'Round the tubes: work-life issues

(by sanitized) Aug 05 2010

It's that kind of week--mulling over school starting back up (teaching for me, class time for Progeny) must have many of us in the blogosphere thinking about work/life "balance." Scicurious has a post up discussing balance and grad school, while Southern Fried Scientist writes about grad school advice. DrugMonkey also has a collection of posts on the topic from over at the LabSpaces group.

One more comment on this--like Janet, I think juggling is a better description of my life. Any kind of balance is too easily tipped by the next upcoming lecture I need to write, or grant application due, or kid's soccer practice that needs to be run.

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"Superwoman" discussion continued

(by sanitized) Aug 04 2010

Thanks to so many of you who left comments or posted your thoughts on your own blogs. I was actually out on a vacation day yesterday with my partner (sans kids, a very rare occurrence which will be the topic of a future post). Apologies to those of you whose excellent comments were caught in moderation--not sure why that happened, but they're published now and I'm looking into my settings so moderation is not the default. Here was the original post, along with posts from Mike Dunford on seeing it from the dad POV in his new digs at The Questionable Authority, and Janet Stemwedel in her new location at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

In the meantime, since I'm already feeling guilty about not having time this week to stay connected here on Scientopia and meet & greet all the new neighbors, I'll point out a few great posts I caught today:

Is it Luck, or do I Suck? by Candid Engineer

First Defense and the Talking Jitters by Prof-like Substance

Grrrr by Professor in Training (this is sure to be my week starting Monday)

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On being Superwoman

(by sanitized) Aug 03 2010

I’ve been fortunate to have mostly fabulous mentors ever since my undergrad research days. These have been almost evenly split between men and women; senior and junior level researchers; academics without children, and researchers with kids ranging in age from infants to college students. However, despite this, I rarely had any discussions with them about how they actually *do* it, as far as keeping it together, maintaining funding, and keeping some semblance of a life outside of work. But once upon a time, I did receive a book.

At the time, I was a bit more naïve than I am now. I guess the reason I’d not discussed any of these career/life issues much with any of my mentors was because I hadn’t considered the reality of how difficult my career trajectory would be; I didn’t know yet just how clueless I was about the kind of life I was choosing. The book was a collection of essays—dated at the time I received it, but still pertinent. They discussed the reality of being a woman in a scientific career, mostly with a very positive spin and “you can do it!” attitude. Most of the researchers were women whose names I didn’t recognize.

Until I got to the essay by Lynn Margulis.

I’d read her book "Acquiring Genomes" and knew the basics about her—she had been married to Carl Sagan, endosymbiosis, etc. So I thought, “fabulous, here’s how to do it.”

Fifteen minutes later, I was ready to drown my sorrows in a stiff drink.

I’m a pretty blunt person. I prefer honesty to euphemisms, and the truth to white  lies. As such, I’m still conflicted about Margulis’ essay all these years later, especially since now I'm a divorced single mom living in sin with a new partner and trying to make it all work.

In the essay, Margulis discusses her roles as a mother and wife, and how they’ve conflicted with her scientific career. She relates this to the movie “The Red Shoes”, where a prima ballerina feels forced to choose between her life as a dancer and the man she loves. Margulis opined:

At age 15 I was certain that the ballerina died because of a silly antiquated convention that insisted that it is impossible for any woman to maintain both family and career. I am equally sure now that the people of her generation who insisted on either marriage or career were correct, just as those of our generation who perpetuate the myth of the superwoman who simultaneously can do it all--husband, children, and professional career--are wrong.

She goes on to discuss how the idea of being a "superwoman" leads to "thwarted expectations, the helpless-hopeless syndrome, failed dreams, and frustrated ambitions. A lie about what one woman can accomplish leads to her, and her mate's, bitter disappointment and to lack of self-esteem."

I disagree with her blanket statement that no one can "do it all"—plenty of scientists can and do combine success in their career with very happy home lives, raising well-adjusted children within supportive partnerships. Are they the exceptions that prove the rule? I think of myself as an optimist, and most of the time I like to think that Margulis is just overly pessimistic, and extrapolating too far from her own experiences with failed marriages. Indeed, she attributes her own scientific success to twice quitting "her job as a wife." But there are definitely days when I feel like I can’t handle it, and that despite knowing intellectually that it’s impossible to be a SuperEverything all the time and something’s gotta give…and I wonder sometimes, amongst the stress couched in chocolate wrappers and stacks of papers, if she wasn’t on to something.

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(by sanitized) Aug 02 2010

Greetings! Welcome to SFYP. The idea for this blog has been percolating for awhile, and this new collective was a good excuse to finally get it up and running. I envision this as a place to vent about job frustrations, crow about progeny accomplishments, commiserate about feeling like a failure as a parent, and give (and reach out for) advice about work and family. And, as the name suggests, content will be mildly sanitized to protect the innocent--or to disguise the assholes, as the case may be.

A bit about me...still navigating the academic world, gaining a bit more confidence with each passing year. I'm currently in a great relationship with a supportive (and very patient and understanding) partner, but had some dark times a few years ago as I was going through a divorce and suddenly became a single parent--something I had never planned on or thought would be my life. As such, the last several years have been a time of forced growth, mostly for the better.

Today I'm unfortunately out of town and away from wifi, so I will be adding a blogroll and doing some other site maintenance and updates throughout the week and into next--today's appearance is very much still a beta version, so stop back for actual posts and site improvements!

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