There and back again

Commutes. For some, they’re a breeze and for others they’re a nightmare. It is not a part of the workday we normally talk about but they can have a huge impact on wellbeing and mental state, which can affect work and home life. Commutes can affect decisions about where to live, what job to take, and what else you are able to fit into your day. Here we talk about our various commutes and how they fit into our lives.

Peirama

I have had a variety of commutes since finishing grad school. I’ve taken public transportation with kids in tow and I’ve also driven. There are pros and cons to those…I enjoyed the podcasts in the car, both kid- and adult-oriented. I can make some recommendations if you’re interested! (OK, since you twisted my arm, highly recommend The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian, Stories Podcast, and The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel for listening that you’re planning to do with your kids) The public transportation commute was nice because it gave me extra time to read with my kids or do my own thing while not having to worry about driving or having the stress of traffic.

I now bike commute. I am lucky enough that my kids’ school is just a half mile from where I live, so it’s easy enough to take the younger one in the bike trailer and the older one on his own bike and then take off for work. Actually, my husband does drop off, so I just head straight to work on my bike in the morning and stop off on my way home to pick them up. However, between biking and changing etc, my total commute time per day is around an hour and a half, which feels like a large chunk of time. Because of this I work from home several days a week. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have the ability to do that and I think all employers should make that option as easy as possible. Obviously lab work cannot be done at home, but during periods of writing, etc, it should be an option.

Notarealteacher

The school I teach at is located right downtown in a fairly major city. I thankfully live a short, 12 minute drive away. The problem for me has never been traffic, but parking. In order to get both my kids to school on time, we all have to be out the door by 6:55 AM (sometime, I’ll write a post on how to survive the stressful half an hour between 6:30-7:00 AM). For a number of years, my husband dropped us all off at daycare/work; after work, I then took the bus home and retrieved my car. I’d subsequently go and pick up the kids. When I missed the bus or forgot my keys at work (which happened more times than I care to admit), I’d be upwards of an hour later to pick up my kids. On those days, my kids might spend almost 10 hours at daycare. I’d spend the rest of the evening lamenting how I’d missed one of the few daily hours I get to spend with my children.

I’ve finally decided to fork over the $13/day that it costs to park downtown each day. I find I am infinitely less stressed knowing that I can pick up my kids on my way home at the end of the day. I most certainly feel guilt over the cost and environmental impact (especially given my teacher’s salary); but I’m trying to view it as part of the cost of having kids. On the list of must-haves for my next job: A great, big open-access parking lot.

SweetScience

I recently moved from a major city to a small city and was so excited to give up stressful, crowded subway rides and long walks on sidewalks either disgusting or decrepit. Unexpectedly though, my new drive is possibly even more stressful. We are a one-car family, and so we all have to get out the door together as early as possible, a daily feat. Then we decide for the morning and afternoon who will be dropped off or picked up by whom and in what order, always an annoying negotiation. Even though our three office/childcare locations are within a mile of each other, all about 10 minutes from home, the whole commute takes about an hour door-to-door. In a major city it’s a given that parking will be impossible, so you work around however you can. In a small city surrounded by rural areas though, it’s incredibly frustrating. My institution offers only one place to park for new employees (it’s probably a 7-year wait to get the next level parking), and it happens to be on the exact opposite end of campus from my office, about a 20 minute walk in decent weather. Every day while I walk I curse the situation and draft a letter in my head to the parking office, just like every day in the big city the worst part of my day was my commute and I sent letters to the public transportation office. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. I’d love to embrace the walk and time to think alone, but I can’t get past the way I plan my days and life around the commute more than my job or activities, and so it’s negatively affecting those aspects of my life.

Megan

“Are you going to see your friends today at daycare?” I ask my son. We’re both sitting in the backseat of our 15-year old Lincoln Town Car. My husband is driving.

“The light is green!” my toddler exclaims.

“Why don’t you finish your waffle?” I ask him. Yes, he often gets his breakfast on the road.

“Green for GO!” he exclaims, shooting his fist into the air. Of course he’s right in theory that green means go but we’re stuck in morning rush-hour traffic so we’re not really going anywhere. My son keeps a running tally of the colors of the cars and trucks around us, which I find adorable (but anyone else might find annoying!)

We live in a city with an OK public transportation system. There’s also a great bike path that leads almost directly from our house to work (about an 8-mile pedal). However, the issue with biking or taking public transport is the daycare drop-off. Our daycare is en route to work via car, but isn’t feasible to get to via bus or train, and is a difficult bike ride on a hilly and busy road– just not doable for me with a toddler and all his diapers, snacks, crafts, etc. in tow. So my husband and I are currently sucking up the car commute, which takes nearly an hour door-to-door each way, plus parking costs (we pay over $200 monthly). Thankfully, we work close enough to each other that we can carpool.

In the afternoons, I have a cell phone alarm that goes off at 5PM, which is when I need to leave work. My husband typically takes the bus home later. I literally run across campus to the parking garage and fight rush hour traffic to get to my son’s daycare before it closes at 6. I try not to be the last parent in his class to pick him up, but that happens more often than I’d like. Honestly, I find this the most stressful part of my day– from rushing to finish my experiments promptly by 5 to fighting other drivers on the city streets. I try to use the time in the car to listen to public radio and catch up on the news, but it still feels like wasted, anxious time. Thankfully, the giant hug I get from my son when I pick him up makes all the rushing worth it!

 

What does your commute look like? How has your life changed to accommodate your commute?

 

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Posted in busy moms, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I am angry

I am angry. A group of mostly men who make decisions that affect us are telling us that our voices don’t matter and that our bodies are not our own. They are telling us that their votes that ignore women’s voices is not a referendum on women. How could it not be?  

I am hurt. A man who cannot control his feelings is being believed above a woman. A brave woman who, despite being the victim, the one who should be angry, who has every right to be yelling and screaming, is calm and collected. She has told her story before Senators who do not believe her and do care about her experiences simply because she is a woman.

I am traumatized. I have never been assaulted, thank goodness. But like every woman, I have had a moment where I worried it might happen and can imagine it all too vividly. Have you seen the list of things men and women do to prepare for assault? Women think about it. Men don’t have to.

I am scared. A man who has been accused of sexual assault was approved to be on the Supreme Court. He has the power to tell every woman in the land what to do with their bodies. I have seen his rage and I shudder to think what he will do with this power. 

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Justifying your time

In assessing my mental state over the 8 months that I have been in this new postdoc position, I have observed a trend. It’s not good.
I spend a great deal of mental energy — from the time I drop off my kid at daycare to the time I pick him up — thinking about whether my time is being well spent. Primarily, imagining how frequently my boss entertains the idea that I am not worth the 15% of my salary that she pays for.
The goals of a postdoc position are not well defined. How you spend your time is pretty open ended. We are categorized as “exempt” under the Federal Standards of Labor Act. The singular unifying benchmark we have to assess our efforts is publication. So… there is a lot of wiggle room as to how work hours are spent, and what kind of work is done “after hours”.
I spend about 60% of my time in lab (over 8 months of failed or delayed experiments), 40% time in the fellowship training that pays my salary, and only work 40-45 hours a week. I find it challenging to justify how I juggle my time to a boss who expects people to be in the lab 110% of the work day and use extracurricular hours to fulfill professional development training.
Maybe it’s a desire to have a more professional framework to my work life, maybe it’s having started a family a year ago, or impostor syndrome, or maybe I’m just not cut out for this work environment anymore. But either my perspective or my work needs to change, because I now have enough data for an evidence-based conclusion: this trend is unhealthy.
How much energy do you use justifying how you spend your working hours? Do you ever even feel like your work hours are being wasted? Is this just me?
Posted in academia, bosses, busy moms, early career scientist, having it all, motherhood, postdoc, women in science, Women in STEM | 1 Comment

How the heck are you guys doing it all?

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Book Reviews: Girls in STEM

As my older daughter graduates from pictures books and is delving into chapter books, my skewed search (any STEM books for girls?) produced three series with a young girl as the protagonist immersing herself in STEM.  Those are:

 

Lucy’s Lab (3 books in the series)

Ada Lace (5 books)

Zoey and Sassafras (5 books, 6th on its way)

 

The first books of each series were all published within the last year (2017).  I was curious, so I read the first books of each series after my daughter finished. I am giving my reviews here…

 

Lucy’s Lab: Nuts about Science by Michelle Houts (publisher recommended age: 7-9)

LucysLab(Amazon link)

Plot:  Lucy, a freshly minted second grader, discovers on her first day of school that a giant oak tree in front of the school was gone. She wonders where the squirrels that used to keep busy on the tree went. She also finds out on the same day that her new second grade classroom contains a science lab and is very excited.  When coming home, she sets up her own science lab in her old playhouse.

By talking with her school principal Lucy discovers that the oak tree had to be pulled out because of oak wilt.  Lucy goes to the library and finds out what it is. In her science class  Lucy learns about “habitat,” and she worries about the squirrels’ habitat. Lucy’s parents encourage that if she cares about it so much, she should attempt “convincing” school officials that they need to plant another tree in place…can she?

 

Review:  Perhaps because this is a first book in the series there are lots of descriptions of characters and settings, it seemed not much actually happened in the story. However, the book still provides a great introduction into “scientific process”: what a laboratory looks like;  what a scientist might look like (lab coat and goggles!); use of specific words (i.e. “specimen” instead of “stuff”); making observations; and writing up a report. It also touches on mobilizing social activism — once scientists know something, we better distribute information and work to fix it if needed — that is a responsibility of scientists!  The book is brimming of Lucy’s contagious enthusiasm for science. 

 

Ada Lace, on the case by Emily Calandrelli with Tamson Weston (publisher recommended age: 6-10)

AdaLace  (Amazon link)

Plot:  Ada, a precocious third grader who recently moved to a new city, broke her leg and was limited to keeping field notes (a la Charles Darwin in Galapagos) of happenings outside of her window. One day she notices that her neighbor’s dog went missing. Assuming it was “dognapped,” she sets out to find the dognapper.

With her wealth of gadgets (binoculars, walkie-talkies, cameras) and an assistance by her brand new friend in the neighborhood, she sets up surveillance on suspects. At times her operation backfires: surveillance blown up; the camera stolen; and interrogating a wrong suspect. Despite setbacks, Ada closes in on solving on the mystery…

 

Review:  The story moved quickly, at times thrilling but other times questionable. What’s the legality of a young girl setting a surveillance camera on a neighbor’s window?  Sneaking into a neighbor’s house? The ending was anticlimactic, too; the story behind “dognapping” was disappointing especially after so much development. Ada, as the protagonist, is very fun. She is curious, full of ideas, and interested in technology (she can fix a surveillance camera!).  I would want my daughter to be friends with her, although she may get both of them in trouble. I also liked introduction of concepts, like Occam’s razor, weaved into the story. 

 

Zoey and Sassafras, Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro (publisher recommended grades: K-5)

Print(Amazon link)

Plot:  Nature-, animal-, and science- loving Zoey discovers one day that she has special powers to see mythical animals just like her mom. It turns out, her family’s barn has been a convalescing center for injured mythical animals. Her mom, who has been a caretaker all this time, had to go out of town, and Zoey takes on the responsibility of rescuing creatures with her pet cat Sassafras as a sidekick. Right away, Zoey is visited by a famished baby dragon.  Using the scientific method, Zoey tries to figure out how to rescue the dragon…

 

Review: Whereas the first two books attempted to contrast science from superstitions (Ada), princesses, castles, fairies, and pink-loving girls (Lucy), this book does a fine job of somehow meshing science and magic. It teaches readers how to identify a question to be tested, form a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, and come up with conclusions.  Zoey also experiences setbacks and makes mistakes, but she learns how to improve and to fix them.  This book is more story-centered, because I have a less grasp of who Zoey is, other than she likes science and is very caring (she is probably more revealed in later books).

 

Overall Reviews

 

It was intriguing that in all three books, each protagonist’s mom works, and all the moms go out on business trips in the beginning.  Each girl wishes her mom was there when encountering problems, but solves them on her own. Dads are around, but only assert minor supportive roles (they all cook meals!)  

 

Each book promotes independence, creativity, originality, problem-solving skills, resilience, and love for STEM. I’m thankful that these books exist, making it more “normal” for girls to be interested in and pursuing STEM.  

 

Each book is fun and adorable, but the final word of this review belongs my daughter, who preferred Zoey and Sassafras over the other two. When asked why she said, “because the book has magic, and I like magic.” She has now finished all 5 books in the series. At her age, or perhaps at any age, magic and fantasy can coexist with science…imagination is as important as rational thinking. Asia Citro (the author) better hurry with her writing, and J.K. Rowling better get started on a book in which Hermione becomes a Nobel-prize receiving scientist (I never finished the Harry Potter series. Hermione isn’t, is she?)!

Posted in Book Club, books, education, female scientist, scientist mom | 4 Comments

Uncovering the Past

I took a trip recently to help my dad move. He has lived in the same house for 23 years, during which I went to middle school and high school, then moved away for college and slowly began to visit less frequently for shorter stints.  There are lots of memories in that house. There are the ones that live in my head and the ones that live in boxes. Boxes that I haven’t looked at in over a decade. During my stay, I went through photo albums, journals, yearbooks, trinkets, and transcripts. It is an interesting thing to look back on yourself with that much distance. To read your own words that feel at once familiar and like words of a stranger. It was difficult because I was an awkward and insecure teen. Looking at the photos and reading my own words, I kept wanting to give my former self advice. Don’t get that haircut! Teen boys are not worth that much mental space! Be kinder to your parents! Relax! And perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid!

suffragette

I am a shy person, which I think is a just fine personality trait in moderation. However, being timid is a little different than being shy, and I have often found myself timid as well. I have lived much of my life trying not to be disruptive, trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings, trying not to take up too much of anyone’s time. My mother often told me “don’t be mousy,” which of course only made it worse at the time but was honestly good advice.

At the time of each little action of shrinking myself, it seems to make sense, it just fits. Oh, I don’t want to be a bother. In the rearview mirror, though, it is clear that it is not right thing to do. It is often not the kindness to others I imagine it to be. It does not make the world a better place or make those around me happier. It certainly doesn’t make me happier. Most importantly, it comes from a place of not valuing myself enough.

While this feels very personal to my situation, taking up less space is actually, a common problem among women in girls. The ideal feminine woman in many cultures is one that does not talk out of turn or stand up for herself. This cultural insistence that women take up less space manifests in the ways women take up physical space. Women are told to be smaller by losing weight and by body language. As opposed to feeling free to take up space as men do, women often take up less space and there is backlash when they do not. It is related to rape culture and anti-abortion fanaticism, where even women’s bodies are not their own.

It also manifests in how the world views women’s ideas, with a culture where a man’s ideas are more valued than a woman’s, mansplaining is rampant, and gaslighting a common concern. It takes a lot of internal strength the value one’s own ideas when it feels like the world does not. The physical and the mental collide in the classroom, where girls raise their hands less, a phenomenon reinforced by society. Luckily, some girls are becoming aware and pushing for girls to raise their hands more.

These influences, some small, some huge, all affect how we move through this world as women. They affect how we influence the world, as it is not a stretch to imagine that taking up space relates to whether women take on positions of power. It affects women’s careers, in science and otherwise, where their ideas are taken less seriously.

So for now, while this reminder is fresh on my mind, my mantra for myself is “take up space” a call to action to be confident, to value my own opinions highly, and to not be afraid. And for all the girls I interact with, I must instill that in them as well.

 

Posted in female scientist, sexism, trying to please others | 2 Comments

What could be happening behind the scenes on the hiring committee?

I recently heard an interesting story from a colleague about the hiring process for my position – and how I almost didn’t get an interview! Have you ever heard the behind the scenes story of how you got hired? It can be enlightening, both from a personal perspective and regarding the general hiring process as well.

Here at A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman we’ve posted a number of stories about the struggles of job searches and the difficulty of not understanding why we sometimes don’t get an offer, or even an interview at a job it seems like we’re perfect for. And we’ve posted on some of the things that go on behind the scenes from a hiring committee‘s perspective. One major theme here is that as an applicant there are so many things big and small that go on in a search that you can never know that may influence your placement regardless of how well matched you are.

My colleague and I were chatting about how when I was offered my position they hoped the wouldn’t lose me because of my two-body problem. And that reminded her of the funny-not-funny story of how I almost didn’t even get an interview. She told me that she came to the search committee meeting with her ranked list of candidates with me at the top. She compared her list to the other members of the committee, who had the same top candidates – except that I was completely missing from their lists! She said, “Did you miss this application? I think you need to go back and look at this one.” They had no idea that my application even existed! Through some electronic system formatting issue or later application date, my files ended up separated from the main pack of applicants, and so the others on the search committee had not even viewed my application! Thank goodness one person on the committee was thorough enough to find me, and a strong enough advocate to notice and insist that the others consider me.

While I’ve always tried to share the message with others that you just don’t know what kinds of things are influencing your search that aren’t evident in the job description or communication, I never thought something this logistically simple could have meant a totally different life for me!

Posted in academia, advice, Interview, job search, new job, uncertainty, vulnerability | 1 Comment