Sunday, January 17, 2010

A new year, a new outlook?

Happy New Year everyone! May it bring you wonderful things... luck, joy, contentment, success, etc.

It turns out I was far more worried than I needed to be about telling my advisor. I received a congratulations and even a plethora of advice (on childcare, etc.)! Needless to say I hope my productivity lives up to expectations so that this positive trend of interactions continues.

Speaking of productivity, I'm wondering what will happen to my undergraduate students who I mentor in the lab when my little person is born. I was thinking of still meeting with them weekly while I'm on maternity leave, but I'm not sure if this is realistic. If I leave the baby with my husband for a couple hours between nursings, can I go into campus? Will having an episiotomy prevent me from being mobile for a couple weeks? So many questions and frankly I have no idea what's realistic to expect. Any experienced advice from other women out there is welcome. I really don't want to leave my undergrads feeling as if I've abandoned them.

I also wonder how the arrival of a new little person (/ huge part) of my life will affect my outlook on jobs, science, etc. I know so many talented, career-oriented women who stopped in their career tracks and chose to focus on their family. Is a switch going to get flipped in me too? Of course I realize I'm not suddenly going to be a maternal robot without capacity to make a rational decision, but I also assume having a child will have a very very large impact on my life outlook.

Is there really an ideal job for a female scientist who wants time with her family? Is either academia or industry better suited for this? I have mixed opinions at this time, and may post on them later.


  1. I'm not a scientist, but I'm a professor at a research university with a 1 year old (and 10 PhD students).

    While I was on maternity leave, I didn't teach or do research but I still held on to my advising and admin duties. That translated, even at bare bones level, to 20 hours per week, mostly done from home on my computer. I ended up with an emergency C-section (so not my plan) and had a hard time getting around at first, had to be driven places for the first month, etc. That said, I conducted a student's oral exam a week after giving birth (with my baby in my arms). I conducted a dissertation defense about 2 months later, and I ran a monthly faculty meeting. I did other meetings via skype. I tried to not overschedule myself, but it was possible to get away for a few hours at a time. You'll just want to plan nursing/pumping accordingly (e.g. pump before going so you're on empty and can handle a few hours away).

    For me, having my daughter has both helped me keep work in perspective (it's only work) and made it important that I continue (setting an example for her). Everything is different, but it's a good kind of different. There are days when I wish I could stop the work and just be a mom, but I know that within 3 days of doing that I'd itch to be back at work. I need both to make me happy. But definitely I think about my work in a different way now.

    Hope some of this is useful!

  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I think you're right about needing and enjoying the balance of work and home life. I find when I have full freedom to stay home, I go a little stir crazy after a while. I really enjoy the balance of getting out and challenging myself intellectually as well as interacting with others. It's just too bad that somewhere society lost this idea of "balance," but I think it's up to each of us as individuals to reclaim it.

  3. I would say the first two weeks you will likely be out of it. After that until about 8 weeks you don't care much about anything (including showers). I had my students email me weekly updates. No response means - everything sounds good. Replied only if there was a problem or question to answer. I did weekly lab meetings after 1 month (usually brought baby, fed in office and then had him in sling during meeting/seminar). I had a student defend 5 weeks after first kid arrived and major conference with 5 talks from the lab 8 weeks after baby arrived. Not ideal.
    For VB I would say the first 2 weeks sitting is not great, but just remember the ice pack is your friend (use it a lot the first 24 hrs). And buy the thickest maxis you can find for comfort as dear spouse will be embarrassed when you send him out for them.

    With both kids as a faculty member, I was out about 8 weeks and then part time for about 4 months (no teaching). The students can help each other of get advice from other labs/PIs often. I'm pretty type A, but I just really didn't care about anything work related for 6-8 weeks. It's like the hormones just take over and it is all about survival (you on little sleep, and little one - constant feeding).

    Just remember -this too shall pass and you can get back to super scientist in a few months so try to relax, being a new mom is hard work. Second time around I was more relaxed because I knew I would be back to work in a few months and nothing too horrible would happen.

  4. ME, you are as always amazing in terms of providing helpful, honest advice. It's very helpful hearing everyone's timeframes in terms of setting more realistic expectations for myself (and the students working with me). I will try to be a little less type A for the first few months when the baby comes. I do wonder with the average corporate maternity leave being 6 weeks, how any woman is expected to cope in a "balanced way" out there (especially difficult if someone trys to follow the American Assoc of Pediatricians advice on breastfeeding for the first year).