Monday, September 30, 2013

Do I suck at feminism?

You know how sometimes it takes so long to form an opinion that it’s almost not worth voicing it anymore? That’s what happened after I read this list of tips for male academics on how to deal with women on TenureSheWrote. My first opinion was:”If we (women) are telling men how to behave, isn’t that exactly what we don’t want to have happen to ourselves?”. Isn’t the idea of feminism that we (men and women) are all treated equally and that therefore neither men nor women should tell the other sex how to behave?

It is not that I don’t agree with the list; I’ve had many of those things happen to me and I think that sucks. But after seeing the amount of anger and annoyance when people commented on this exact issue, I didn’t really dare to voice that opinion until I had thought about it a bit more. Because the reactions on twitter and in the comments made me doubt:”do I suck at feminism?”. Am I too privileged with a grandmother who had a job and a grandfather who walked behind the stroller? Am I too privileged with two parents who have PhDs? Am I too privileged because my mom always treated my brother and me the same? Am I too privileged because all my life I had this knowledge instilled in me that I could become anything I wanted if I just worked hard enough for it? Even though I get comments on the way I’m dressed and the amount of children I produce or the fact that I look way too young to be where I am in my career, my first thought is:”You can say that, but I have every right to be here and be as awesome as whoever just gave me that comment.”

But this upbringing also makes me think that everybody thinks the same way. And that maybe even though a man may comment on my outfit, that does not make him think less of me in a scientific way. This is where I probably go wrong. Perhaps my idea that if we all work together we can create a happy society where nobody needs to tell the other sex how to behave is a bit too optimistic. Perhaps it is necessary to tell each other how to behave in order to create more equality. Not just in science, but for everybody who needs feminism.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On motivation in the lab

Without going into too much detail about the state that our lab is in due to the economy and sequestration, there is a great lack in motivation in some people in the lab. This is not new, as I have written about this before, but it does make me wonder what PIs do to motivate people in their lab. How do you make sure people stay enthusiastic about doing experiments and if they’re not, how do you try to help them? Personally, I find that it helps to associate with people that are working hard and are trying to be productive rather than to hang with the people that seem to have given up hope to get experiments done and papers written. But other than that, when I am in the position to mentor someone (like an undergrad, summer student or tech) I find it hard to find a balance between giving someone the freedom to schedule their experiments and plan their time for them for example. How do you go about motivating the people in your lab? Or do you feel that’s not necessary as people should come with enough intrinsic motivation?

Monday, September 23, 2013

The suckiest part of being a scientist and a mom...

... to me right now is the unpredictability of sleep. In order to function at a decent level I need a certain amount of sleep. And being pregnant I need a little more too I think. Pre-baby I knew that if I had important stuff to write (like the pile of grants and fellowships that I'm writing now), I would go to bed early and make sure I'm rested so that I can be focused the next day. Now, I can go to bed however early I want, but if BlueEyes is having a crappy night, then so am I.

I haven't written a lot about baby sleep recently, but it's still not awesome. A great night is when BlueEyes wakes up for the first time around 2 pm and an awesome night is when he doesn't wake up at all, but these awesome nights can be counted on the fingers of half a hand. Most of the time I'm okay with that. I know that after a crappy night, a better night will follow. But in these pre-deadline days when I'm slightly stressed about funding and what that means for my career (slightly is really a huge understatement) I find myself having a hard time to keep my cool about this. And it has been proven now that me panicking about lack of sleep in the middle of the night does not increase sleep for anyone in this family. So there's that. Back to grant writing (1 down, 3 to go).

Friday, September 13, 2013

If I stand for too long I faint

Both pregnancies I’ve had this annoying thing that if I stand for longer than 30-40 minutes, I get lightheaded and am on my way to fainting. I don’t know why this happens, because my blood pressure does not drop very low; last time when my midwife measured it, it was a very average 120/70. Usually this is not a big deal, because if I sit down for a little bit it goes away. But sometimes there’s nowhere to sit, for example when waiting in line at a very busy restaurant that just opened. This happened a couple months ago and I was put on a chair by a colleague just before falling to the floor. Or when waiting in line at the airport, but then I can usually move my legs enough to prevent actually fainting. 

Another occasion where you have to stand for this amount of time is when giving a talk about science. That happened yesterday. My talk went very well I think, but a couple minutes into the questions I felt kind of lightheaded. I was hoping it would go away but I felt myself get more and more dizzy and was hoping people couldn’t see anything… At some point, when I realized I wasn’t done answering questions anytime soon and I just had to sit down. So I did, mumbled some apology for it and luckily the two fellow post-doc moms that I knew in the audience looked very understanding. I felt embarrassed, but I guess fainting in front of an entire audience would have been worse. I finished answering questions and the PI that invited me said he was impressed that I came to deliver my talk at 7 months pregnant, so I guess it wasn’t a big deal. But I did leave the talk feeling a bit embarrassed about the situation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On finding mentors

I just read this post on TenureSheWrote (great blog by the way!) titled “It takes a village to mentor an academic”. I think that is very true and I think the biggest lesson I have learned during my post-doc is to go out and find your own team of mentors. During my PhD I didn’t realize that yet, and I thought that you had to work with what you were given, which in my case was someone I sometimes hated and sometimes liked. During my post-doc, the first time I gave my PI a grant to read and he said:”Looks great, I think you’ll get it” I thought that was a really nice comment and very helpful of hir. However, when I didn’t get said grant, I realized that next time I may want to ask more people to look at it, which is what I did.
However, not just for reading-purposes was it useful to sometimes be bold and ask people for advice, also for things like career advice, advice on where to go next with experiments and advice on how to deal with other people in the lab. At first I felt awkward asking people to help me out with no obvious benefit to them, but in the past couple of years I have become more confident in asking others for their input and advice. And I try to pay back by helping out others who come to me asking for advice or whether I want to proofread something. Where papers are the currency of science, mentoring seems the karma of science.

Did you find your own team of mentors and how do you feel about asking other people for advice and guidance?

Friday, September 6, 2013

When do you stop pumping milk at work?

A while back I wrote about pumping milk at work and the other day I got an email from a reader asking me the following:

Hi Babyattachmode,

I came across your blog while looking for some guides to breastfeeding and pumping at work. I am about to go back to work as a postdoc, and I'm wondering whether it is possible to not pump at work at all and will my milk supply go down if I skip my work pump. Any advice is appreciated!

Best [anonymous]

Even though I’m not a lactation consultant, I do have some experience and heard a lot of advice and experiences from women around me, so I told her this:

It really depends on the age of your baby and on your supply. For most women, their milk supply starts to be stable between 9 months and a year. So if you baby is older than 9 months, I think you should be okay not pumping at work and just nursing him at home. However, if your baby is younger than that, I think not pumping will affect your supply and it's up to you how much you don't want that. If you're okay with your supply dropping and slowly moving over to formula, then you can do it and any breastmilk he gets from you is something of course! However, if you plan to nurse longer and your baby is younger than 9 months, I wouldn't advice not pumping at work.
Another thing to consider is your own comfort. When I stopped pumping when my son was 1 year, I still got pretty engorged at the end of a workday and had my handpump in my office to relieve the pressure on days when it got too bad. I'm sure my breasts could not have handled an 8+ hour workday without pumping in the first year, but I know this is different for different women too.
A last thing to add is that for me, pumping was not that much work. It's another thing to add to your routine, but I was usually done within 15 minutes per session, and I pumped twice a day. I had an extra set of tubing and breastshields so that I didn't have to wash those in between pumping sessions for example.

To which she replied that her baby was 9 months and that she had pumped twice daily since she went back to work when her baby was 2 months.
So I told her:

When your baby is already nine months, you're likely going to be okay not pumping and continuing to nurse. I dropped one pumping session at 9 months and the other at 12, but you might be okay just not pumping during the day. Just see how it goes and if your supply drops dramatically you can always decide to continue pumping for a couple more weeks/months and then try again. For a while I pumped during breakfast to have an extra bottle and leave home with empty breasts for the day (especially when BlueEyes decided not to nurse a lot in the morning).

I thought I'd post this conversation on my blog too, as it might be helpful to others too!