Friday, June 6, 2008

Finding Time for the Extras

Zuska's question for this month's Scientiae Carnival was:

How did you let the world know "I am HERE!"
The most obvious answer is that I (finally) started writing this blog. But, I've increased my visibility in other ways as well.

After going through the graduate school application process a few years ago, the program I felt was the best fit for me was in a city about five hours away from where my family and I were living. Since the program was highly respected, and at an Ivy League school, to boot, my husband and I decided that I should not pass up the opportunity to go, and decided to move the family. The plan was that I would move first, with Thing 1, and that hubby would keep his job in Old City and commute once a week until he found something suitable in New City, since we couldn't really all live off of my stipend. We thought it would take six months to a year.

It actually took almost four years. During that time, I finished my two years of coursework, did rotations, served as a teaching assistant, and joined a lab. Since there was only me to drop off and pick up Thing 1 from school and extended-day, all of those activities had to fit into a very rigidly defined window. There was not a minute of extra time on week days to do anything that couldn't be done at home or with Thing 1 in tow, and hey, the kid needed to sleep! So I made sure I was on time to pick her up every night, even if it meant leaving class early, missing review sessions, not hearing invited speakers, or skipping social events. I spent time with her until she went to sleep, then hit the books. Often I was too tired to work at night, so I would rise at the crack of dawn to finish up whatever was due that day before it was time to get her up and ready for school.

When Thing 2 was born, the window became narrower still, and it became nearly impossible to work at home. Instead of getting up early to work, I was getting up at all hours to nurse and otherwise tend to Thing 2. And in the evenings I bounced between the two kids - serving up the big kid dinner in between spoonfuls of the baby dinner, reading a story to Thing 1 while Thing 2 nursed. Multi-tasking became the norm, and I developed a habit of going to bed with the kids. Where I used to be able to occasionally arrange for Thing 1 to have dinner with one of her friends if I needed a little bit of wiggle room, I couldn't really see having someone else look after Thing 2 after she'd spent the whole day away from me. And I could not imagine traveling - I didn't even go to my program's yearly retreat that year.

So, I'm sure you can imagine the relief I felt when hubby finally took a job in New City last year. I had great expectations for how much easier it would be to handle everything when I was no longer outnumbered by my children. And things are much better. I don't feel so much like I'm running around in circles. Other changes are happening gradually. I've started to attend some of the evening talks. I've been able to travel to attend retreats and conferences. I've been able to present my research. And I've been able to participate more fully in student life. I volunteered to be the representative of my program on the board of a student group. This summer, I will be mentoring a participant of my institution's summer research program for undergraduates; I went to the kick-off dinner tonight, while hubby had quality time with the kids. And I know I'll be able to meet with him regularly without compromising too much research time.

Because I've been able to expand my available time, I've been able to do more stuff besides benchwork. I'm hoping this means I'm getting more out of graduate school, and preparing myself better for the job market. Plus, people see me around more, and I don't get that, "Wow, where have you been?" comment so often. And, you know, I feel like a more balanced human being.



Anonymous said...

Can I just say that you kick total fucking ass? I cannot imagine handling the rigors of graduate school in the biosciences while raising two children essentially by myself. That is an absolutely incredible accomplishment, and with character, stamina, drive, focus, and perseverance like that, there is little doubt you will become a successful independent scientist (if that is what you choose to do).

PhysioProf said...

That was me. Don't know why it posted as anonymous.

Amanda said...

You are awesome! Dr. Man and I are about ready to end our year-long long distance thing and I can't imagine doing it for another three years!

Brigindo said...

I totally agree. You are awesome and impressive. I'm glad your family is back together in one city and you can finally find some balance.

Abel Pharmboy said...

Since PhysioProf spoke my immediate response, let me just add that there is nothing you cannot do, in science and/or in your personal life.

You earn more and more of my respect and admiration every day that I dial up your blog.

ScientistMother said...

thank you thank you thank you! you are amazing and by being visible you are letting me know it is possible. thank you

Julie R said...

I am in awe. Graduate school + 2kids is hard. I can't even imagine trying to combine graduate school and kids without a second person to take care of the little people.

Hope things get easier (and better) for you now.

Mad Hatter said...

Wow...what PhysioProf said. I am so impressed!

acmegirl said...

Thanks, everyone!

drdrA said...

Right on!! One of my grad students is in your position almost exactly... except one of her kids is a little older- so I see the struggle first hand.

female in academia said...

Thumbs up! Wow. After I've been on a two weeks field trip for data gathering, my partner said:
the difference between having one kid or two is rather small, when with two parents. This is *not* the case when one is alone. Then, two below 3 are a madness.

I've never done it alone with them for longer than a week.
Am deeply impressed, and bookmarked your blog.

Wabi Sabi Me said...

Just discovered your blog on Adoptic and I'm so glad I did. I'm just beginning my journey as a "woman of color in one of those (white)male-dominated fields."

You are a (s)Hero :-)

Bless you!