that intellectually stimulates me such that I can still get excited about it, even on 4 hours of disrupted sleep.

But I’m also fully aware that I lack the privilege to walk away from my job for my 12 weeks of leave. Continue reading

A day in the life…

As a post-doc, I did three things: I did research, analyzed data, and I wrote. I ran behavioral experiments and western blots, I did a lot of data analysis.

There were other things – I worked with students in the lab, and I organized events with the Post-doc Association at the post-doc institution. Later I applied for jobs, a significant time commitment, especially in the second year. It isn’t that I had a lot of free time, but I did have a lot of flexibility. When a grant deadline was coming up, or a set of experiments to (hopefully) finish off a paper, I could clear blocks of time and focus on that one thing. This – and my friends in that town – are the only things that I’m nostalgic about from my postdoc.

That is not what my days look like anymore. Now I have a few other things on my plate. Now there is teaching, routine meetings, and the ongoing administrative work of running a lab, not to mention grant writing and trying to stay on top of the literature. Coming up is graduate admissions season, and a couple of deadlines for training grants for my lab peeps. This increase in the number-of-things wasn’t unexpected, I had watched and spoken with my grad school and post-doc mentors, not to mention other people both IRL and online, enough to know better. And the amount of work is a lot, but it’s not unbearable. What I am finding difficult is the fragmentation of my time.

Continue reading