It's hard to believe that I am one week out from my last day as a post-doc. In a lot of ways, I feel like this time has just been a place-holder - something to keep my CV from having an employment gap. Sometimes I feel guilty - like I've wasted my advisor's money the past nine months, because I'm not sure we'll ever get a paper out of the assorted projects I've been working on. But then I remember that in addition to having a baby and all that jazz, I also saved my advisor's neck on two conference talks and finished tying up the loose ends on my thesis data, which wouldn't have happened otherwise. So maybe I shouldn't feel so bad.
Do I feel more qualified now to be a professor than the day I defended? Not really. Sure, I've gotten to dabble with a few new projects, but none of them has amounted to much in the end. The core research skills of idea generation, grant-writing, project execution, data analysis, and paper writing haven't suddenly matured. I have gotten more comfortable with arguing for my ideas (and against stupid ones), but that is probably just the result of having the "doctor" tag hung round my neck for a little while now.
So, if every post-doc experience is unique (as I get around to the theme for the soon-to-come carnival), what made mine special? I'd have to say that the work-life balance I've achieved over the last nine months has been unique in my scholastic career, and is probably (unfortunately) pretty darn rare in post-doc world. I've been able to work part-time and enjoy mornings at home with minnow; I've taken her to seminars, meetings, and the field, but still had time to focus on just being a mommy when circumstances demanded it. It isn't easy - more of a juggling act than a balancing one - but my supportive boss and colleagues have let me test out the good life, and I'd like to hang on to it. When I return to (more than) full-time work in a month or so, I'd like to try to remember that work isn't everything, and that even though progress may seem slow compared to the pre-baby breakneck-speed past, I'm a much happier person when I can relax and enjoy those baby hugs before getting back to abstract writing. If I'd gone straight to full-time professoring or really taken a sabbatical and fully stayed home since minnow was born, I don't think I would have learned that lesson.