Friday, December 14, 2012

I am Not My Husband's Secretary

Students have been repeatedly stopping by my office, interrupting my work, and asking me about the whereabouts of my husband.

How in the world should I know where he is? I am at work!

It has become so bad (3x in less than one hour the other day) that I had to post a sign on my husband's office door. It said: "Dr. JP does not know where Dr. Mr. JP is. Thanks, Management."

I had a particularly aggravating exchange with a student recently. I am sure I was PMSing, but, hey, it happens. The students asked me where Mr. JP was. I said, "I am not his secretary." The student said nothing and just stared. I added, "Why don't you go ask some other faculty member where Mr. JP is." The student continued to stare. I said, "And why are you asking me where he is? Is there a particular reason?" The student apologized and promptly left.

And no, students do not ask my husband where I am. Perhaps I am more present? Or perhaps he is more intimidating. Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Students Crying In My Office

Every semester, I have students crying in my office about their grades. I find the whole situation very awkward and I am not sure of the best way of handling it. I have asked older colleagues and they express surprise that students would cry in front of me. Because, after all, students do not cry in front of them.

I am not a particularly easy or harsh grader - my average GPA is in line with most faculty. So then why do students feel compelled to cry and tell me all about their personal situations that led up to their bad grades and how they are going to get kicked out of school? Surely, it isn't my class alone that is going to kick them out. They must have failed several other courses leading up to mine. So how is that I get the tears?

I usually handle this on a case by case basis, trying to find a discreet way to get the student out of my office without a scene. Not once have tears convinced me to change someone's grade. I see so much crying from my own two biological children that I am not very swayed by adult tears over grades.

I am interested in learning how others handle the crying student.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Taking the Reigns

The last month has been a roller coaster in terms of rejections, rejections, and an acceptance. My 1+ million dollar proposal was rejected, my manuscript in a super-high-IF journal was rejected after being in review for 2 months, and another manuscript is to be accepted after minor revisions.

After these two stinging rejections, I spent a week feeling very low and anxious. The stress affected my body in that the joints in the left side of my body began to ache, and walking became difficult. I began to think: Is this all worth it? I spend all this time at night and on the weekend working on proposals and manuscripts that ultimately get rejected. I forgo quality time with my family all in the name of work. What am I getting out of this job? My kids are growing up and I am present but not there. The stress is impacting me physically, too.

Taking control of my life and my job doesn't necessarily mean working longer hours or staying up later to get it all done. I've decided that I need to come back to "mindfulness" as I once did after reading Full Catastrophe Living. In 2009, I struggled with similar feelings and followed the meditation practices described in the book. I accepted that my life is "as is". Since then, I've lost that acceptance, and I need to be at peace again. I'm rebooting myself today.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Not Reporting

I think I should explain that this institution has a constant stream of low-level offensive statements and actions towards women, and that is why I was quick to be offended by this fellow's comments. That was, by far, the most benign I've gotten, and I'm sure he wasn't trying to put me in my place. But after hearing low-level offensive crap all the time, it is easy to get offended at the small things. 

Just last week, I had a senior white male tell me, "Your body has recovered nicely from the pregnancy." As it is written in this post, it could sound like a complement, but if I could convey the tone and the facial expression that went along with it, you'd be sickened.

I told my department head about this incident and the one from the last post. I requested that these people's teaching evaluations be looked at carefully for any student comments on bias. And that was it - no written reports filed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To Report or Not to Report Offensive Comments

Several weeks ago I was a function where I was sitting next to a senior man, who was retired from industry but teaching at our university. We were eating lunch to celebrate somebody's promotion or retirement, and he and I were idly chit-chatting about nothing of importance. At some point in the conversation he said, "I'm sorry I'm having trouble hearing you. Some study came out that said older men can't hear women's voices because they are too high pitched." I was stunned. Noticing that he lacked a wedding band, I said, "That must be difficult for your wife." I turned my back and refused to talk to him the rest of the function.

Comments like this are offensive because they make me feel uncomfortable. I found no humor in the comment, and it deeply bothered me because it seemed to say that whatever I had to say couldn't (and wouldn't) be heard. This fellow is of no consequence to my career and has a year-to-year contract.

Upon telling someone higher up the food chain about the comment, they were horrified and told me that I needed to report it. Part of me thinks that reporting is the right thing to do, but another part of me doesn't want to be accusatory. I just want to go on pretending this didn't happen, even though it still bothers me. It could result in the termination of this guy's contract. I wonder if he is saying things like this to his female students? If so, then I don't have a problem reporting him.

So many times in this career have things been said that cross my line of my idea of gender bias. And time and time again, I don't report it. I just complain. I suppose if I reported all the biased things said and done, then the upper administration would get so tired of it that they wouldn't take me seriously anymore.

Friday, September 28, 2012

When I'm Too Old For Early Career Awards...

…I start to think, which is probably a bad idea.

I am approaching that academic age where I am becoming ineligible for many early career awards. For some, I only have one shot left. This alarms me because I think that my chances of getting funding from these agencies is more likely through this mechanism, rather than competing against big boys and girls in unsolicited submissions. I haven't gotten any appreciable funding in over a year, so I am beginning to worry about how to fund the new students I took on. (Why did I take two new students?? Why?).

So I find myself in that funny place where I don't yet have tenure, but my eligibility for early career awards is over or nearly over. To comfort myself, I've focused on getting my backlog of publications out the door. The chances of getting published are much higher than that of getting funded. And, publications lead to students graduating, invited talks, and perhaps -perhaps - more funding.

I was thinking about my constant unease over funding, when I realized that this problem would never go away - ever. As long as I do this job, I will constantly be writing proposals and feeding hungry graduate students. And then I thought about this in a larger context. The U.S. wants more domestic students to pursue graduate degrees in STEM disciplines. Professors use federal research grants to pay for these students' tuition and stipend. If the U.S. government remains stagnant in federal research dollars, then so does the number of graduate students we can take on. So why not just increase the federal spending on academic research? Anyways, my vote in this presidential election is going to go to whoever says they'll put the most $$$ into research.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Late Can A Faculty Meeting Run?

Our new department head called a faculty meeting for 4 PM. In the past, these meetings have started at 3 or 3:30, which I find is just enough time to have a good meeting and then leave work to pick up the kids from day care. With this later meeting time, the faculty meeting bleeds into the last wee minutes of daycare. Any later, and social services would have to take my children so that I could attend the faculty meeting.

When faced with late meetings, the difficulty of being two-body becomes very apparent. Both of us need to attend, so who leaves early to pick up the kids? Does leaving early put one of us at a professional disadvantage? How will our colleagues perceive this? I am especially sensitive to this because I don't want to appear like a "mom" at work. I want appear like a "professor".

Mr. JP and I both separately emailed the department head, notifying him that one of us would be leaving early because of daycare. Mr. JP was the one to leave early to pick up both kids, since his agenda item was first. It was awesome. At 5:15 he stood up and announced to the whole faculty, "I now have to leave to get the kids from daycare." And he walked out. This action made me love him for bringing light to the issue to everyone. Next meeting, it's my turn to get the kids.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Babysitters are Sometimes Not For Dates

With all these proposal deadlines coming up, I decided to lineup my baby sitter for extra evenings. She's coming twice per week, during which time my husband and I drive back to work to continue working on proposals. She will feed and bathe kids, put them to bed, and do their laundry. I never thought of this as abnormal - just a necessity, until I was talking to a friend about how I had a baby sitter so I could keep working at night. She was shocked and asked me, "You don't use your baby sitter for date night?" And I said, "Well, sure, when I don't have deadlines and all that." But it never occurred to to me our arrangement was odd. I somewhat enjoy working at night because I can combine it with alcohol, so I never thought of it as drudgery.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I'm Not That Kind of Mom

I get these weekly updates from on the status of my baby. They have inane lead-ins such as "Making things easier" or "How can I tell if my child has diarrhea?" I can answer the latter, "Umm… it's pretty obvious, especially when it is running out of his diaper and onto your thigh." Another one I think is dumb: "Is it spit-up or vomit?" Again, my answer is "Vomiting is pretty obvious when once you see your kid doing it."

So I've essentially stopped reading because I don't need any more advice on "how to organize my diaper bag." Have you seen my diaper bag? It's fully of random shit, and probably some dirty diapers that I haven't bothered to throw away.

I am nowhere near that Mother-Earth-Gaia-loving image that and many other magazines and sites like to paint. I'm busy and practical. I don't want to waste my time on fretting over whether or not I am mothering my children correctly. It amazes me when I talk to these new moms who have been agonizing over whether to make their own food or not, glass vs. plastic vs. pouch food, pacifier or no pacifier. Who cares? Just take care of business (TCB). If your kid is hungry, dirty, or pissy, just TCB. I don't think there is any right way to parent, and there is no magical cure for a baby's cry (which is why I get so annoyed when people try to tell me how to do it!!).

Everyday is different, but better than the last. I can't wait to sleep an entire night without interruption.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Oh yeah, that's why I avoid service

I serve on a committee I should like because it addresses a topic that I really care about. We haven't met for a while, and over time I forgot why I didn't like this committee. Until today. I did my assigned duty, and I was immediately criticized for how I did it. Oh yeah, that's why I hated this committee. Anytime I did any actual "service" to the committee, I was told that I wasn't doing it right. I have yet to receive instructions on how to do whatever I'm supposed to do correctly, so I guess I'll just start doing nothing. I can do "nothing" very well.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The day I've been trying to avoid has come. My husband has been accused of giving me preferential treatment. (We are in the same department).

When a married couple is in the same department, nepotism, or whatever the word for it is (marriagism), is waiting at the line. There is an unofficial policy of married folks not serving on the same committees, and I completely agree with that. But there are some instances where the idea of favoritism comes inching in. Suppose that the husband or wife is in charge of allotting resources, TA support, class assignments, etc. Reasonably, he or she should have a second party review the proposed decision before signing off on it (which is what Mr. JP did).

But, faculty like to complain. And when faculty don't get what they want, they tend to go after the lowest hanging fruit or the sorest spot in terms of complaining. So now, I have been named, in writing, by an angry faculty member as a recipient of favoritism from my husband. (Honestly, the idea of him favoring me for anything makes me raise my eyebrows). Presently, this is being handled by the department head, who is smart enough to see what is really happening.

The whole thing makes me uncomfortable because I have to interact with this angry faculty member for possibly years to come. They do not know that I am aware of their accusations. I can't look at them the same way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Am I Funded Yet?

I should be hearing back any day now on an NSF proposal, and I can't help but click away at the status page. I know the site doesn't update every 30 sec, so why am I - like a rat - clicking away at something that still says "Pending"?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Herding Cats for Service

This job entails teaching, research, and service. There appear to be many differing opinions on what constitutes service activities and how much service is appropriate. To me service, includes sitting on committees, being an officer in a professional organization, organizing symposia, sitting on thesis committees, acting in an administrative role (e.g., ABET coordinator).  I'm sure I missed some other activities, but you get the idea.

Many of my colleagues shy away from doing any service at all. I can understand the rationale, being that there is no tangible return (money) for doing service. Even so, shirking duties can be frustrating to me because it puts that much more service work on those willing to do it.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of service is when you rely on other faculty to complete your tasks. For instance, suppose you need volunteers to judge student talks or attend a science demonstration. In this case, it is an activity that you can't do all by yourself. When volunteers are required, I am left to herding cats and twisting arms to get faculty to give me even a response. I know that they are quietly deleting my email requests for volunteers (hey, I do it, too). At some point, I have to call them up or talk with faculty face to face to drum up warm bodies for the service task at hand. This whole process is extremely time consuming.

I think that faculty are reluctant to do service activities because they spread so thin for time. If service is neglected, then there are no repercussions. Even promotion and tenure evaluations seem to poo-poo on doing major service (at least from what I have seen). I have never heard of a department head/chair telling a faculty that they weren't doing enough service. Ha!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Do Have Two Children or Three Dependents?

When I tell people that I have two small children, they are usually taken aback, saying something like, "Wow, how do you manage all of that?" The truth is that I'm not really managing. All of this is just happening. The daily grind just happens and things don't get finished or perfectly done.

And when Mr. JP is down and out, I find myself taking care of three people. I believe that I am supposed to take care of him in these times, but it does become very difficult to manage the household as well as my career. My group is running itself, but I am now back-logged with proposals and manuscripts. Everyone is waiting on me at work or at home, trying to get a piece. I'm hungry! Read my manuscript! I pooped! Wah wah wah! Have you written that rec letter yet?

Fortunately, Mr. JP is doing a bit better these past couple days.

Even so, I feel as if I am on that psychotic party boat from the original Charlie and the Chocoloate Factory movie, where I keep hearing:

Round the world and home again
That's the sailor's way
Faster faster, faster faster

There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing

Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing

Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing
Is the grisly reaper mowing

Yes, the danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing

Monday, August 6, 2012

Distorted Perceptions Caused By Depression

My husband has had depression for many months, perhaps even over a year. I don't know how to help, and I feel insanely frustrated and sad. I am especially sad because I just realized that I've been so happy for the last two weeks, during which time, he and I were separated at various conferences.

I wake up in the mornings so happy and ready to attack the day. He, on the other hand, wakes up depressed and sullen. We usually drive to work together, and on that drive, he talks about how he hates work and everyone there. I usually spend this time trying to convince him that what he sees isn't true to reality. By the time we get to work, I, too, am so depressed from these discussions that I can hardly start my day. Today, I lost it, because I'm so tired of the depression. But that just made it all worse. I'm at a total loss. He's already getting help, but it just doesn't seem to be enough.

Work is surely going to improve in the next coming months. We've got a new department head and new staff coming. Good changes are in our future. That's how I see it at least. He sees it as, "that department head is going to come in and tell me how horrible I am doing." I just don't know how to break that cycle of thinking - that's not the reality here! And when I tell him that his perception of reality isn't true, he gets very angry with me. 

So now I'm crying in my office with the door shut. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

I've Been Missing Because I'm Busy Being Bad A&&

I disappeared for a whole month because I got swallowed up in proposal writing, conferences (three of them in six weeks), and manuscripts. Sorry about that.

This last month has been bad a&&! I've been on Enbrel for six weeks now, and I can confidently say that this drug is working!! I have felt normal for the first time since 2007. I can play Just Dance on the Wii with my son. I played ultimate frisbee with friends (only 20 min.) All my cricks and creaks are gone but one and I can live with that. It's given me such an incredible outlook of late. I'm finally turning outward towards more of my friends, not worrying about being too tired. I'm even thinking about buying a mountain bike.

This Enbrel sh&& is expensive! I went to Walgreen's to pick it up and the pharmacist told me that it would be $2000 for one month of injections! My pharmacy insurance charges me only $35 per month if I get it delivered by mail, so that's what I'm doing now.

One of my accepted articles got traction in the media and I was on local TV twice! It was hilarious because I was wearing a T-shirt with a dinosaur that said "Professor Science" during the interview.

I tallyed up some rejected proposals this month, which blows. I'll just go write more.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Many of my pals are writing the CAREER proposals now, and I've been reading their proposals, etc. I thought it might be interesting to post my thoughts on what makes a good CAREER proposal. If you have some questions, you could ask them as "comments" and I'll try to give thoughts on them. I like lists so here is a numbered list:

1. Formatting: Make your proposal look nice. Don't overlook formatting. A bad looking proposal appears disorganized and reviewers may perceive that your research is also disorganized.

2. Spelling: One spelling error can cost you an entire proposal. Don't trust spell check.

3. Hypothesis-Driven: NSF loves hypothesis-driven research. What are your hypotheses? How will you test them? What motivated you to formulate those hypotheses?

4. Observation-Hypothesis Table: I love to have a table of observations and hypotheses to demonstrate the motivation for my proposed work. I saw this kind of table on a panel, and it was very well received.  The observations should have citations wherever possible. The hypotheses should tie into your proposed research or proposed tasks. This kind of table explicitly demonstrates your ability to use the scientific method.

5. Attitude: Your writing style should be authoritative, as if you are an expert in the field. Avoid negative language. Avoid bragging.

6. Adviser: It is important to distinguish your proposed work from what you did in your Ph.D. or post-doc. Is your adviser going down the same avenue presently? I had to explicitly state how my work was different because it wasn't immediately obvious to someone outside the field.

7. Audience: Write at the level of the lowest denominator. Your proposal will likely be reviewed by someone in your discipline, but not in your field. You cannot assume that the reviewer will have a priori knowledge of what your field is, or the history of your field. Therefore, you must approach the proposal as if it is a chance to educate and persuade the reader that your field is important and interesting.

8. Cook and Look: Reviewers are always on the outlook for "cook and look" proposals, so avoid proposing that! An example of cook and look would be "Task 1: I'm going to vary pH, Task 2: I'm going to vary concentration, Task 3: I'm going to vary temperature."

9. Finish Early: If the first draft is finished early, then you can send it out to friends and colleagues for their opinion. Consider all suggestions. Take their criticism gracefully.

10: Clarity: If something isn't clear, consider making a cartoon or schematic. Panelists love pictures.

11: References: Oftentimes, panelists will flip to the references section to check how many references were included. I've heard some panelists remark that anything less than 100 is unacceptable. As ridiculous as it sounds, I don't want to anger them, so I have a minimum of 100.

12. My recipe:

p.1-2 Motivation and Observation/Hypothesis Table
p. 2-3 Briefly list Technical Objectives
p. 3 Briefly list Educational Objectives
p. 3-4 Background
p. 5 Qualification of the PI (establish your expertise and your independence from your advisers)
p. 5-7 Preliminary Work
p. 7 Begin Research Plan
p. 7-9 Objective 1
p. 9-10 Objective 2
p. 11- Objective 3
p. 12-14 Educational Plan
p. 14 Dissemination of Results
p. 14 Current NSF Support
p. 15 Summary and Time Table

Good luck!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I don't have TB, but maybe my dept is sick

I guess I'm one of those people that routinely test positive for TB, so my Dr. changed his mind and let me start Enbrel. My husband did my first injection one week ago. It's hard to tell if there is any instantaneous effect. All I can say now is that my neck doesn't hurt at the end of the day anymore. Tomorrow, I do the injection again.

On a separate topic, things haven't been going well for my department for the last year. We have lost several faculty, for better and worse. And now, several of our best staff have announced their resignations. It makes me sad that things are going on such that even staff are leaving. This department will be totally different in the next two years as replace staff and faculty, but today does feel like a low point. I wish I could describe it more in this blog, but it isn't appropriate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Can my body get any more ridculous

I tested positive for TB, so I can't start Enbrel until I take months of antibiotics. I was so angry when I found out. What else is my body going to do to me? But Mr. JP cheered me up as we joked about who could have possibly exposed me to TB.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What My Weekend Looks Like

Weekends are more exhausting than weekdays because of all my dang chores and my two "spawn", as my friends call my kids. I spend the entire weekend grocery shopping, cooking meals for the next week, doing household laundry, washing dishes and baby bottles, and wrangling children. I usually manage some time to take a bath. If I'm lucky, I can squeeze in some time to hang our with girlfriends. As for work, I only have time to check my email once on Saturday and once on Sunday night. The idea of working on papers or proposals is in the forefront of my mind, but there is no hope of getting to them. And where is my husband during all of this? Let's just say that he does what husbands do. He's had great difficulty lately, so at times I feel as if I am taking care of three dependents instead of two.

As for help around the house, I've got maids and a mother's helper who comes once per week. I've thought about outsourcing laundry, but that is something I don't want to spend money on. Mr. JP does all the yard work and takes out the trash. We try to split child care, where one person either takes both kids or where we each take one kid. 

I wonder if my inability to work on weekends negatively impacts my career, but that thought is always accompanied by the realization that a few years ago I thought my career was over. I am thankful just to have one, but shouldn't I be kicking scientific ass out there?  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

To Qual or Not To Qual

One of my best students failed their qualifying exams for the second time, meaning that they must get a masters degree. I am upset because they are fantastic in the lab, and it is a disservice to deny them a chance at a Ph.D. The student made an "A" in the subject in which they failed their qual. I argued their case as much as a could before the faculty and the compromise was that the student could reapply to the Ph.D. program when they neared the completion of their masters.

This case led to the general agreement that our department needed to reevaluate how we do our qualifying exams. Apparently we didn't have them at all in the past, and now we do. I personally see quals as a mechanism to fail out students who perform really badly, and my student doesn't fit that criteria at all. I agree with the idea of quals, but not with our rules as they stand. A mechanism that siphons low-performing students to a masters degree is certainly needed. Others may disagree that quals should be black and white, but I think there should exist an in-between where the advisor can provide input on the student's lab performance to push the decision one way or the other.

I am especially upset because both students accepted into my group last fall have "failed out". The first one made D's in their grad class (!!!). And, now this.

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Good Very Bad Day

Nobody in this family had a good day. It started out with Mr. JP getting a mean-spirited rejection for his manuscript. Then, I got another proposal rejected. It hurts because the person who got it is always the person who gets it over me (sigh). And, when I went to pick up Sparky from montesorri, his teachers told me that he hit 2-3 kids. I asked him about it, and he lied to me. Time for some wine in a box.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy News

Yesterday I saw my rheumatologist for a sono on my hands. There were no new erosions!! This was the first time I'd had that good news. Even so, I decided to start Enbrel to combat my fatigue and general pain.  I'm starting in two weeks after an upcoming trip. Thank you for the comments, they made the decision seem much less scary.

On another happy note, I just got a manuscript accepted to a journal with a high impact factor. Weeee.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Temper Tantrum Over Group Meeting

I threw a temper tantrum over group meeting, embarrassing myself in front of my students. I went to our group meeting location at the scheduled time, only to find the lights off, no computer set up, and not a single group member present. I called up to the student office saying, "Does anyone remember that we have group meeting today?" They all collectively scurried down to the room, but once they were there, I was so steaming mad that words started uncontrollably pouring out of my mouth.

"I'm really really sick today, and I dragged my ass in to come to this group meeting. None of you could bother to even show up on time. This is a waste of my time. If this were industry, you'd all be fired. No get out - I don't want to see any of you."

I was really really pissed because I was having horrible side effects from the methotrexate that day, and the last thing I wanted to deal with was a bunch of students being disrespectful. Two of the six sent me apologies. But I haven't spoken to any group members since. Oh sigh.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Better Living Through Chemistry... a Dupont slogan that my friends and I throw around when we're talking about the miracles of modern medicine. Twenty years ago there were few effective treatments for RA that were likely to yield a good quality of life. Since the use of methotrexate and biologics, someone who has RA can have a full life and career if the right cocktail of meds are found. I'm still searching for that right combination, but I believe I'm almost there.

I'm now on the max dose of methotrexate. It works, but not well enough. I still have daily pain. I can't hold my 4 month old baby without aggravating muscle groups for days. I've resorted to pushing the baby around in the stroller inside my own house. Several days ago, I spent 15 min trying to remove a key from my key chain before slicing a finger open. Yesterday, I was unable to install a carseat for the baby because I couldn't press the little plastic button, and had to get someone else to help me. These things are little, but they are extremely aggravating because they are constant reminders that I still need help.

My doctor has suggested that I try Enbrel or Humira since methotrexate isn't totally doing the job. They seem really scary to me, and I've never met anyone on them. It'd be nice to talk to someone who can give perspective. I could do that much more around the house or at work without relying on other people with these meds. Suppose you could take a pill or have an injection that makes your life even just a fraction easier - who wouldn't turn that away?

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Last Name

My husband and I have different last names. I did not change my last name when he and I were married because I had already published and didn't want to generate confusion. As time has passed, I've been happy with the decision for other reasons. For one, most students, staff, and other people at this university don't realize that he and I are married unless I tell them.

At family functions I don't mind that we are collectively referred to as "the Husband's Last Names" because we are a family and one last name makes sense. But at work I don't want that to happen.

At a departmental event, my department head called for me as "Dr. Husband's Last Name," when he knows that I'm actually "Dr. JP." I was so amazed at this step out of bounds that I answered and didn't correct him. Would he ever call my husband by my last name? I'm thinking, no.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2 biological kids, and 6 non-biological: How we sort of manage

Running a group of 6 people is really challenging when you've got a lot of stuff going on at home. It's nearly impossible to keep all of your 6 grown up "kids", your husband, and your two biological kids happy.

Mr. JP and I drop and pick up one child each, so they get individual attention in the morning and afternoon. At work, I stop by the lab and talk to each member for as long as they like (this is usually takes anywhere from 0 min to 1 hr). Mr. JP and I try to go out on brief dates for dinner or lunch. With the baby, I feel rushed because I don't want to be gone from him too long.

I wouldn't say that everything is balanced. I feel like my lab is running itself without my control, and that I am rate-limiting-step in getting publications out the door. At home, it's all I can do the keep up with chores and child-care. The only time I have for myself is when I take a 15 min bath. In the evening I'm so exhausted, that I can hardly do more work. It's a busy time, and it's a happy time. I realize that the imbalance is temporary because the kids will get older and more self-sufficient.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rejections… And a Silver Lining

Dang - did anyone else get rejected today? :)

I am so frustrated, because I have this fantastic project and no one wants to fund it. Of course, I need some publications out there to back up the preliminary data, but I want funding now! OK, there was my temper tantrum.

On a happier note, I recently gave a talk at my Super Famous alma mater. It was fantastic, and it made me so thrilled. All the faculty remembered me, and talked to me like a peer. They told me that they were proud of me, and that my work was good. (Isn't that what we all want to hear once in a while?). I nailed my talk, and got lots of great questions from faculty and students. The whole experience was like a great trip off into an alternate, happy reality. One faculty even said that the stuff I presented, would change my (tiny, little) field. Aw, contented sigh.

A funny thing happened during that trip. I went to the university shop to buy t-shirts for my family, when I saw a familiar face: it was my ex-fiance??? WTF? I quickly ducked behind a clothing rack and peered out between t-shirts to spy on him. He was there with another woman - who looked just like me. Then he saw me crouched behind the clothes rack. I panicked and ran to the back of the store and called my friend. What do I do what do I do? She said to me, "Go downstairs and hide in the text book section!" I did so and waited 15 min. By then, he had left. The most embarrassing part: I was wearing a coat that his mother had bought me 10 years ago, and I know he saw it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Keeping Minutes

Friday was a Very Important Meeting for my department. The administrative assistant who usually takes notes and keeps minutes was gone. My department head asked me if I could take notes in her place. Aghast, I said, "No, I can't." He then turned to my male junior colleague, asked him to take notes, and the colleague agreed. I could just be pissed about the whole thing, or I could rationalize it like this: I was the most junior person in the room, so I was asked to do the note-taking. The fact that the head turned to next most junior person after me, supports this idea. I'm just happy I didn't have to take notes!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I Did During My Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is not a vacation.

At least that is the message I get from employer. We do not have a maternity leave policy for faculty. We have optional "guidelines." The idea is that in lieu of teaching, the new mother would do an equivalent time-consuming activity. Examples I was given included taking on the role of ABET coordinator, planning a major symposium, chairing a university wide committee. You can see how ridiculous these guidelines can be. Instead of recovering from child birth, the new mom gets to hop right into Service! I am an officer in a national professional organization and a co-chair on a university wide committee that happens to be all women. I successfully advocated for those activities to replace my teaching. Then, I told my professional organization that I wouldn't do any service because I was on maternity leave. The other chairs on my committee gave me the time off. So I got a "real" maternity leave, but I had to manipulate the system. Even then, I had to consume all of my sick leave and half of my vacation to stay at home during this time to maintain my salary.

After having the baby, I went back to work half time 10 days after he was born. My in-laws stayed until daycare started, so the baby was being cared for quite well by family. Gradually, I came in for a few hours more, until I was full time in April. During maternity leave, I submitted two papers and I wrote no grants. My mind wasn't ready for grant writing because of the sleep-deprivation. I caught up on many little things and met with my students once in a while. Mostly, I just went in for coffee breaks with my girl-friends. I played a lot of Words with Friends, discovered Big Fish Games, and watched three seasons of Angel. Going back to work and also taking the time to relax staved off post-partum depression. I also took a lot of baths! I discovered Lush, and have been using bath bombs and bubble bars. It really helps my achy joints. I do miss my maternity leave, but I'm thrilled to being back to Prof. JP.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Managing a Group During Maternity Leave

It is hard to be a boss when you aren't there. My lab turned into the wild, wild west after two months, culminating in a glorious accident in which no one was injured.

I have a group of <10 people working on two themes. Prior to going on leave, I separated my group into sub-groups based on theme. A post-doc led each sub-group with weekly meetings and presentations. The post-doc wrote me weekly reports on the activities of each member of the sub-group. This worked very well to keep people going.

The big challenge was that no one was playing the role of enforcer. These post-docs wanted to be everybody's friend, not everybody's boss. After two months of leave, my lab became dirty and unsafe. I didn't go into my lab often enough to notice. We had an accident that required us to call EHS - an accident where someone could have been critically injured. That accident was a huge wakeup call that maternity leave was over because my lab needed me.

In the wake of the accident, I have now schedule weekly lab cleanups centered around group meeting. I use this cleanup time to scrutinize every bottle and surface. Our group meetings have a safety presentation now. I made every member of my group complete safety training, regardless whether of they were out of date or not. We had a special lecture on safety from our College's rep. I interviewed every lab member and asked them about what safety violations they saw and what was troubling them. I did not ask them to name names, just name the actions. What came out of it was pretty much everyone's desire to be safe and be clean, but no one wanting to do the work, hence the weekly cleanups. One of my lab members actually told me that they wanted me to law down the law, and that they missed me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

We're Here

He was born in January, and I was instantly bonded to him. My life is full, happy, and busy.

I was high-risk, having to get weekly sonograms. His birth-weight was low, and I was induced on my due date. Labor was painful, fast, and relatively easy compared to my first one. There was no time for an epidural. I did not breastfeed because I wanted to go on all my RA meds right away to stave off a flare-up. I do not feel guilty about that decision because I can hold my son and play with him - something I would have never been able to do otherwise. He sleeps very well, getting up only once at night. We let him cry it out at first, and it worked well. I just do not have the strength to hold my son all day, so crying it out was our solution. I do not feel guilty about that either, since the whole family is very well rested and I am presently functional.

I had such a different experience with first child. I tried to breast feed him and follow attachment parenting all while battling a debilitating flare-up. That was a disaster, and I learned from it.

My in-laws stayed with us until daycare started. When I was in pain, they could care for my son. They could hold him. They could do chores while I slowly recovered. Now that maternity leave has ended, the in-laws have left. I am learning how to manage my family, my house, and my job. I'm not saying its working well, but it is "working". All the kids are fed, clean, and in bed - at least for tonight.