AAAS Panel and UCS Panel discussions in brief

This past week I had the pleasure of meeting many Motherhood contributors. First a panel of 10 at the AAAS Fellows program, then a smaller group gathered at the Union of Concerned Scientists the following day.

When I visualize the panels, ten of us science moms, PhDs in different fields from different generations, I can’t help but think there’s got to be power in numbers. When there are enough of us speaking up and out – I can only hope that things will change.

So before I loose the momentum, just wanted to post a few topics that came up, with more to follow in other posts:

1) Language is huge. The references to a “science pipeline” which flows mainly to academia is limiting. Not only does it suggest a straight-shot is the only way – but also there is one route through science. I think the contributors to this book are a testament to the many different paths one may take and the many different fulfilling options for a scientist.

Another phrase, which I am guilty of using, is “alternative career” (for lack of a better alternative!) Why should careers other than academia be considered alternatives? The connotation is sometimes demeaning – particularly when meant as “unconventional.” Why shouldn’t many other choices for scientists be conventional such as working for NGOs, federal and industry labs, writing, teaching?

2) Guilt. Guilt stems from two sources (at least.) Once source for those who are categorized as “leaking from the pipeline” or who chose an “unconventional” is the concern that funding and time (their and their advisors) have been wasted by their pursuing a PhD but then straying from academia, or full-time more traditional work.

Though it may be self-serving (disclaimer: I am one of those) I’d say the time and money spent to educate a segment of the population that are not only more often the primary care givers but who also may more often be the ones stepping out of academia and into primary schools, high schools, college classrooms, community colleges – who may volunteer their time to local organizations, communicate science to the public – cannot possibly be a waste. In fact – it may even help spread the word – SCIENCE IS IMPORTANT and it’s accessible.

Guilt also inflicts itself on those who feel they ought to spend more time and effort at home, or at work. “Loose the guilt,” said one participant. “If during those times, half the time is about work, and half the time about home– then you’re doing OK,” said another.

And finally (for now)

3) Day care. Day care. Day care. When someone asked what NIH can do to encourage parents, one contributor pointed out that plans for a new building hadn’t incorporated day care. With over 1000 kids on a waiting list – its likely that some primary care providers have had to turn away from a job because of the day care issue.

This isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. So why is it still a problem!?


3 Responses to “AAAS Panel and UCS Panel discussions in brief”

  1. 1 Teresa Cook June 9, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    As one of the Motherhood contributors, it was a great pleasure to finally read all of the essays when I received my copy in the mail. I thought that perhaps, being the only high school science teacher that wrote an essay, I might feel less valued or some sort of token “plan B”. It was not this way at all – and I found that we had more in common, as each story resonated within me – our loves of science and our children than our different paths might indicate. It was encouraging to read of each woman’s success – defined not by “beans”(publications, grants, & tenure) but rather by the fulfillment of using their scientific training to contribute to the world – be it by teaching, writing, consulting, researching, administering, informing policy, designing curriculum, or raising consciousness all the while remaining committed to raising their children in the best ways they knew how.

    Ah, but it was disheartening too. Discouraging to read of the same struggles, discrimination, and family-unfriendly attitudes and environments decade after decade – from the 70’s to the present day. For goodness sake – it is 2008 and we still ask about and hope for and often do not find quality day care, family-friendly flexibility in work environment and expectations, or a way to re-enter research.

    Reading the book got me thinking, but it was meeting and talking with some of the other contributors and the audiences at last week’s gatherings in Washington D.C. (subject of Emily’s post today) that really got me “fired up”. Indeed, as Emily hopes, there is strength in numbers and it will be discussions such as these that will spur us on to action!

    My eldest daughter will graduate from high school in four years. It is my hope that our discussions and subsequent actions will mean that she will have access to quality child care, that a graduate student of her generation will not feel guilty about becoming a scientifically trained, literate, critical thinker if they decide to pursue a career outside of full-time academia, and that the language of success in science, of our working identities will have become enlightened and free from judgments such as “leaky pipelines” and “alternative career”. Can we do it before the next decade has passed us by? After meeting the wonderful women at last week’s programs – I think we can. So please, “discuss amongst yourselves”, share your stories, post your comments and lets keep the discussion going as it inspires us to action!! – Teresa Cook

  2. 2 Andrea Kalfoglou June 12, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I also attended the AAAS panel on Wednesday. I had been looking forward to it for weeks. DC had a massive storm that day, and it knocked out the power in our neighborhood — both our home and daycare. Fortunately, I was working from home and was able to go get my kids, who were sheltered in the elementary school in the dark, happily eating graham crackers. Ironically, as a result of the early end of daycare, I arrived late to the panel. Because of the power outage, and school closure, I missed the UCS luncheon. So it goes for a working mom.

    I really enjoyed meeting all the other women on the panel and can’t wait for us to be able to get together again.

    I appreciated Emily’s summary of some of the emerging themes from the AAAS session, but wanted to add a few of the recommendations I and others threw out to one of the AAAS fellows who is working for the NIH Office of Women’s Health.

    1) Adequate daycare is essential. In my chapter in the book, I discuss how stunned I was to find out that there was a 2 year waiting list for children to attend the NIH onsite daycare — and the largest facility wasn’t even onsite, but was 3 miles north in Rockville. There are currently 1100 children on the waiting list. What is NIH’s alternative? A list of local centers that you can visit and evaluate yourself. When I was doing my postdoc at NIH three years ago, that’s exactly what I had to do. All of the centers I visited in the Bethesda area that had openings were substandard. I’m not fussing about a lack of the latest educational toys. They smelled like urine, they had infants trying to sleep in the same room with 10 rowdy 4 yr olds (the daycare provider’s “solution” was to cover the faces of the infants with blankets!) They had broken playground equipment on postage stamp sized yards, and women who all spoke different languages. I’m all for raising bilingual kids, but you have to be able to actually talk to your child’s teacher to find out how his day went. And, it would seem that it would be a difficult work environment if you couldn’t even speak with your coworkers. I eventually found a decent center, not through the referral center at NIH, but through the NIH parent’s list serve — an essential resource for any parent working for NIH.

    2) On-site breast pumping facilities with time off for pumping. I was fortunate to have my own office, but it had windows into the hallway. The women’s bathroom stinks as an alternative. You are either sitting on a toilet (not the most sanitary environment) or you are out in the handwashing area on display. I was “out” about my working mom status, but didn’t need to be that out. Fortunately, most of the areas within NIH appear to have refrigeration, but that’s another essential for breast feeding moms.

    3) NIH had designed the BIRCHW fellowships for women to get a leg up on their research careers. It’s a nice program for women who are able to move where ever there’s a program interested in their research, but it was useless for me. What most women with families need is fellowship funding (postdoc or faculty support) that is granted to the INDIVIDUAL so that, with money in hand, they can approach a local institution and say, “here I am with lots of resources.” “Find me an office and mentor.”

    4) More flexibility with the tenure clock. This should apply to both women AND men so that we women have the leverage to expect more from our husbands.

    5) Paternity leave. One of the major problems in my family was that I was a part-time earner when our children were young and we were completely financially dependent upon my husband’s income to keep our house. His boss had no tolerance for family leave. He even chewed my husband out for taking 2 weeks off to care for me and our new son after I had a c-section. (Wonder if he would have gotten this treatment if my major surgery had been an emergency appendectomy?) So, we protected his job. How? I was always the one who took leave for a sick kid. Guess what kind of reputation that earned me?

    6) Draw your line in the sand and stick to your guns. Ask for what you want whether it’s three months maternity leave, better pay, or part-time employment. I was able to get all three simply by asking. When I asked four mentors about negotiating for more pay, the two women told me “don’t rock the boat.” Guess what the men said? “You always negotiate!” You’re probably worth it.

    7) This one is personal, not professional — marry someone who is in line with your goals and values. You can’t marry the guy who expects a hot meal on the table everyday, his clean socks to magically appear in his drawer after he leaves them on the floor, or who thinks weekends are for watching eight hours of sports and think you are going to change him. One of our panelist screened her dates by saying “I’m not having children, but if I do have children, I’m going to marry a man who will stay home with them.” She married the guy who’s response was: “cool!” My guy isn’t quite that progressive, but he’s an equal partner and is willing to make personal and professional sacrifices, just as I do, to put our family first.

    Andrea Kalfoglou

  1. 1 Topic of the Week: Ask for what you want, you’re worth it « Motherhood, The Elephant in the Laboratory Trackback on June 27, 2008 at 7:02 pm
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