Monday, March 5, 2012

On role models

I’m pretty excited to participate in feMOMhist's Blog Carnival on International women’s day next Thursday. I think it’s very important to have role models, so we don’t feel so alone and to show us that things that seem impossible are actually doable (for example for me, one of the questions was whether to wait until I got tenure (if ever) or have a baby sooner). I think it is also important to find role models that you can actually identify with, and I love the internet for that, since in real life it is so much harder to find those people.

The first female professor I worked for when I was in college had waited to get tenure before she had a baby. I started working in her lab when her baby was about 9 months. She had gone back to work when the baby was only a couple weeks old, because she felt that otherwise the lab would fall apart (that was a good probability since she was normally pretty controlling). She still worked 80 hour weeks, and on the weekend she and her husband (also a PI) would hire a babysitter to go to the lab and get some extra work done. Night time nursing sessions were used to answer emails. I remember one Saturday night when some friends and I drove back home after going to a bar at two in the morning: we passed the lab on the way home and I saw that the light was on in her office and she was working on a grant.

 I did not at all picture myself in her position. And now that I have a baby myself, I find it even harder to imagine how she was able to work so much while taking care of her baby (or was she perhaps exaggerating how much she actually worked? I don’t know). I was afraid that this would mean that I would never become a professor, since it requires so much work. But then I started meeting more people at meetings and online that show that it is possible to combine a career and motherhood (or just having a life besides work for that matter) in a way that would work for me. Cloud's post about the logistics behind this was very insightful. And even though we’ve only been doing this for a couple months now, I’d be happy to share how we do it in my next post.

All the usefulness of role models aside, I think what helped me most in my panicky days of early pregnancy, when I had just found out how expensive day care was, was watching MTV’s 16 and pregnant, to realize that if they could do it, so could I!


  1. I agree with you that hearing from other folks can be a powerful motivator. Even if you don't draw on them for helpful hints (like alternative ways to attach said baby) I find it helpful to know that there are other folks going through what we are. I'm a dad, and therefore have things much easier, but I still worry about how to balance spending time with my kids and spending time doing the work I need to do to get where I want to be.

    For example last week I had an interview, which meant that my wife would be home with our two kids (4yo and 2mo). I was really concerned about her being overwhelmed, but getting a job would be the best thing for us. I ended up compensating by buying a few puzzles that would distract the old kid for a while, and going to Trader Joe's and buying way more frozen meals than any one family should have at once.

    Just knowing that there are other people trying to do this balance gives me strength. It's nice to draw upon a community to share when you are either overwhelmed or overjoyed by your kids!

    1. Thanks for your comment Josh! I also enjoy the company of all the internet people that are in the same boat.

      Also, I'm not sure if dads have it easier. At least we try to contribute evenly to the care for BlueEyes, and even though I do the nursing at night, my husband will walk around with him at night when he's not going back to sleep. (and I have the benefit of those breastfeeding-hormones that put you right back to sleep!)

  2. I suspect your former professor truly thought she worked 80 hours/week- and maybe she did. But time use studies that actually have people track their time (rather than just report what they think they did) indicate that very few people work such long hours. Most people top out between 50 and 60 hours/week- even people in highly demanding jobs. We tend to overestimate how much time we work- and there is a powerful cultural incentive to do so. Our culture thinks long hours=productivity=value.

    Anyway, welcome to blogging!