Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year, New You!!

Not long ago, Miss Prism had a lovely post on falling back in love with Science.

They always say that after you have a baby, your relationships tend to suffer. And my relationship with science has probably suffered the most. I've been a little distracted this past year (go figure), and so I've just been barely scraping by in lab. Just barely focusing long enough to get my experiments done, but not long enough to do the really fun things in science. And when you're just barely scraping by, it's easy to get bogged down in the nasty bits: the failed experiments, the boring repetitiveness of benchwork. Yuck. I need more, as Miss Prism puts it, thinky scribbly fun time.

And so, in keeping with Miss Prism's style of "5 Tips to Rekindle Your Love Affair", I resolve to:

1. Talk more.
I resolve to start approaching my boss more reqularly for science-related chats (instead of just data-interpretation assistance).

2. Try something new.
I'll be taking a computational genomic analyis course this quarter. As someone trained in classic genetic analysis, this is a brave new world...

3. Get away together.
I'll be registering to attend at least one conference this year, even though it will mean time away from the Bean. A big step, but conferences always remind me why I *heart* science so much.

4. Listen to each other.
I'm going to start listening to NPR's "Science Friday" in the lab. Science Friday always stimulates some good debates, and serves to remind us that science doesn't exist in a vacuum.

5. Develop outside interests.
I resolve to start reading one paper a week on something outside my field. Because I love all kinds of science, not just my own.

With a little more effort, I think I can rekindle my love for science. It's still there, it's just buried under a heap of uninterpretable data. This year I'm gonna dig it back out.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Haiku 6

Her fingers explore,
a tiny silken spider
on my tired face.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My 5 month pump-iversary

The Bean is 8 months old today. My sweet little girl is growing and changing faster than I ever imagined possible. I see the glints of her personality now, driven and determined, curious and inquisitive, happy and outgoing. Here's hoping I can nurture her spirit as well as I have nurtured her now 17-pound body.

Today also marks 5 months since my return to work. 5 months of pumping,as well. When I (mentally) signed on to pump until the Bean was a year old, it didn't seem like much of a commitment. Now, just over halfway through my pumping contract, I am eagerly awaiting the day when I can put that pump in the closet and forget about it for a few years. In reality. the pumping isn't THAT bad. But it's at turns boring, annoying and embarrassing. The only "enjoyment" I get out of it is relief that I haven't leaked through my shirt. But I love nursing the Bean, and you couldn't pay me to give that up any time soon. 5 months down, 4 months to go.

To all the mamas out there with bottles balanced precariously on your knees as you sit on your bench/folding chair/dirty carpet in the bathroom/janitors closet/first aid room, sterilizing your pump parts twice a day in a microwave that smells like someone else's lunch, hiding your milk in the back of the communal fridge... keep up the good work. Your child will thank you! (Actually they won't, but that's why you should give yourself a pat on the back..)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Tomorrow we are off to someplace warm to visit my family for the holidays. Which is fantastic because labwork is going not-well, and I need a break like nothing else.

I am excited to start enjoying the Christmas season with my daughter before it's too late and the Christmas trees are laying dejected out on the curb, stray bits of tinsel flapping in the breeze. I am excited for my family to see the Bean, how much she has changed and grown in the past few months, to see her emerging personality.

But I am excited too for Grandma Babysitter. To go out on a date with my husband. With no family in town, it is rare indeed for Husband and I to go out alone together. It has happened exactly three times in the last 7 months and 29 days. So that will be nice too.

Take care and be well! I'll be posting sporadically for the next 10 days or so, but I'll be back in the new year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Science Debate 2008

A recent post by Science Woman talked about the Science Debate 2008 movement, spearheaded by the writers over at The Intersection.

Science Debate 2008 is a call for a presidential debate on science and technology. The list of signatories on the petition is indeed quite impressive, including a dozen or more Nobel laureates, professors, heads of industry, leaders in the scientific community,... the list goes on and on.

In the wake of one of the most regressive presidencies in history, I think a debate on how science should be involved in shaping public policy is important not just to scientists, but to all Americans. So while I am happy to see so many scientists sign on to support Science Debate 2008, I think it is just as, if not more important for non-scientists to speak out and say "We don't want another presidency that ignores or censors scientific data in order to support the policies of ideologues."

The Bush administration has actively suppressed, censored, and manipulated scientific findings in order to suit its agenda. This has affected public policy on issues as wide-ranging as stem cell research, global warming, reproductive health, the environment, protection of endangered species, and air quality standards. The administration has staffed its scientific advisory committee with underqualified individuals, and dismissed qualified experts who disagreed with the administration's agenda.

This country can not afford another presidency that undervalues the role that science and technology must play in shaping our country's future.

So please, get involved at Science Debate 2008. Sign the petition, tell your friends, blog about it. Tell the candidates that we need a president who will protect the valuable role that scientific discovery must play in shaping our country's policies.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Haiku 5

The Haiku challenge continues...

Notebook pages and
Unlabeled gel photos sit
Waiting to be saved

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gender-bending blues

"What an adorable baby! Look at those eyes! How old is he?"

"SHE is almost 8 months old."

(Repeat ad nauseum)

Okay, so I was definitely a tomboy growing up. And I'm all for doing my best not to indoctrinate the Bean with traditional gender expectations (as much as I possibly can, as someone who has been culturally brainwashed herself). Bean takes her blue and green dinosaur and bug blanket with her to school for naps. She's got a wide collection of cars to play with. And if someday I were to buy her a microscope, I would buy her the "boys" microscope (i.e. a microscope actually equipped for a kid to go out and look at stuff under a microscope), instead of the "girls" microscope (which is pink, and is meant for looking at diamond crystals... because everyone knows diamonds are a girls best friend).

That being said, I am not going to prevent her from playing with Barbies or doing other "girly" things if she's so inclined. I plan to try my best not to encourage or discourage activities or interests on the basis of traditional gender roles.

But for some reason, it REALLY bothers me when people say that Bean is a boy. She is quite often color-coded for your convenience, wearing pink or purple. She rarely wears blue (mostly because they don't make a lot of girls clothes in blue). Even so, people will often mistake her for a boy.

This shouldn't bother me any more than when people call my dog a boy. I mean, she's a baby. Baby's are round and chubby and pink, no matter their gender. But for some reason, I always correct the person when I should just let it go...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another big milestone

Last Thursday night after we picked Bean up from school, she was crawling around and playing like usual. She crawled over to the couch and, for the first time ever, pulled herself up to a standing position!

This is a huge event in the ScienceMama household. 1) My baby is growing up! 2) This requires a whole new level of baby-related vigilance. 3) This requires a whole new level of baby-proofing. 4) My baby is growing up!

Bean spent the whole weekend practicing her newest skill. She's not really good at it yet, but she's improving crazy fast.

So last night Husband lowered the mattress in Bean's crib. Huge bummer. I now have to stand on my tip toes and bend all the way over to get the Bean into her crib. But it'll keep her from climbing out of her crib (head-first), so I guess that's kinda important.

This morning, when we dropped the Bean off at school, we warned her teachers that she was working on standing up, but was still awfully prone to falling over. "Oh yeah," her teacher responded, "she was doing that all last week, too."

Sigh. I guess we didn't see her first pull-up after all. But that's okay. It was exciting nonetheless.

This little Bean is changing so fast. I thought we'd have a period of time where she would just be crawling before she moved on to the standing up, pre-walking phase. But no sooner does she master one task before she's moving on to the next. I think we're going to be chasing her around in a matter of months...

Monday, December 10, 2007


So this weekend busted my butt.

Friday night was spent baking gingerbread cookies (my favorite) to bring to lab meeting and to a Christmas party that my parenting group is hosting this week. Then the Bean had a terrible night, up several times, and crying more than normal. We fear this is the beginning of Act 2: Top Teeth.

Saturday morning I was running around lab like a chicken with its head cut off, doing hot work. (Have I mentioned how I hate working with radioactivity on the weekends? It bears repeating... I HATE working with radioactivity on the weekends. I feel like weekend lab work should not involve stressful experiments... But that's just me.) I put the Bean down for a nap just before I left, hoping that Husband would have an opportunity to do some chores while I was gone, but apparently all he had time for was a shower before the Bean was up and ready to play.

For the first time in a few weeks it was actually sunny out (though still only in the upper 30s), so we took the Bean and Pup to our favorite park for a walk. We got all bundled up, and actually put the Bean in her jogging stroller for the first time. So it was her first walk in the stroller facing forwards. She loved it! (I admit, I had big plans for that jogging stroller this summer while I was on maternity leave, but realized too late that it wasn't designed for newborns... But the stroller worked great, and I'm looking forward to going on some runs with the Bean soon!)

When we returned home, we found a horrible mess in our bed. Apparently Pup, who likes to "build a nest" before she naps (read: use her paws to dig at her blankets until she's pushed them up into an agreeable pile for napping in the middle), had built a nest in our bed that morning... which actually meant that her nails had not only torn a huge hole in our fitted sheet, but also ripped the top of the mattress. Ugh. So while Husband tried to get a fussy little Bean down for her nap, I ran off to get us some new sheets for the night.

Saturday night was spent making baby food and prepping some freezer meals for a friend who just had his second baby. Bean had another awful night, and we resorted to Tylenol at 3:00 a.m. It seemed to help for awhile, but she was up bright and early a few hours later. Sigh. No sleep for the weary.

Sunday morning, after giving Bean a bath (a really fun bath) I got her down for a nap and managed to get some lasagnes made for our friend as well (keeping aside one for ourselves, mind you). I think I always forget though how much work lasagnes are. It took for freakin' ever. I got the grocery shopping done too, and then we had just enough time to get a cup of coffee before heading off to deliver the food to our friend.

Our friend's baby was just two weeks old, weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 8.5 pounds. I couldn't believe how tiny a two week old was, and had a hard time believing that Bean was even smaller when she was that young. When I went to hold this tiny creature, I felt awkward. It was like I had completely forgotten how to hold a newborn, and for some reason I felt frightened to do so. Didn't I just do this?

I ended the day with a soak in the tub. Bean had another terrible night, waking up every couple of hours (though less crying, which was nice). I'm exhausted and ready to have another weekend. One where I don't commit myself to spending the entire time in the kitchen.

But instead I gotta go set up a PCR and wash my blots. And tonight I gotta make more baby food. My little goblin is eating her food up almost as fast as I can make it!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Haiku 4

Haiku for you

Lips brush against her
Downy hair, she stirs, sighing,
Moonlight on her face

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On going back to work, Part 4 of Infinity

Today, for the departmental journal club, a PI noted for being a family-focused male PI (yes, they do exist!), presented a paper on the retention of women in science. Called "Falling off the academic bandwagon", the paper described the results of a self-report survey focused on identifying factors which affected the loss of women from life sciences and engineering.

One of the first things that the paper noted was that among the postdocs surveyed (over 1300 postdocs, men and women, at the NIH), women were three times more likely than men to state that plans to have children (or more children) were extremely important considerations in planning their career. The authors note that "this indicates that more women than men foresee family responsibilities as a possible source of conflict with their future professional life."

The paper itself was an interesting (if depressing) read, and served as a reminder that family concerns are a significant factor in the continual loss of women from the upper levels of science. While some institutions have given a nod towards family friendly policies (like Tenure-clock extension), in practice, most women are afraid to take advantage of such programs for fear of being viewed negatively by their department.

In my opinion, one of the major barriers to making true progress in retaining women in science is that the (largely male) powers that be have yet to truly accept that there is a problem. It's easy to hold up some of the amazing women who do combine family and tenure track (like ScienceWoman, Jane, and FemaleScienceProfessor) and say, "if they can do it, anyone can. You just have to want it enough."

But that attitude isn't productive. Yes, there are women out there who are able to find situations where they can make it work, but the numbers don't lie. It's not a matter of not wanting it enough, it a matter of not having the support necessary to raise and family and pursue a tenure track position. The female postdocs who participated in the NIH survey were 4.5 times less likely then the male postdocs to have a stay at home spouse. That factor alone will significantly impact the number of women who choose to pursue tenure track positions.

Dr. Bruce Alberts, the former president of the National Academy of Sciences, was quoted as saying "If you're going to be successful in science, it helps a lot to have a wife." (Note that most women do not have wives... or stay at home spouses) He goes on to imply that women are dropping out of science because they are not up to the challenge and leave science for motherhood because they don't have the same fortitude as men. "Science is really hard work, and if you don't feel this is the only option, you'll do something else."

When this kind of sexist crap is coming down from the top, it's no wonder that most of the top research institutes haven't made the changes that are really needed to keep women on the tenure-track career path.

The attitude is one where it's the woman's loss for not having the drive to stick it out. But I think it stems from a fundamental undervaluing of the contributions women could be making in science. When well-trained, talented women fall of the path to become leaders in science, it's not just their loss. It's a loss to science.

So growed up

Bean is so totally all growed up.

On Sunday night she crawled from the living room around the couch and into the kitchen. It was the first time she's crawled from one room to the other. When she reached the kitchen door, she peered around the corner, saw me, and gave the the biggest satisfied smile to say "I found you!"

Last night she crawled 12 "steps" in a row on all fours (before her legs slide out from under her, causing her to splat on the ground). Once she can consistently crawl on all fours, we're going to be in trouble. Without the belly friction of the army crawl, Bean is freakin' fast.

She can sit and play like a big girl, reaching for toys and pulling them back to her without falling over. She can also now get from a seated position onto all fours, and almost do the reverse.

She is now a solid food eating machine. Last night she had roasted butternut squash for the first time and gobbled it all in about 3.2 seconds. Then she banged her hands on the table until we gave her applesauce with milk, rice cereal and cinnamon (her first spice!).

She is now babbling a lot more consistently, and loves experimenting with the different raspberry-related sounds she can make with her tongue. She "sings" along with us too.

And the biggest news of all: Last night she was basically starting to pull herself up. Husband was laying on the floor, and Bean was trying to scale Daddy Mountain. But her movement changed from trying to wriggle over Daddy to pulling herself up onto her feet using Daddy's shirt and lower lip as handles. It was amazing.

Bean is now changing at lightning speed. It's incredible to think that just 4 months ago she rolled over for the first time. She's so awesome.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Happy Monday

Well, my day was... wet.

Nevermind that it's absolutely pouring outside and has been since yesterday. I was fine until about an hour after I got to lab.

I was chatting with my baymate this morning. I noticed I could hear gushing water in one of our little alcove rooms, but I assumed someone was in there washing glassware. Not so.

Actually, there was water gushing out from the cabinet and onto the floor. We opened the cabinet and the line for the DI water snaked out and started twirling around like an unmanned firehouse, soaking me from head to toe. It took a second for us to react before my baymate grabbed the line and tilted it up so that it would point back into the sink, shooting our chemical bench, our supply of Whatman paper, and the ceiling with even more water. She handed me the line and ran to call the facilities maintenance folks. Wiping the wet hair out of my face, I spied the valve attached to the line and shut off the water.

It all happened in about a minute, but we were left with 40 liters of standing water on the floor. So we spent a good hour mopping up the water with the two pathetic mops we were able to score from housekeeping.

Good times.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Woman Scientist

There was a period of time when I didn't think about being a woman scientist. I was just a scientist. I was an undergrad. Unexperienced, yes. But I worked in the lab of a PI that I respect very much to this day. He treated me fairly, trained me well, and never once did I think about the fact that he was a dude and I was a chick.

Then came grad school. My grad school advisor never took women in his lab seriously. He either flirted with them or ignored them. (I was in the "ignore" category...) With the men of the lab he'd stop by their benches, blather on about sports and then eventually he'd talk to them about their data and hand them a paper to read. With the women, he'd either actively avoid talking to them, or else he'd come 'round and comment about how great they were for being able to work all day in high heels (seriously!!). The different treatment for men and women in the lab was really frustrating. And it was the first time I realized that science works a little differently if you're on the right side of the gender fence.

But the thing that was the most frustrating to me was that the men in the lab couldn't see it. The girls (whether flirted with or ignored) felt uncomfortable and frustrated. But when I talked to my male labmates, they usually just kind of blew it off (except in the case of one particular woman in the lab where the flirting was so blatant even the guys in the lab were ready to vomit).

In retrospect, I had the worst possible reaction to such a terrible situation. I didn't leave the lab. I didn't seek mentorship from someone outside the lab. I just got pissed off, disgusted, and unhappy. I let my work suffer. I became consumed with negativity, and I was convinced that science would always be a hostile place for women. I pushed to graduate as quickly as possible. And I left.

For a long time after I graduated, I still blamed my advisor for creating a negative place for me to do science. I blamed him for ignoring my project. I was angry for the lack of scientific guidance and mentorship. I was angry because he made me hate every second I was in lab. I almost left science altogether.

But now, after a long period of healing from what was a really negative and demeaning work environment, I realize that it was always on me. Yes, I had a sh*%!y work environment. Yes, it sucked that my advisor treats women differently than men. But my development as a scientist is my responsibility. Not his. And I should have found the mentorship I needed from someone else in the department (like, perhaps, one of the talented and successful female PIs with whom I had regular interactions).

Yes, the system in academia is broken. It shouldn't be taken for granted that male advisors can treat women any way they please and get away with it (and not just get away with it, but get tenure!). But I can't just sit around feeling sorry for myself. Being angry doesn't help me excel.

I'm in a new place now. My advisor is female. In fact, all but one member of my new lab is female. I have some lost years of training to make up for, and I'm lucky to get to do that in a place where I am both comfortable and taken seriously. I'm letting a lot of the bitterness of grad school go, and I'm learning to love science again.

Will I stay at the bench? I don't know. There are too many variables right now to predict where I'll be in 10 years. But I'm back in the saddle, and I feel like a scientist again. Instead of a "woman scientist."

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