Monday, May 21, 2007

The part-time post-doc

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but ironically, I've been too busy working. In the last three days, I've logged about 25 hours doing field work on two different projects. Now, 25 hours is also the number of hours that I am paid to work each week. So, does that mean I'm done?

Working part time is making me much more conscious of my hours than I've ever been as a researcher. I come a lot closer to working my paid time and nothing more now than I ever did as a full-timer. Largely however, that's because my time is so limited by child-raising responsibilities. I've been working approximately half-days every day, but Minnow's daycare schedule and location give me only about 4 horus at work each day, which leaves me a couple hours short each week. (Add in a half-hour pumping break per half-day and I feel even more time-limited). The time costs associated with starting and stopping work also suck up a larger percentage of my work-week, leaving me even less time to get stuff done. I'm actually using a notebook to keep track of my work hours, so that I'll give myself credit for the few stolen evening hours (or conversely convince myself that I really do have to work at night). Most weeks I'm finding that I'm falling an hour or two or three short of my allotted 25, but the field work is more than compensating for that time.

I also find that I have to be much more organized than when I did research full time. I'm still juggling multiple projects, so I've got sections in my notebook for each project. At the end of each day I try to record what I've been doing and what the next steps need to be. I'm not doing lab work, so I don't have a lab notebook per se, but in effect I am keeping one anyway, just for my own records. Keeping the notebook is also (I think) spurring me to work more efficiently (I must have some progress to report each time!).

Finally, I am discovering that I have to be more realistic about timelines for getting things done. So far this has been the hardest thing because I have so many balls in the air and so little give in the schedule. I can't just pull an all-nighter or even stay an hour later at the office and weekends just mean full time mommying. Part of my pre-occupation with hours worked and recording my progress is because I know I will end up dropping something and missing a deadline. When that day comes, I want to be able to justify to myself (if not to my boss) why that happened. And if keeping notes helps me delay that ball-dropping day then it will have been even more worthwhile.

I'm really enjoying working part time for personal reasons, but I also think it is good training for me. The late-stage PhD and post-doc are really the only point in most academics' lives that research is a full-time occupation. Next year I'll be teaching too, and research will be squeezed in between grading papers and writing lectures (and raising a child). I won't even have the luxury of 5 half-days a week to work on research, yet the responsibilities will continue to grow. So in effect, my part-time post-doc is a relatively low pressure way for me to figure out strategies for maintaining research progress without getting to have it be an all-consuming affair. They say it can be done, now I've just got to figure out how to make it work for me.

As for whether I've fulfilled my work obligations for the week, the answer is yes and no. I'll probably work a little less each day this week, but I doubt I'll even take one day completely off. There's still a paper to review, analyses to complete, and revisions to undertake. And I'm sure there are other things needing to be done too, but those balls will just have to stay in the air a little longer. After all, I'm only working part-time.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The biggest difference I found going back to my postdoc in the physical sciences after the birth of my son was the constraint of just not being able to stay an hour later if I needed to. The pace of progress has slowed based on that fact alone.

Good Luck in your future job!

Anonymous said...

When working in contract research, I heard very similar things from women who would drop down to 25-30 hours per week after having a baby. They realized how much in addition to the 40 hours they must have been putting in prior to the baby's arrival given the constant availability to just "stay one more hour." That said, they often struggled to get in all of their hours when part time due to pumping, sick child, etc. Finally, they all claimed to be more "on task" post baby.

I think it is good practice for balancing a research agenda on less time due to teaching.

DRD

EcoGeoFemme said...

I have noticed a similar thing since I started carpooling. While it is nothing at all like the added responsibility of a baby, I stay on task better now that I can't ever stay late. Much less avoidance behavior and goofing off.

PhD Mom said...

I also worked part time the year after my first was born. I was still a Ph.D. student and it was really hard. But you sound like you are managing well. Don't worry about it, it works out in the end. And having a child is great prepatation for the time management skills you will need as a faculty member.

Flicka Mawa said...

You sound pretty organized and on-task to me! Making notes on what you've done every day and what needs to be done next is a great time management technique, and keeping it up right after baby entered the world is really impressive. Good job!

Lab Rat said...

Agreed! Taking care of a dog now, and knowing that I have to be back at the certain time (or there will be a pile of poop in the house to clean) does encourage one to be more productive and on task.

Chuck said...

Is reviewing a paper part of your job?

Janet Jeyapaul said...

I am so glad I found you- i have only recently started blogging(homecurry.blogspot.com) and was looking for the 'science guys' !!I am a scientist like you but in biological sciences and up in years!After postdocing in US I have returned to India and presently swamped with grant writing ( I releive the tension by writing silly blogs)- my friend in my Houston lab had a new baby while postdocing and used to be constantly touch with her babysitter on the telephone from the lab. Kudos to all science moms Janet Jeyapaul

Anonymous said...

I had my daughter when I was in the fourth year of my PhD study. I was working afternoons thanks to my unique and extremely understanding advisor, while my husband, who works nights was catching up on his sleep. Then he took over. Sometimes I had to take her to my school, including nights, week-ends and holidays. It was tough, but we pulled through. Now I'm looking for a part-time job, but it is tough. I had semi-successful post-doc interviews, but those interviewers let me know that I would be in the lab as long as they wanted me to regardless on my situation, and I gave up the idea of postdoc, at least for this year. I'm completely confused, but happy, because my little girl is getting the best care and love she deserves from her mommy, and that she would never get from a hired baby-sitter. Hopefully, I will be able to find a good part-time job soon. Wish me a good luck, ladies, and good luck to you all!!!

Rhamnites said...

I'm starting to look for a postdoc, and I really need it to be part-time. Ha. Good luck to you, sounds like you're doing great!

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