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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