Saturday, December 26, 2009

5 weeks, 1 day

All is still going well. We told all of our parents yesterday with
pictures of the positive pregnancy test in Christmas cards. :-)
Everyone is very excited for us. I'm going to see my mom's side of
the extended family for the next few days and hope to share the news
with them too.

On an un-baby-related note, the airline lost my luggage yesterday, so
I have no gifts/clothes/toiletries/drugs/cell phone charger. They're
supposed to deliver it to my aunt's house by 3pm, but for now, I
should probably stop running my Blackberry battery down with long blog
posts. :-P

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

4 Weeks, 4 Days

I'm so excited today! I scheduled my first prenatal appt for Jan 6
with the one midwife on my insurance network that has been recommended
for natural childbirth, and I found out they do an ultrasound at that
first visit! I'll be exactly 7 weeks from my last period, or 6 weeks,
5 days when using ovulation to determine the date (that's how I've
been doing my blog titles). I hope that's not too soon to detect a
heartbeat. :-)

Anyway, I'm glad to see I still have a couple of readers, despite my
sparse posting. I'm going to try to post much more often during my
pregnancy - somewhere between daily and weekly, as the mood strikes me
- so I can use it like a journal to chronicle the whole experience. I
also have a really pretty (physical, paper) journal that I got as a
gift several years ago and never used. I think I'll use that to write
letters to my baby...maybe one for each trimester of pregnancy, then
one for each birthday until the kid is old enough to appreciate it.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

4 Weeks, 2 Days

I'm pregnant! Due August 27, 2010. I'm only about a day late so far,
but I got a bright blaring pink pair of lines on my home pregnancy
test yesterday. So...yay! Of course, it's still a big secret, so
once again, if you are one of the few people who have figured out who
I am, please be discrete.

It was only our 2nd month of trying, and the first time we really got
the timing right, so I guess my family really is as fertile as we seem
to be, given the number of unplanned pregnancies among my cousins.
Let's hope our reputation for relatively quick and easy labors also
holds up, as I'd like to go as natural as possible. More on my birth
plan later, I guess.

For now, I just need to pick a care provider (OB or midwife) who
encourages and supports drug- and intervention-free childbirth, which
are remarkably few and far between in my area. There's only one or
two hospitals that seem to be really good about it, and of course,
neither are on my health plan. I got one recommendation for a midwife
in my network, so I've requested a first appointment with her, but the
hospital she delivers at has a reputation as the local baby factory,
which is not a good thing.

As far as pregnancy itself goes, so far, there's nothing too far out
of the ordinary. I had a tiny bit of light brown spotting today,
which made me slightly nervous, but I'm sure it's just implantation
spotting or something. I'm not even telling Hubby, as he's a nervous
wreck already. I've been reading every pregnancy book I can get my
hands on for a while now, but just yesterday, I picked up a book for
him at the library, "Pacify Me: A Handbook for Freaked Out New Dads,"
which he is enjoying so far.

Anyway, just wanted to share the good news with my anonymous blog,
since I'm not supposed to be telling friends yet!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So, we've decided

We're trying to get pregnant. No, the lab didn't get any new funding,
and no, Hubby and I haven't received raises. So what has changed,
then? Well, two major things changed: (1) Hubby got a promotion,
which is not only a great step along his desired career path, but it
also switches him from a night shift schedule with rotating days off
to a schedule of regular work hours and regular work days with
weekends and holidays off. This will make daycare planning way
easier, and as I think I mentioned earlier, I've already decided we
can afford full-time care with a small, inexpensive home child care
provider. (2) I realized there is no end in sight to our financial
stress at the lab, so there's no point waiting for things to calm
down. I was looking at the budgets of our two big R-01s, one of which
is being submitted for renewal in a couple of weeks, and the other
will be resubmitted in February. Even with both of these requesting
the full $250k, we won't have enough to cover everyone's salaries,
much less enough to add another student in my section of the lab
(which would have been nice so things wouldn't grind to a screeching
halt when I go on maternity leave). But anyway, the point is I'm not
willing to wait forever for a perfectly comfortable lab situation that
will probably never happen. We're just going to go for it!

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Reconsidering, again

So I've been thinking about the baby thing again lately... I'm
driving Hubby absolutely nuts with all of my indecision, so he says
it's up to me, just let him know when I've decided it's time. I
really want it to be now, and I've pretty much decided we can make the
daycare thing work out one way or another. We've got some credit card
debt that, if paid off, would free up a few hundred dollars a month.
We've got staggered schedules, mine is very flexible, and I could
probably work from home half the time, so we may be able to get a away
with only part-time childcare. I think we can do it. Plenty of
people raise kids with less. And everyone I talk to about how badly I
want a baby says "just do it!" Apparently a couple of my classmates
are getting pretty baby crazy too, so I think we should all have them
at once and use our strength in numbers to demand more family-friendly
polices. :-) So now I'm sure you're wondering "Well
then, what are you waiting for? Go for it already!"
Well, it seems we're back to "it all depends on funding." You see,
even though my project got funding, that little award was just a drop
in the bucket compared to all the funding our lab has lost. We're in
a really shitty situation until something new comes through. There
are a couple of things pending that we should hear back on by the end
of the month, but if neither of them come through, the first round of
lay-offs will come in the spring. That'll be the two postdocs who've
been here the longest. Then if the thing we're submitting next
doesn't come through, the whole lab tanks next fall. I'm not too
worried about losing my own position, since I've got that small grant
to cover part of my stipend and the cost of my animals and supplies,
combined with a guarantee of backup funding from my graduate program.
However, I'm not comfortable with the idea of taking time off for
maternity leave (whether paid or unpaid), while the lab is slowly
drowning and thrashing about wildly from interim sources of funding to
keep us afloat. Beloved PI is in full on panic mode, putting ever
increasing pressure on us to publish our existing work and produce
more preliminary data for new grant proposals. Unless we hear very
soon that there is some new funding coming through, next summer is not
looking like the best time to duck out for a couple of months. The
fall, on the other hand, might be a perfect time to take a break,
because there won't be a lab left to feel such loyalty to.

So I'm thinking I'll put off the baby-making decision until at least
the end of this month, when we'll have a better idea of the lab's
financial outlook for the coming year. If the lab gets funding and
we're okay, we'll start trying for a baby immediately. If no stopgap
funding materializes, I'll wait to get pregnant until the due date
would come after the end of the current grant cycle, so that my
(unpaid) maternity leave coincides with the gap in funding, and hope
that Beloved PI is still employed by Excellent U by the time I intend
to return. (I'll save my bitterness and confusion about the meaning
of tenure at Excellent U for another post.)

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


An anonymous commenter expressed interest in my work-life balance advocacy group, so I'm going to try to tell you more about it. As I mentioned in that post, I don't really know what I'm doing...I've never led any kind of student group before, and the only advocacy I ever do is sending pre-written form letters to my senators and representatives about research-related issues. Luckily I'm working with a couple of ladies who have more experience with such things, so if we can just maintain our enthusiasm for longer than a month, I'm sure we'll make some progress.

So, here's the history, current status, and future plans and goals of the work-life balance advocacy group at Excellent U:

First, there was a women's support group composed of graduate students in the Psychology program (not my field), led by Leader. They talked about a lot of issues faced by women in academia, and wanted to do something about the lack of maternity leave and affordable childcare
for graduate students at Excellent U. Since they didn't want to lose the tight-knit support group they had come to love, Leader formed a spinoff group that would be focused on advocacy and opened to the whole graduate school.

When I heard about this through a graduate school email, I immediately contacted the leader and enthusiastically offered my help. At the time, all I did was post fliers on my side of campus, and help set up chairs at the meeting. There, I learned that these Psych grads had been working on putting together a survey to be sent out to all grad students and assess interest in and need for family-friendly policies. This was to be used as a data collection tool to bring to the administration and say "See how many people this affects? See how many people care?" In addition, we planned to collect policies from other universities (particularly the ones Excellent U considers its top-tier peer institutions), so we could appeal to their competitive nature.

We also identified a need for more networking, contact with, and advice from female professors with children. A couple months later, we convened two panels of such women faculty (one more science oriented, and one for humanities and administration) to discuss their work-life balance and invited grad students and post-docs from across the university (I even created a Facebook event page for this one!). For this, we made lots of faculty and administrative contacts who were supportive of our cause, and we got a little funding for refreshments from the campus women's center. They went really well and got people talking for a bit, but I'm not sure we made adequate use of the momentum we had built, as both the leader and I were getting a bit distracted with other realities of life and research.

Back in the first half of May, before I realized I couldn't afford to have a kid in grad school, I was trying to get a better feel for how maternity leave was actually implemented for Excellent U grad students, in practice, since there is no official policy. I sort of used the work-life balance group as a front for this inquiry to avoid anyone realizing this was a personal concern of mine and forwarding my inquiry to my DGS and advisor, since it's all worked out on a case-by-case basis. But I did get some useful info out of it (most students in my division get 6 weeks off, 4 of which are unpaid, the other 2 being considered sick leave, and no, even NRSA supported students can't get the 2 months paid leave NIH allows), and the person I contacted asked me to come speak about the issue at a student advisory council meeting in the fall.

Meanwhile, the nearly completed survey fell to the wayside because there were some problems getting IRB approval, which they wanted so they could publish the results. And the collection of other universities' policies also didn't get very far for quite some time. Nothing new happened for a couple months.

Finally, enter YoungFeminist, a 2nd year student in my program who joined our near-forgotten advocacy group, bringing loads of enthusiasm and energy back into it. She did more work researching other schools policies in a day than the rest of us had in several months! We decided it was time to hold another large group meeting and try to get back our momentum, but first, we would have a smaller meeting of a core group of organizers: myself, Leader, YoungFeminist, another psych grad student, and a humanities rep. Meanwhile, I created a Facebook page to get people interested and talking in advance of the big meeting.

So that's where we are now: about to have a planning meeting to figure out how to get ourselves organized in such a way that things keep moving and momentum keeps building regardless of the waxing and waning of individual energy levels. Any advice is welcome!

Monday, August 10, 2009

I can haz baby now?

Great question, Science Gal! So of course, getting this established funding has rekindled the thought of babies in my mind (like it ever went away, HA!). But unfortunately, the financial pressures on the homefront haven't changed: we still can't afford daycare. And while I appreciate all of the supportive comments assuring me it can be done, I'm just not so sure it's the right way to do it, for me and Hubby. For example, the way our work schedules are, we could actually avoid the cost of daycare altogether by me taking Baby at night while Hubby works and Hubby taking Baby during the day while I work. One of Hubby's coworkers does that...with twins! But that really wouldn't be fair to any of the 3 of us (I'm assuming we won't have twins, since neither of our families has a history of them). Hubby and I would never get any sleep or time together, and Baby wouldn't get the attention he deserves (I'm assuming Baby will be a boy because Hubby has a family curse that is 3 generations strong...but somebody please tell me if there's a real scientific explanation for that). It's important to me to be able to provide a positive early learning environment (hell, even my dog came from a breeder who focused on giving the puppies early stimulation!), and I don't think two exhausted, overstressed parents can provide that without help. For the same reason, I'm nervous about putting Baby in the cheapest daycare we can find because that's all we can afford. And we are not fortunate enough to live near the potential grandparents, so we don't have that fabulous built-in support system of free babysitting available at a moment's notice.

But Excellent U does have a matchingly excellent daycare center...which costs over $1000/month. I would love to be able to put Baby there, but I would need a $10,000 raise, which will be easy enough after I graduate. In fact, my current "plan" (I use the word loosely, as it is highly likely to change) is to stay on in my current lab after graduation and be a highly overqualified lab tech or "project manager" (or whatever the position was called...I forget). This would represent a step off of the traditional academic ladder, as you're never supposed to stay in one place for so long, but at this point, I feel like a need a break from the fast pace and high pressure of continually moving up that damn ladder. My idea is to settle down here for several years, say until my kids are in school, or I start to get antsy, before moving on to a "postdoc" (or equivalent "training" position if I'm no longer eligible) to restart my career path. Anyone know if this would count for one of those "reentry" awards? As for an ultimate goal, I would love to be either a staff scientist or independent researcher at NIH (intramural, so I don't have to worry about grants!).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where have I been?!?

So much has happened in the past month or so since my last post that I
don't even know where to start... How about bullet points for now,
then we'll catch up on details later, eh?

- Worst mentoring experience ever. (I mentor a lot of undergrads.) I
have never met a student so uninterested and completely detached from
reality. She's finally gone, thankfully. Bright side: it was a major
managerial learning experience for me.

- Super intense conference. Met all the big names in my field, the
ones whose papers are all cited in the background section of my thesis
proposal (all men, of course) and got to pick some of their brains on
why things work differently when I do them than when they do them.
Bad news: one of those labs has already done a major chunk of my
thesis project, and taken it farther than I was planning on, albeit in
a different rodent species.

- My blog has been discovered. (Hi Teacher! Look, you have a
psuedonym too!) She promises to be discreet...right? ;-P

- The graduate student group that I helped form to advocate for
family-friendly and work-life balance friendly policies is back in
business. We had one meeting back in February or so, but never really
established any kind of sustainable organization, so when the energy
and enthusiasm of a couple of leaders waned, it sort of fell to the
wayside for a while. But we have new people and renewed energy and
enthusiasm, so we're going to get ourselves organized for real this
time. (Any advice would be welcomed...I, for one, have no idea what
I'm doing!)

- I finished submitting my last predoctoral fellowship application.
w00t! And the next day I found out...

...the grand finale...


I HAVE FUNDING!!! My PI got a small award to cover half my stipend
and some basic running costs (animals and supplies) on my project for
2 years...hopefully long enough for me to finish my PhD! Holy crap is
that a huge relief or what!?!

So overall, it has been stressful, with lots of ups and downs, but
everything is turning out great in the end! :-D

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back to normal

So life is pretty much back to normal these days: Hubby's tongue has
healed completely; I'm working hard in the lab as deadlines rapidly
approach... We didn't get the T-R01 that I had mentioned a while
back, so funding continues to be precarious. I would be significantly
more upset by that news (utterly crushed, really) if we were still
planning on having a baby as soon as the funding comes through. As it
stands now, with nothing more than reliable funding for my project at
stake, my reaction was pretty much just "eh, yeah, it was a long shot,
oh well." Of course, that's not to say I'm not still sad about not
being able to have a baby yet...the pain is just less acute, more of a
dull ache of longing. It's hard seeing so many of my peers (4
cousins, 1 old friend, and several acquaintances, not fellow grad
students) having babies and knowing I have a few years to go before
it's my turn. You know, I think I'm going to go back to that
half-written "moving forward" post and finish it off. Maybe that will
make me feel better.

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Friday, June 5, 2009


Crisis averted: the biopsy came back normal! Hubby is cancer free,
but still doesn't believe the doc that he's just chewing on his tongue
in his sleep. Whatever. I don't care what it is as long as it's not
life-threatening. I've slept much better since we heard the news. So
now I'm back to moving forward with my life and my thesis project.
Too bad I missed the deadline for the June Scientiae. <Shrug>

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Monday, June 1, 2009


I started writing a "moving forward" post for the june scientiae a
couple weeks ago. It was getting really long because I was venting
all about how heartbroken I had been about not getting to have a baby
yet, but then I was going to say how I had pretty much snapped myself
out of it. I was coming to terms with reality and "moving forward"
with my life by refocusing on my thesis project so I could finish

I never finished the post.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband found a suspicious white patch on
his tongue. It didn't respond to antivirals, so he had it biopsied.
They apparently removed whatever was visible, but it's already coming
back, both around the biopsy scar and on the other side of his tongue.
We're going to the follow-up appointment tomorrow morning to hear the
news. We're both scared shitless.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

what a shitty mothers' day

I really thought I had the finances figured out. I was convinced we were doing well, ahead of the game, and that we would be able to afford a baby, particularly the high cost of full-time daycare, with minimal scrimping. Hubby didn't believe me, so I set out to produce a budget spreadsheet that would prove it.

Well, I went and proved myself wrong. Dammit. So on Mothers' Day, of all possible days, I learned that I really can't afford to become a mother any time soon, at least not while I'm in grad school. This made me very, very sad. I'm estimating another 3 years here in PhD-land, then I guess I'll move on to a post-doc. It seems bad form to get pregnant the instant one is in a new position with a higher salary, so I'm guessing another year of waiting and settling in there before we start trying. That's 4 years! I want a baby now! I already put it on hold for a year for Hubby's master's degree, and I'm sick of waiting!

Hubby saw how upset I was and switched from his usual fiscal conservatism to trying to convince me we can make it work. He's so confusing. I don't know what to do. We have a lot of debt (mostly student loans) that make our budget really tight, so we're considering talking to a financial advisor about how we can shift things around, or refinance, or whatever it takes to get some wiggle room in the monthly budget. I'm really not the least bit concerned about baby gear or basic supplies, since we can get a lot of things secondhand or as gifts, but the daycare...that's like a 3rd mortgage payment (our student loan payments already add up to a 2nd mortgage)! How does anyone do this?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

it all depends on funding

Hubby and I have come to the semi-firm conclusion that we will start trying for a baby as soon as I get word that the lab, and my project specifically, has funding for at least 3 years (i.e., long enough to get me through the rest of my Ph.D.). So, with that in mind, I'm hoping extra hard that the T-R01 we applied for in January will come through this summer. Otherwise, I have to wait to hear back on the R01 renewal we'll be submitting for the first time on June 5. Of course, the likelihood of that going through on the first try seems slim to none, so we'll presumably resubmit it Feb 5, 2010 and maybe get it funded in fall of fact, we better get it funded by then, as that's when the existing one runs out. I just realized the other R01 (the one that has nothing to do with my project) is going to run out even earlier, meaning we have to get it renewed on the first try...or else. WTF has Beloved PI been thinking, waiting so long to start applying?!? Note to self: end procrastinating ways now, long before becoming responsible for other people's livelihoods. Speaking of which, I'm late for work again and have grant paperwork to fill out... Joy! Just to clarify, the grants I'm currently working on are stimulus package related and thus would not meet the 3 year requirement mentioned above to allow the commencement of baby-making activities. Sadness.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Summary Statement and My Future Career

So I got my summary statement back on that fellowship application, detailing why the reviewers chose to give me the same score on what I felt was a significantly improved application. The real reason is that Reviewer #1 is a moronic douchebag who clearly has no experience in my field and chooses to ascribe his/her lack of understanding to my (and my experienced co-mentors') lack of understanding. He/she fails in basic understanding of what I am proposing, despite everyone else (including reviewers 2 & 3) praising my very clear writing style. For example, although my central hypothesis is highlighted in italics on the specific aims page, Reviewer #1 wrote a line saying that "The overall hypothesis is a bit out on a limb, that stimuli are more [mystery adjective] in [mystery disorder]," which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ACTUAL HYPOTHESIS! Since reviewers 2 & 3 correctly interpreted my hypothesis and proposed studies and gave more intelligible feedback (such as the dreaded "overly ambitious"), I feel pretty confident that my writing cannot be faulted for Reviewer #1's complete lack of reading comprehension. Does that count as an unfair review? Can I appeal somehow? I mean, this bastard is the one introducing my grant to the rest of the panel, and you know he's not painting a nice coherent picture. I have one revision left, which I will submit in August, but I seriously don't think it's going to go any better unless Reviewer #1 is out of the picture.

All of this has served to yet again remind me how random, unfair, and futile this funding system seems. I really don't want to devote my life to a career as a professional grant writer, which seems to be the primary job of PIs. I hate writing. I'm not terrible at it, but it's slow and painful. And it's just all the more painful when you feel like the work you put into it is not necessarily proportional to your chances of receiving funding. Writing about science is not what I like about science. I want to actually do the research - run the tests, analyze the data, etc. And I enjoy serving as a mentor and teaching others how to do what I do. Wouldn't that sort of direct hands-on and face-to-face work be a much larger proportion of a career as a research specialist, technician, staff scientist, or whatever else you might call it, than as a PI? I feel like the only thing that is driving me to run my own lab is that that's what you're "supposed" to do when you get a Ph.D. and that people will be disappointed in me if I don't. For example, I had a conversation with Beloved PI a while back about staying in his lab after I graduate. Now, this is something we joke about on a regular basis because he loves me and I have a pretty special skill set that will be difficult to replace. So at first he said that would suit him fine, but then he took it back and said he couldn't do that to me. A post-doc friend who was also there for this conversation expressed a similar sentiment, that I shouldn't waste my intellect or something like that. I don't feel like it's a waste to be true to my own priorities, including not taking on so much responsibility as the head of a lab so that I can leave work at reasonable hours and appreciate time with my family.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Noob mistakes and a generally craptastic week

First, let me express my thanks to everyone who has discovered my blog and left encouraging comments. I must say, though, that I think I've made a noob mistake in setting this up. My blogroll is ridiculously huge! I can't believe there's this whole community of women scientists online that I never knew existed. But alas, there's no way I can keep up with all 50 top women in science blogs from that phlebotomy school's list, plus everyone else I stumble across. How do you ladies do it? I just got Viigo installed on my BlackBerry so I can access the RSS feeds whenever I have a spare moment, but I've signed up for so many of them that it doesn't seem to be keeping up properly, and even if it did, I could never keep up with the reading. Since I'm particularly interested in reading about the lives of scientists (especially pre-tenure) who are also mothers (particularly of young children), I think I will have to cut my blogroll down to just those blogs. If anyone knows of a list just of those...

Meanwhile, I will tell you a little about my generally craptastic week. I should note that I am probably going to include enough information here that anyone who knew me personally would recognize what's going on in my life, but if you do identify me, please be discrete. Beloved PI has enough shit to worry about without anyone putting ideas in his head about me going on maternity leave and then permanently cutting down my hours.

So, this week, I got the score back on the 2nd submission of a pre-doctoral fellowship application. It was exactly the same unfundable score as the first submission. The most frustrating part is that I felt like I had done a really nice job of revising it and responding to all of the reviewers' criticisms. It was significantly better than the original and definitely worth funding. I was really optimistic about it, and [Beloved PI] even admitted that he had been "quietly confident" that I would get it. I was really pissed the first day, went home a bit early to get hugs from Hubby, have a few glasses of wine, and sleep it off. The next day my reaction had mellowed to disappointment and disillusionment with the process. The only thing Beloved PI could say to try to comfort me was that it wasn't personal, it's all just a crap-shoot. That's really not very comforting when I think about spending the rest of my career constantly dealing with such a screwed up system.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Okay, on with the introductions

Yay, how exciting! People already came to visit me! :-) Okay, so I guess that means I better go ahead and introduce an anonymous sense. As the blog description says, I am a 4th year PhD student in [Life Science] at [Excellent U]. And as implied by the pseudonym, I very much want to "have it all" in the sense of both a happy family and a sucessful career in scientific research. I should clarify that I am not yet a mommy (or expecting), nor a full-blown scientist, although at some level, I feel ready on both fronts.

On the baby front, I have always heard that there is simply "no good time" for kids in an academic career, and that you should "just do it when you're ready." Well, Hubby and I have been married almost 3 years; we own a 3 bedroom house in a nice suburb with good schools; we've practiced our parenting skills by raising 2 dogs; we've never been partiers or had much in the way of social lives that we wouldn't be ready to give up; our friends (not counting my fellow grad students) are having babies; and if careers weren't an issue, we would probably already have a baby.

However, despite my excitement about the possibility of becoming a mother, I'm terrified of doing it during grad school. I guess mainly this is because the two women in my program who have had kids during grad school are not doing so well academically. I really don't see myself in either one of them (they don't seem very self-motivated, which I am), so I think I may have better chances of working it out, but it's just not comforting. So part of my motivation in starting this blog is to seek out new role models and advice about this question of whether it's a reasonable choice to have a baby during grad school. There's so much more I could say about my conflicting feelings about everything, but I think you get the gist, so I'll leave it at that. I'm open to any and all opinions or tidbits of wisdom you'd like to share.


Okay, so I'm new to this blogging thing, so I realize I haven't had time to say anything interesting yet. Thankfully, I'm sure no one is listening yet. How do you get readers anyway? Well, meanwhile, I just wanted to mention that this list rocks, and has been my inspiration for starting my own blog. I intend to add almost all of these to my "blogroll"...whatever that means.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Blog

I'm starting this new anonymous blog to vent...but I should really be at work have been there an hour and a half I'll introduce myself later.