Posts Tagged 'work-life balance'



Topic of the week: Daycare, daycare, daycare

STILL?? Isn’t this beating an old topic to death? Day care seems to be the issue that just won’t go away AND it’s really one of the primary concerns for many mothers (and fathers) who wish to maintain part-time or full-time work.

Personally and naively I’d never thought much about it in advance. But once our son was born – it became a necessity. While my husband was there to pick up blocks of time, as the self-designated part-timer, if I was to maintain any sort of science going (at the time I was basically working independent of any one institution, part-time, with colleagues running field and laboratory studies) I needed day-care. And I needed a day-care where I felt comfortable leaving my then six-month old – so that I could concentrate on the day’s work.

Beginning with the industrial-sized Long Island day care – where Sam was consistently sick – to the local family day cares we found once moving to rural Western MA (one of which I not so affectionately referred to as the Militia Day-Care, after finding a large pile of guns-and-ammo boxes set out curbside on recycling day) it quickly became a matter-of-fact that there just weren’t satisfactory options, although there were options we could live with, at least for a while.

While I recognize that for those of us on our own, day-care really is ours to figure out. But, for those working at large institutions, particularly government institutions, it seems that the situation ought to be much better. Unfortunately, and as many readers know, this isn’t the case at all. In some cases its worse (without all the home day-care options, and with tighter working hours.)

Below is an excerpt from a comment left on this blog by Andrea Kalfoglou one of the contributors to Motherhood:

“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.”

Success is how you define it…

“Success is how you define it,” is easier to write than to practice. I know. I’ve been struggling with this for years, and it’s a topic that came up several times during the Motherhood panels. Too often our gauge of success involves external validation – particularly for us working on our own, or without ties to any one particular job or institution – we wonder “what do they think of my work?” or we’re concerned that others might think our choice of a nontraditional career route meant we failed to make it along the traditional route. Additionally we often forget to include our lives in the “success” equation.

Below is a comment recently left on the post about the AAAS Panel, by Suzanne Epstein, immunologist, mother of two, musician and one of the contributors, writing about success:

“A happy and successful life, as a scientist-mother or in general, does not correlate with fame, fortune, prestige, or any other particular circumstance. People in quite varied situations that are not at all what they expected can end up quite happy and fulfilled. On the other hand, people who do exactly what they planned and expected, and are very successful, can end up happy or very unhappy. Depends on their attitudes, whether the plan really suited their natures, other events, and so on. Being an optimist helps.

I guess that’s small comfort to a young scientist who doesn’t know what will happen and is fearful. There is no shortcut, and many people go through painful experiences, even if things work out fine later. This is true for the other difficulties and transitions of life. But the improvements in scientific career conditions and institutional features we talked about might help. Also, maybe people could really learn to skip the apologizing and guilt, and just get on with it.”

Thanks for the reminder Suzanne.

Science, a powerful contraceptive?!

I wouldn’t suggest taking on a science career as a contraceptive (besides – there are at least 34 of us who can attest that it doesn’t work), but it was nice to see a review of Motherhood the Elephant in the recent issue of New Scientist Magazine:

“WOMEN trying to squeeze a career and family duties into one 24-hour day will gain much affirmation from this collection of essays. The writers, who all balance science careers and motherhood, provide a fascinating insight into a world too often kept hidden. For those without children it should come with a health warning: the juggling and compromises these women have learned to live with may add up to a sobering reality check for those who still think they can have it all. For some it may prove a powerful contraceptive.”

From issue 2659 of New Scientist magazine, 04 June 2008, page 49

Motherhood, The Elephant Panel at Cornell University

For those of you in the Ithaca area, Cornell University is hosting an afternoon discussion devoted to Motherhood the Elephant on May 9. Participants will include a combination of contributors and Cornell faculty – see specifics below.

I hope you can join us!

Time: 12-5PM

Contributors: Joan Baizer, Emily Monosson, Gina Wesley-Hunt, Marilyn Merritt

Faculty: Shelley Correll, Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Lisa Fortier, Margaret Frey, and Barbara Knuth.

Co-Sponsored by: Cornell University Store, CUAdvance, and Cornell University Press

How do we define “success” in science?

One topic I’d like to consider on this site is what is “success” in science? Although the academic model as the pinnacle of success is changing, in many fields success still means a tenure-track position and research lab in academia. While this seems outdated, even my husband, someone who’s guided students and post-docs and who’s run a long-term field study for over ten years, but as a federal scientist, occasionally feels the stigma of being “outside” academia. And then there are, of course those of us on the opposite end of the spectrum, we work part time, we write, we consult, we teach, but we are outside of the scientific mainstream.

It’s easy to say “success is how you define it,” but for many of us, no matter how many times we tell ourselves that external validation doesn’t matter – it does to some extent.

Over the years I’ve known many (mostly women) who have worked scientific odd-jobs – unlike an academic or even a government researcher – they’ve jumped from project to project – or from one organization to another – in part because of circumstance (the dual-career thing) or choice (decide to work part-time or decide that they will be or can be the more flexible one.)
Even those whom I’d consider successful don’t always feel that way. Maybe this is self-serving – but I consider many who work like this to be an asset to the educational or scientific community. They’re like pollinators – buzzing around from lab to lab, field to field (so to speak) or even dodging in and out of various classrooms – picking up a little from many different fields, and adding a little from their own.

In some ways it’d be nice to acknowledge this group of workers – provide them a space to interact, support each other, even maybe create a more “formalized” space for them within the scientific community.

What do you think?