Friday, September 30, 2005

monthly summaries and goals

On the last workday of each month, I take a few minutes to list my accomplishments for the past month and write goals for the next month. It gives me a chance to realize that I have actually done something (or very little) in the past few weeks and gives me a sense of what lies ahead. Usually I try to keep my lists fairly short (3-5 bullet points), but this month they got a little out of control.

September 2005 accomplishments:

  1. completed draft of paper (including figs), gave to advisor, got review from advisor
  2. contributed to CL grant by sending data to modeller, doing field work (1 day)
  3. revised CV, wrote statement of teaching philosophy, applied to 1 job
  4. finished summer course responsibilites with incomplete student taking exam
  5. reviewed existing LE data, began to spin up on topic
  6. submitted abstract to conference in Dec on LE (no data yet! a conceptual model?)

October 2005 goals:

  1. revise paper, send to 3rd author, revise and submit
  2. continue work on LE towards conf., proposal, paper, brownbag (10/6)
  3. continue work on CL grant (3 components)
  4. apply for jobs at 3 liberal arts colleges
  5. prepare and submit talk for early Nov conf. (talk due Oct 17)
  6. complete 1+ teacher visits in fulfillment of summer contract (wish I could get out of these)
  7. complete 1 wk of science contest judging (the last year, I swear!)
  8. edit collaborator's paper so can be submitted (and become another paper in review on CV)
  9. do field work as needed (this whole weekend.)
So it's apparently going to be a fractured month. But there's a lot on there that I can't afford to let slide, so it'll have to all get done. But hey I got 6 things done this month. And I'm doing field work all weekend for the UG thesis I'm advising. so I'm leaving now and going to do something fun with my husband, who's been stressed out, is about to lose his job, and with whom I've not been there for very much recently (either emotionally or physically). Have a great weekend.

(the day before) yesterday

Note: I wrote this yesterday (Thursday) but Blogger was unexpectedly down when I went to post, so the events described actually happened two days ago (Wednesday). But that's not really crucial to the story.

Yesterday started out as a very normal day. A bit of email catching-up (legitimate work, I swear) and a wee bit of blog surfing. I finally worked up the nerve to call a prof at one of the liberal colleges where I am intending to apply and got her voicemail. I think I left a decent message and followed it up with an email giving specific questions that I hoped to have her answer regarding the department.

But that was the end of normalcy. You see, a normal day would have continued by having me putz away on some trivial but urgent or important but non-urgent project with breaks for lunch, a meeting, or a trip to the gym.

But that's not what happened. Instead I decided to clean my desk...and I found a job ad that I had pulled out in May. And the deadline is tomorrow. Since I've been working on things like teaching statements and CVs for a while, I decided to take a flier on it, commit to the overnight mail, and put in the application. So I got straight to work. I was hard at work (no putzing here!) on my R1-oriented research statement when the professor whose voicemail I had clogged earlier returned my call. Flustered for a moment, from the unexpected transition from planning my future as a high-powered researcher with Ph.D. students to planning my future as a dedicated undergraduate teacher, I was told that she had looked at my web page and that I was exactly the sort of person her department was looking for. In fact the phrase was "apply, apply, apply." She had good answers to all of my questions, and it was a very positive conversation. For the first time I actually felt like I had a shot at getting a tenure-track position somewhere straight out of my Ph.D. And it was a nice feeling. But the day didn't stop there... no, it just kept getting better.

When I was teaching this summer, the head of our program evaluated one of my lectures, and he had promised to give me a copy of the evaluation back in August. Well, it's now the end of September, I hadn't seen it, and my R1 application needed a teaching evaluation. So after a little spur from me, the evaluation arrived in my email. And it was a rave!!!! Basically it said my lectures were clear, my class was well organized, my students liked me, and "if the opportunity arises, I would hire her to teach this class again." Yippee!

Then, as I was sitting at my desk grinning from ear to ear, my advisor walks in. He says that he has just finished reading and commenting on my paper draft, and that it is the best piece of writing he had ever seen from someone at my stage in the game. He said that the only places that needed any work were the introduction and discussion (putting it in the big picture context), which were the places I hadn't had time to fully finish up before giving it to him. They are also (believe it or not) my traditional weak areas. Anyway, he said, speaking as a journal editor, that my paper was far better than many manuscripts and that he couldn't foresee any major comments (other than maybe something technical, which I expect and would appreciate). So basically all I have to do is finish re-writing the intro and discussion, get comments from the third author (should be minor and generally positive), and then I'll have a paper ready to submit! Yay!

That brings us to 2 pm, after which my day calmed down. The rest of yesterday, as well as today, were pretty normal. I finished up the R1 cover letter, rushed it to the post office downtown, prepped for and then participated in a meeting for an NSF proposal (post-doc?), and made friends with the staff at a a pump store, trying to get some field equipment. So pretty boring, but how much excitement can a girl handle all at once anyways?

I don't mean to brag, it's just nice to have good news to share once in a while.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


See Jane Compute

An assistant professor in computer science ...

Looks like she's got a lot of potential other women in science links. It's like there's a whole community out there and I'm just starting to see the 9/10ths of the iceberg that's underwater. Before I started my blog I looked around for others like the one I wanted to start, but I couldn't find any, and now...

This almost makes me comfortable enough to call that professor at "Prestigous Liberal Arts College with a vacancy in my field" and see whether I can get some sort of insight into what they are looking for, before I spend more time like the blind man and the elephant trying to guess it out on my own.



Another potentially interesting women in science blog. This one I found using the new google blog search. I reccommend it as a vast improvement over trying to use the regular google to find blogs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

women in science blogs

Thanks to Dr. Mom, (My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist) for her comment on my last post. I read her whole blog today (much better than that journal article) and was glad to discover that there is someone else out there who dreams of a day when we can have part-time faculty appointments and be respected for having family priorities be ahead of (but not exclusive to) a career in science.

On her blog, she also linked to Mom Seeks Tenure who seems a little jaded, but probably is just more frazzled, and mostly gives accounts of her day-to-day adventures as an assistant prof at a major research university and mom to two.

I'll be adding you both to my links list, and checking back often. It's good to know that there are others out there who had kids in grad school, survived it, and have gone on to bigger and better things. And also are interested in the same issues I am.

Monday, September 26, 2005

reply to a well-thought out comment...


First, I did not mean to suggest that these women were casually choosing to stay home. Reading back over my post, I used the word "flippant" to describe the assumption that pregnancy would occur easily at the time they desired it to. Having made that assumption myself, I am learning the hard way that babies have a way of arriving when (and if) they want. As far as trying to figure out wehter to stay home with kids or not, I know this is an incredibly hard decision. So far I've found that the decisions surrounding when to have a child and how to balance this with my chosen career have been much much much harder than the other big decisions in my life (e.g. who to marry, where to go to college, what to pursue after college). Not that those decisions were easy, but this has been agonizing.

Second, of course there are differences between those of us whose moms worked and those who had stay-at-home moms. I desperately wanted to be on the swim team in elementary school and my single mom simply did not have the bandwidth to drive me to practices in the evenings and the summer. Nor did I have home baked cookies waiting for me when I got off the bus. And my mom was always tired and occasionally crabby. But I did get to grow up with the role model of an incredibly strong, professional, scientific, woman and the lessons (good and bad) that I learned from her have been a fantastic advantage for me so far. I think my ride through college and grad school would have been significantly harder had I not had her footsteps to follow (or avoid). But the problem I had with the article was that these women seemed to be saying that they were better off because their moms stayed home (or, conversely, worked). And I don't know how you can objectively weigh the advantages of one or the other. I guess I should be glad that these women were proud of the choice their mothers made and wanted to follow their path. Just as I am.

Finally, you're right (as always!). I do believe that women have a stronger bond with their children then men do. I think our genes code for it more than men's do. I guess I just wish that men would rebel a bit more against their "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" genes and play a greater role in raising their children and helping with household responsibilities. If by choice (as in this article) or by economic dictates, a woman is in the workforce, then I think her partner really should pick up more of the responsibility for the kids. Again, I think my perspective is totally colored by my own experiences. I would love to be able to have the choice to stay home or work part time once I have kids, but we'd starve. I love my husband, but his breadwinning skills are hard to depend on. So to make the best of the situation, I am plowing through graduate school and heading into a field where 60+ hr workweeks are de riguer for the years that I'll have young children. And I think I'm just scared that at the end of a long work day, I'll be the one to pick up the kids from day care, heat up the dinner and do the dishes and laundry afterwards. And I don't think I'm the only young professional woman that wakes up in the middle of the night wondering what she's gotten herself into.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Career vs. raising kids

From the New York Times, September 20, 2005:

Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood

"At Yale and other top colleges, women are being groomed to take their place in an ever more diverse professional elite. It is almost taken for granted that, just as they make up half the students at these institutions, they will move into leadership roles on an equal basis with their male classmates.

There is just one problem with this scenario: many of these women say that is not what they want.

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children."
The article goes on to discuss how the choices these women are making are greatly influenced by the choices their mothers made, along with the fact that they will likely marry men who will be able to support them to stay at home.

"For many feminists, it may come as a shock to hear how unbothered many young women at the nation's top schools are by the strictures of traditional roles. "They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they're accepting it," said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women's and gender studies at Yale. "Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it.""

Right now I don't know what to think about topics in this article. I envy women who can be confident that they will be financially supported enough to stay home. I envy these young girls who can flippantly assume that they will be able to have two kids whenever they want. I am bothered by the comments of some of those interviewed in the article that there were obvious differences between those of us raised by working mothers versus those who were raised by stay-at-home moms. There's an implied superiority there that I don't think is true. I do support women being able to chose whether to work, stay at home, or do some combination for whatever timeframe is best for them and their families. I just wish that there were newspaper articles about how the men at those Ivy League schools were as casually committed to staying at home or working part-time once they had kids. Then maybe there would be some semblance of gender equality in our country. But right now I don't think there is.

What do you think?

Monday, September 19, 2005

busy, busy, busy

Busy at home - spent the weekend doing yard work (weeding, laying landscape fabric on newly weeded areas, priming the deck, reconstructing the wood shed), housework (laundry per usual), and having a friend (and her six-month old over).

Busy at school - waiting for my advisor to give me back my paper draft, so I am occupying myself with things I should have done a long time ago. Sunday I wrote a "statement of teaching philosophy," today I gave a make-up exam, tonight I'll write my "research interests statement", tomorrow I'll do field work, and then...well, it just keeps going

Busy having fun - Did 4 hrs of red cross training today (*so* slow paced, but it's for a good cause), 8 more hrs of training training by the end of the week, going to a symphony concert w/ S on Thursday, and going on an all girl's raft trip this weekend. Must find my non-cotton clothes and finally invest in a pair of gloves I can get wet.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

child care

Nature this week has surveyed the worldwide status of campus childcare, particularly focusing on the issues of cost and availability for post-docs and graduate students. Here's a good summary sentence: "Without affordable child-care options, long hours and low pay force many postdocs to make an unfortunate choice between work or motherhood."

A few standout facts for those of us in the U.S.:
  • More than one-third of US postdocs have children.
  • Yet only 10% of surveyed research institutions have childcare on-site.
  • Waiting lists for on-campus centers are looooonnng.
  • Access to campus facilities may be preferentially given to faculty over post-docs and students. But here at my institution it works in reverse: students get first priority, and post-docs and faculty are left to dangle.
  • Post-docs may spend more than 50% of their salary on child-care
  • Only 4 survyed U.S. institutions offer childcare subsidies (amazingly, one is JHU)
  • Women postdocs pay almost double the care costs that men pay.
I'm left with a few questions:
  • Of their surveyed "research institutions" did they include universities or just independent research centers (e.g. Salk Insitute, etc.)? Because I don't know of many big universities that don't have some sort of child care center.
  • Why is this primarily a women's issue? I'd have to guess that the number of single parent women postdocs is small, so it seems to me that dads should be equally responsible for finding and paying for child care.
  • Why is it assumed in this article that the solution for scientists/mothers is better child care? Wouldn't it have been better to also discuss the status of arrangements like part-time or flex-time post-docs and faculty appointments? How about shared appointments?
  • If I can look forward to spending 50% of my salary on childcare, and 30% of our joint income on housing, not to mention all of the other necessities of life (health insurance, utilities, etc.), how do they expect me to make it finanically? Oh, yeah, they figure that years of poverty while I was a grad student have lowered my expected standard of living so far that I will look upon the approximate doubling of my salary to post-doc levels as if I had suddenly stumbled on a treasure chest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


There is SOOO much I want to write about right now, but I just don't have the time. So here's the quick and dirty.

  1. It's our third anniversary today and right now I am at school, sweaty and grungy. But as soon as I am done here, I am going home to get dolled up for a nice dinner out and a movie. Cliched, I know, but we haven't been out to a movie since Star Wars.
  2. I did it! At 3 pm today I handed a complete draft of a paper to my advisor. The introduction sucks and there are some problems/holes in the discussion, but it is 21 pages (1.5 spaced except references), 3 tables, and 8 figures long! I promised myself that I would have it done by the time he got back, and I did it. It came down to the wire, but I got it done, and as you can probably tell, I am very proud of myself. Now I can try to productively occupy myself with other things until I get the edited (no, massacred) draft back.
  3. A friend of mine got herself into an icky (un)funding situation with her graduate program. When she told me about yesterday afternoon, she was desperate, even applying for food service jobs (and getting turned down for lack of experience). Part of the problem was that she was too timid to talk to either her advisor or her current boss about the situation. But today I managed to tactfully bring the subject up at our project meeting and within a few hours the wheels got rolling on providing her with funding if her advisor fails her. Plus, we convinced her to write an email to her advisor politely enquiring about funding opportunities. By this afternoon her advisor had written back, we'd found her backup funding, and she'd had a job interview for the campus writing center, and gotten the job. So she'll be okay, and she's very relieved. I'm glad that I did my small part in helping her, because out of my own experiences I have lots of empathy with people about these things.
  4. Never read job ads before bedtime! Combined with bad Chinese food, it led to some pretty wild dreams and a very yucky early morning. So no more Chinese food from China Blue, and no more job ads after 8 pm.
  5. Our house is now gray! Yay!
  6. Welcome back to two of my favorite bloggers, who took extended blogosphere vacations at the same time. Chica and Annie, I missed you.
  7. I can't believe I just used the word "blogosphere" in sentence without being ironic. I am such a nerd.
That's all for now. Have a wonderful evening.

Monday, September 12, 2005

working at home

I'm at home today slogging through revisions/additions to my manuscript, trying to ignore that it is a beautiful, sunny, low 70s day outside. I see now the benefits of a windowless office.

Periodically I decide that I am going to work at home, and it usually has a moderate degree of sucess. My motivation for the home-office work has varied from lack of transportation to concern that I will need to work at home once I have kids, so I better learn how now. Today it's a combo. I'm on a minimal driving kick (enviro-concerns + high gas prices), but too lazy to bike. Plus, my laptop and a goodly number of journal articles were already at home, all spread out on my desk. Plus, nobody was going to be around my office today, and its no fun to be in that giant cold windowless room without someone with which to comiserate. Or distract me. Anyways, I decided to stay home.

My husband says I can work at home as long as I am just as (un)productive as I would be at the office. So by his criteria, today is (mostly) a success. I was at my computer by 9, finished reading the news and blogs by ~9:30 and then worked solidly 'til noon, when I reheated leftovers for lunch. So far so good, but since noon my work ethic has gone downhill. I took a long lunch break (to work on weeding the garden and read the mail) and now I've revised my way up to the section in the paper where I no longer feel as confident about what I am saying. So I am looking for any excuse to procrastinate (hence the blogging). At least I've let some work emails pile up, so I can legitimately spend some time answering them without feeling too guilty about my half-assed discussion and introduction sections. Oh, and I still don't have any conclusions. Well, I do, just not written down.

OK, that's too depressing. I'm going back to work (sort of).

Friday, September 09, 2005

light at the end of the tunnel?

I'm hard at work on my manuscript (actually I'm posting to my blog right now, but you know what I mean). In a few more days I should have all the figures done, 99% of the text drafted, and maybe even one round of self-inflicted revisions done. In other words, I'll be ready to hand it to my advisor. And at that point the waiting game begins. My advisor of course will be busy with other things (understandably), so I know it will take at least a couple of weeks to get comments from him. And then a couple of days for me to deal with those comments. After that, I've got to send it out to the third author and maybe get one of my committee members to look at it. Then, I'll have to deal with all of their comments. At that point, maybe with a few more iterations, I'll be ready to submit it to the journal. Then the real waiting begins. After the paper is submitted, it goes out to anonymous reviewers who immediately put it at the bottom of their to-do lists, so it gets buried under a stack of papers for months, until an editor decides to prod them on it, at which point it takes another month or two to get the reviews back. Then I'll likely have major revisions to do (no paper gets by without them). After all that, I'll finally get the paper accepted by the journal, and will only have to wait for them to publish it. Which means that if all goes well, my paper will be out a little over a year from now. At least in the meantime, I'll have two more manuscripts to write, for a which a similar process will have to occur.

Knowing this process is ahead of me makes all the more frustrating the fact that I am now seeing job ads that look enticing for the next academic year. And I know that it will be nearly impossible to get a job without getting publications out. And those deadlines are increasing with more rapidity than I would like. Ideally, my first paper will be at least submitted by the deadline for those jobs, but that'll only happen if the winds are blowing in my favor all the way. So for now, all I can do is work my ass off to get data analyzed and the papers written. Which is what I am going back to, right now.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A grad student's guide to (pretending to) being an adult

Home Improvement and Repair: Limited in both time and money, the grad student-homeowner faces an unenviable choice. It's my belief that some people are just meant to spend their free hours surrounded in plaster and paint, and that for them sawdust = happiness. I am not one of those people. I've opted to persuade my husband to get major projects (new windows, gutters, exterior paint) done professionally rather than take up all our free time for weeks on end. The smaller repairs end up on his "Honey, do..." list, which leaves me with the moderate projects that we can afford to have half-finished for months on end after my interest wanes. For example, tearing the paneling out of the guest bedroom (while studying for my orals) was much more fun than putting the precisely measured molding back up (while doing anything else). And so it remains an unfinished masterpiece.

Yard Work:
In the two years of owning our house, my attitude towards the flower gardens has gone from "If I don't know what it is, I better leave it alone" to "If I don't know that it's something I like, it's getting pulled out." It seems draconian, but the first strategy resulted in massively overgrown, weed-infested gardens. Besides, savagely pulling weeds is a great way to get rid of stress. As for those other yard chores (mowing, chopping wood, cleaning the gutters), I am blessed to have a husband who takes them on, and I get to help when the spirit moves me. Usually that occurs when I've promised myself to actually "work this weekend" and brought home a pile of journal articles.

Eating right:
Vegetable gardening hasn't been very successful in the past few years, the time and money invested just weren't paying off in terms of being able to eat a lot from our own garden. So this year we bought a "share" in local organic farm. Every two weeks for ~4 months we get an overflowing box of delicious veggies. It's helped our eating habits for the better, because ~1/2 the time we have to plan meals around whatever veggies we've got. And in our garden we've got a few scraggly tomato plants, some lettuce, and peas. Just for fun.

Crafts and Homemade Gifts: The domain of homemakers has stealthily crept back into the lives of working women. My advice: find one craft that can serve as a gift and just do that. For me it's sewing simple baby blankets. It's not that time consuming, but it is heartfelt (and much more fun than journal articles).

House work: I don't have any really great advice or wisdom on this one. It's something I struggle with daily. Only things I can say are "buy a dishwasher & washer/dryer" and "invite guests periodically, preferably non-students." There's nothing like the impending arrival of people-whom-you'd-prefer-not-to-look-like-a-slob-for to make that bathroom sparkle. I know, we did it yesterday. Other than that, for me it again comes down to journal-reading-avoidance behavior. This weekend also saw the cleaning of the garage. Any suggestions ya'll have would be appreciated.

I'm sure there are other categories in which grad students slide around the roles and responsibilities of adulthood, but in our defense, it's just fair play for the way society treats us. Health insurance, reasonably salaries, vacation time, not being asked when we'll get a real job -- those are all things that most grad students are forbidden to have. So, I think it's only fair that my version of a potluck contribution is a home-baked pie with store-bought crusts.

Friday, September 02, 2005

a decent man

This is why I love my husband. All week I've been saddened, stressed, and frustrated by the images on TV of the hurricane disaster area. As my last post implied I was feeling powerless to make a real difference for the people of the area. Last night as we were watching the news, I realized that maybe we can make a difference. We are relatively unfettered, with no kids and flexible work situations. We could volunteer to help out in the disaster area. I don't know what we'd do, but we'd do something. (Simple Gifts from Appalachian Spring just started playing on the radio. how appropriate)

I suggested it to my husband, and he didn't think I was crazy. In fact, he said that we could think about going for two weeks, for our anniversary trip. He said he'd talk to his boss about getting time off. We talked about how hard it would be, and I told him I couldn't do it without him.

Our evening then went on to other less altruistic things (watch Jeopardy rerun, paying bills, etc.) This morning when I got into to school I found the local Red Cross chapter and saw that they require ~12 hours of training before you can go help out. The next available trainings are next weekend. I called my husband. He said, "Let's do it. I'll talk to my boss this afternoon."
We decided that even if we get trained and they don't need us, that it would be a good thing to do. Then next time there's a disaster, we'd be ready to go.

I love my husband. He's such a decent human being and he is my emotional rock.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Am I hypocritical or just selfish?

Am I a hypocrite for giving 5 times as much to hurricane relief as I did to tsunami relief? Or am I just serving my own interests by giving more to the disaster that affects me more personally? I can rationalize that I have more disposable income now than I did in January and that this seems shocking because these people had fairly comparable standards of living last week and that this is my country. But I also remember how many more people were affected by the tsunami and how poor they were to start with. Either way, I don't feel good about my charitable giving right now.