Monday, April 28, 2008

On going back to work, part 8 of infinity...

... Or, Making it "Worth it"

The past year has been a real journey for me, not just in the obvious ways (becoming a mother), but also in examining what I want for myself and my career.

As I have discussed countless times on this blog, I'm not really cut out to be a bench scientist. I think I've known this since my second year of grad school. I love learning, I love thinking about science, I just don't love the day-to-day slog of bench work. But dropping out of grad school is a pretty terrifying thing to do, and I just... couldn't. My own sense of pride and self-worth would have suffered a fatal blow if I had. Which is a terrible reason to spend 5 years doing anything, but there it is.

At the end of my PhD, I was stuck with the classic two body problem. Husband had 2-3 years left till he would be done with his post-doc here in Dissertation City. So I took a post-doc position here. "It's just temporary," I thought "and I'll find a new career once Husband lands his tenure track job."

Then we had the Bean.

I don't think there's any way to anticipate the raw unfettered emotion of giving birth to your first child, or the way that it will change you. I spent three glorious months on maternity leave with the Bean, and then returned to my post-doc.

When I first went back to work, I was... well, I was angry. I mean really darn angry. Don't ask me at what or who or exactly why, but I was angry. It just didn't feel right going back to work, to a job I was barely happy with, and paying someone else to be with my beautiful child. Difficult doesn't even begin to describe how hard this was.

Over the past year, I have gone from being angry about returning to work to being grateful. Motherhood can be all-consuming, and it's easy to lose yourself entirely to the needs of your child. Even though some days I'd much rather take Bean to the zoo than go to work, I'm generally really grateful to have time each week where I am an independent human being again.

That being said, it still doesn't feel right that I'm leaving the Bean each day to slog away at a job that most days makes me pretty unhappy.

Before I think it would have been too much for me to actually contemplate leaving the bench for good. After all, it's been 6 years since I realized that bench work wasn't right for me, and yet here I am. But having the Bean has really made me re-evaluate my priorities. And I'm just not going to settle for a job that makes me unhappy. If I'm going to be away from the Bean, I have to make that time count. I want a career that makes the time away from her "worth it".

I don't know when, but someday very soon, I'm going to take the leap. I'm going to do the work, and find the courage, to change my career for the better.*

*"Better" according to my standards!

11 comments:

arduous said...

Life is too short to be at a job you don't enjoy. I'm glad you are evaluating all your options, because I know you can do anything you set your mind to doing.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I like to remember that that PhD is *yours* and you can do whatever you want with it!

Jenn said...

well said! I think a lot of use finish up those PhDs because we can't bear the mental cost of "quitting".

Jennifer said...

I left the bench (after a disastrous postdoc) a year and a half ago to become a science writer and I haven't looked back. I had a very similar attitude to yours--I loved thinking about science but hated the day to day nitty-gritty about bench work. It was the best decision I ever made. But I also understand how difficult it is to make such a big change, especially when everyone around you, no matter how miserable they are themselves, makes you feel like if you don't love bench work, there is something wrong with you. I wish you the best in figuring out what you want.

Scientia Matris said...

I too never thought I'd consider leaving science. I now have two kids and am on the verge of setting up independently. Plan B (which morphs into Plan A when the going gets tough) is to leave science altogether. I'll be interested to see how you go. Good luck!

core said...

Oh, how I fantasize about doing the same. Unfortunately with hubby heading to med school in the fall I have to keep at it for a while until we can take the financial risk of me starting something new.

I admire how brave you are being!!

Amy said...

You always are able to express how you (and I and many other moms) are feeling so eloquently. I too was very engry when I came back from maternity leave. I contemplated quitting. I still do sometimes. But like you said, I do like to have some time to myself during the week. I just wish it didn't have to be 5 full days a week. I wish science were more amenable to working part time for women. I would love to work 3 or 4 days a week to have an extra day or two off to be with my son. To me, that would be the best of both worlds.

My compromise with myself was to switch from a standard post-doc to a lab manager type position in the city where my parents live so we could be close to them. To this day, I am still dealing with the naysayers who keep telling me I am throwing away my career. Only time will tell what the future holds, but so far it was worth it to see how happy my son is near his grandparents...

Amy said...

Also, I wish you luck with whatever you decide. Its your decision so you have to listen to your heart. Bean will love you for it.

ScientistMother said...

I totally understand how you feel. I love learning, I love thinking about science, but am not sure benchwork is for me. good for you for deciding to find something better. There are SO many options, grant facilitator, content writer, journal editor that let you learn and think about science without benchwork. good luck

The bean-mom said...

I don't doubt that you'll find that career you seek. As Scientistmother says, you'd be an awesome science writer or editor (we can all tell, just by reading your blog!)

Lovely post. So many of us are trying work this out...

Flicka Mawa said...

Great post. If you are also interested in science writing, we should definitely be sure to compare notes. I'm going to start looking into it more seriously, so I'll be sure to let you know when I have new posts on the topic!

Sorry about the confusion with your submission - it's now included! :-D

p.s. I've been meaning to tell you this for a while, but I would absolutely comment on our blog more if you didn't have to be logged into blogger. I'm always logged in as my non-pseudonymous gmail account and I have to log out of that and re-login in order to leave posts on blogger blogs that are on this setting, so I often go to post a comment and then don't when I see it's set like this.