Archive for the '[Life Trajectories]' category

If you don't talk to your kids about it someone else will

If I've learned anything about parenting, it seems you spend most of your time catching up to what your children have already been trying to figure out. In the last 6 months or so we've gotten a number of questions about death from the Wee One. At five years old kids are starting to figure out that things die and the natural question is "then what?" I've provided answers about the chemicals in your body going back into the Earth so that other things can grow, largely to a dissatisfied stare in return.

"So you then grow into a horse? Or a squirrel?"

"Well, maybe some of the chemicals in your body help to make up a squirrel..."

"Daddy, I'm becoming a squirrel when I die!"

We've had a few of these conversations, which have become a bit more productive over time, but it's a challenging concept so I let her go at her own pace. What I didn't expect to have a conversation about was something that came up last night.

We were listening to the kid's album Snack Time by the Bare Naked Ladies and the song "Raisin" came on. The very first line of the song is:

"Raisins come from grapes, people come from apes"

The Wee One looked up and said "Why did they say that? How can we come from apes?"

Hey, teachable moment, I thought! "Well, honey, apes are kind of like our really distant cousins. People and apes share a greatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreat grandmother and..."

"But daddy, GOD made people! My friends and teachers told me that."

And I was all:

Alrighty then! Nothing like playing from behind in a game you didn't know you were in. For the next hour we chatted about religions, what it meant and why different people believe different things. She was offended that there were no "girl gods" and insisted that she should be able to grow up to be a girl god and I told her that seemed like a reasonable request. In the end she told me that she still thought god made people, but it was a girl god. For now, I'll take it.

But for an atheist family with a child going to a school that celebrates no religion-based holidays and prides itself on diversity, I was (stupidly) unprepared to field these kinds of questions. Good lesson to learn now.

24 responses so far

The first signs of a toddler infestation

Jan 30 2013 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

Toddlers. They can wreak havoc of your house. Once they get established, eradication is virtually impossible and only time can diminish their effects.

The Weer One has officially reached that age where she has found the sublime joy in just fucking shit up. Books on a shelf? They are way more hilarious on the floor! Why are all these toys in this basket when the toys are more fun scattered about and the basket is the best hat EVAH! It's great that my sister likes to organize things so that I can come by and reset this game of Chaos!

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Exhibit A: The best toy in the house.

It's basically like living with a post-midnight fed gremlin who has the vocabulary of an Ewok and the volume of a screeching eagle. The minute you make it clear that something is out of bounds, every waking minute of their lives is dedicated to the conquest of that object while alerting you to their success. Silence followed by shrill maniacal laughter is always the first clue that they have succeeded while your back was turned for that instant.

"Child proofing"? Who are you kidding? It's just upping the challenge and the reward. Sure, you can try and watch them all the time, but like a prisoner, they have all the time in the world and nothing to lose. You're better off trying to win a staring contest with a fish.

And so we wait it out and try not to break an ankle on a book, spoon or pony on the floor.

4 responses so far

In the presence of

Oct 16 2012 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

The high school I went to cared a great deal about students accepting responsibility for their decisions. There was an honor code and various rules to reinforce the need to think about one's actions. One of these rules was the "In The Presence Of" rule.

This rule was fairly simple and straight-forward, leaving little room for interpretation. Basically, if you were in the presence of someone breaking a rule you were just as guilty as they were even if you were not participating. You're chatting with someone smoking behind the gym, you're getting treated like you were lighting up to. It was your responsibility to either discourage certain activities in your presence or leave those performing them to themselves.

I bring this up because there are professional contexts where this concept is pretty useful. Certainly this is true in instances of misconduct, but I'm specifically thinking about sexual harassment. If you think this isn't still a problem in science, you might just have your head up your ass. I hear several stories a year about a female scientist being subjected to some form of inappropriate conversation from a (usually senior to them) male scientist. I've seen it in action and even been directly confronted with this stupidity.

Whereas I am all for women standing up and calling out this kind of bullshit, it's naive and a cop out to lay this responsibility entirely at the feet of those at the wrong end of the power dynamic in these interactions. If the goal is to stamp out indecent behavior by male scientists, then other male scientists are in just as much (and better, in many cases) of a position to do so. Which brings us back to our high school rule.

Dudes. If you are in the presence of someone making a woman uncomfortable with their conversation, gestures, physical contact, etc., and you just let it go, you are as guilty as the jerk is. Find a way to let your colleague, be they senior or junior, know that their behavior is not acceptable. It's neither easy or comfortable, especially if you are caught off-guard, but watching it happen and doing nothing is just another way we promote harassment around us.

18 responses so far

I'm too smart to end up like that

I teach a course in which we discuss both real life and case study examples of mentoring gone wrong. It never fails to amaze me how many students come down on the side of blaming the trainee for putting themselves in a bad position. I would have predicted the opposite. There seems to be mix of hindsight into the situation, lack of empathy and an overwhelming sense that they would recognize a bad situation and have an escape plan. Even when I try to peel that veneer back, these student remain steadfast that the student depicted in the case study "should have known better".

Fascinating.

11 responses so far

Friday four-year-old pearls of wisdom

Oct 05 2012 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

"Mommy, if you wanted 100 babies you would have to rent them. And then the cats would take care of them while you were at work."

"Why didn't this book get any surprises?" (In reference to a book not having any book prize stickers on the cover)

"My cut hurts the same distance as my flu shot"

"Daddy, can we get princess gum? My friend told me about it and it's supposed to be good and when you eat it tastes like princesses in your mouth!"

"Is the plunger still here?" (In reference to the plumber)

"My tummy hurts. Can I have some pesto?" (Looking for Pepto)

"You do realize that the sky is blue for a reason, right daddy?"

"If we ever go to Disney World I will only hug the characters with skin!"

"We're going to plant apple seed at school and see what happens. I hope we grow oranges and bananas!"

7 responses so far

Time to exercise. Where do I find it?

Oct 01 2012 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

Wife-like Substance and I have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to carve out some time to get some exercise over the last few months. For a while we had a good stretch going, but travel over the summer kind of messed everything up. The other problem: we were waking up before 5:00am to fit it in. After a while that just starts to hurt.

We've been attempting to get back into that schedule for a few weeks now, but with darker mornings and more hectic days, that "off" button on the alarm is damn easy to find at o'-dark-thirty. So we need a new plan, but when the hell do we wedge an hour of new activity into our lives? As it stands, our schedule looks roughly like this:

5:30 wake up and get things ready for the day (on weekends, the kids wake up now too)

6:30 Wake up the kids (magically, only on weekdays) and eat family breakfast

7:30 drop kids off at day care and get into work.

4:30 head home to make dinner

5:30 dinner

6:30 bath time

7-7:30 kids in bed

7:30-8:30 prep lunches and dinner for the next day or eat our own dinner (if we fed the kids separately)

8:30 - 10:00 mixture of next day prep, finish up work that needs doing, or actually getting to talk.

10:00-11:00 hopefully make it to bed sometime in this hour.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I've tried the mid-day run and that always seems to lose to more pressing commitments. I've tried dropping the kids off and going then, but that means skipping breakfast and just gets tough to juggle. Night time is kids-swim-in-the-crazy-pool in our house, which seems like a bad time to take off and leave one parent to play life-guard.

However, people do make it work for them, so I'm looking for suggestions. How do you make time for physical activity beyond baby-chasing?

36 responses so far

Should I apply? Should I interview? The answer is always yes.

It seems to me that jobs may be on the rise this year, simply because I get about a daily inquiry from someone in my life about whether or not they should apply for X position or follow up on Y job lead. My answer is always the same.

If there is even the slightest chance that the job in question puts you in a better situation than the one you are in, YES. YES. BY ALL MEANS YES.

Now obviously there is a cost to applying for jobs. It takes time and interviews take even more. But if you are on the job market, or considering it, there is a reason (advancement, change of scenery, family, colleagues, creepy colleagues, etc.). In that case, you owe it to yourself to explore the options. Time after time people say something along the lines of "I would go there if xxxx, but I don't think that is possible" before they have even applied. This drives me crazy because people take themselves out of the running before the race even starts.

Rule #1: Make the hard decisions when they need to be made. You don't know what is possible at a job until you negotiate so don't decide whether or not you would be interested before you've even applied.

Rule #2: When opportunities present themselves, check them out. I have watched several friends of mine stumble into jobs that they had not previously considered, which turned out to perfectly fit their lives. By simply returning a phone call or agreeing to a meeting, they struck gold because they didn't make an a priori decision that something wasn't right for them.

Rule #3: Let the search committee decide if you meet the criteria. Don't exclude yourself based on what YOU think THEY might be looking for.

It always amazes me how many people talk themselves out of a job they haven't even applied for! If you need a job or want a better one, do the legwork and kick some tires. No one ever got a job by not applying.

16 responses so far

Becoming a grandparent apparently makes you lose you damn mind

Aug 16 2012 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

Parenting is an odd thing. You spend a lot of your time trying to do your best, surviving when your best isn't good enough and generally trying not to fuck your kids up. There's millions of books on the topic if you care to read them, but in the end you default to emulating what you think are the best parts of what you know from growing up, fused with what you think are improvements to your upbringing. It's wonderful, infuriating, thrilling and miserable all at the same time. Above all, it gives you a new respect for your parents.

Armed with this new respect, you assume that you can hand your kids off to your parents and, with their honed parental instincts that produced the amazing person that you are, they will deliver your child back unto you in at least the same condition they were when they departed.

But that's not what happens. At all.

What's they very first thing your parents do when they get ahold of your children? Let the children decide everything. It's like those years between their own last child leaving the house and the arrival of grandchildren has wiped every ounce of parenting common sense out of their system. Suddenly the inmates are running the asylum.

My mother is very into health. She's been eating organic foods since before you could find them in regular stores. I can recall the week she decided that she was getting rid of all the non-organic stuff in the house, which has remained that way ever since. Based on this, one would assume that she would feed her grandchildren in a similar way that she fed her own family for decades.

Instead, my mother has introduced the following items to my kids:

McDonald's (a place she hadn't been in >20 years)
gum
soda
hot dogs
Chocolate ice cream for breakfast
Cheetos (quite possibly the antithesis of her diet)
And probably a dozen more things I haven't heard about

It's not that I mind that the kids eat these things - it is only that we don't usually eat these things ourselves that prevents the kids from being served them - but the fact that my mother was the vehicle of delivery for these foods absolutely floors me. I'm willing to bet that she had to look up where the nearest McDonald's to their house was.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. When I mentioned to my father on the phone some of the issues we were having with the Wee One recently, he said "Hmm, she doesn't push against the rules at our house." It wasn't until I pointed out that you can't push against something that isn't there, that he laughed and agreed. Bed time? whatevs! Naps? Who needs them? Don't want to brush your teeth? Those teeth are gonna fall out anyway!

I get it, it's not fun to enforce rules with kids and grandparents want to spend all of their grandkid time having fun. They want the grandkids to beg to go back and in the end they don't have to deal with the repercussions of utterly exhausted children returned home. They can drive away just as their parents did after dropping my exhausted sibling and I off after a few days of sugar fueled madness.

And I'm sure they chuckle all the way home.

29 responses so far

It's not just the sleep

Mar 09 2012 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

As some people around these parts are just finding out, having kids changes everything for you. I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of having kids, but your world changes in enormous ways. One of those ways, hopefully just in the beginning, is sleep.

Our first child started sleeping through the night at about three months. At the time we thought we were going to die, but in retrospect three months was incredible. Those three months were brutal with the combination of new parenthood, lack of sleep and planning an international move while finishing things up where we were, but it was only three months.

Today our second daughter turns 7 months. Last night she woke up and screamed three times before 1am and then again at 4am. Because I had done the two feedings the night before, my wife took the pre-1ams and I was up at 4am. But whether you get out of bed or not, it's never a good idea to be woken up 2-4 times a night. Doing it for seven months straight is an even worse idea.

Sleep deprivation is one of the few legal ways you can break an interrogation subject - it may not be physical torture but it makes you lose your damn mind. For whatever reason I made no alternative plans to change my teaching/grant writing/paper writing schedule when we had the second child and I am now very much regretting that because everyone assumes that after about 6 months everything should be good with the baby. In most ways it is, but the sleep issue is getting worse as it drags on. I've agreed to two collaborative grants in the next two months, have two students finishing up and will be on an NSF panel in a month, on top of teaching.

On a normal schedule this is just another spring, but in a state of sleep deprivation this is stupidity. Not only am I working at half speed at work, but I no longer have a few evening hours to get some extra things done. The combination has effectively cut my weekly working hours by at least a third, but probably more. I am definitely the one-legged man in this ass-kicking competition right now.

But we quickly forget. As soon as the Weer One starts sleeping through the night, our minds will work hard to hide the evidence that there ever was a problem. If they didn't there would be a lot more single-child families.

Who would have thought that the thing I am most looking forward to as conferences approach is not the science or the travel, but the ability to sleep for more than 3 consecutive hours.

21 responses so far

Greener grass

Mar 05 2012 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

In the past few months I've had some opportunities to travel and visit other universities. In a lot of cases these places have been the type that, by reputation, would be viewed as an upgrade from my current institution. In a couple of instances it wouldn't be close.

When I visit another department I always like to get a feel for how they do business. How are faculty treated? How are the grad students and postdocs treated and supported? What does the lab space look like and how tight is it? How colleagial does the department seem? How much teaching do the PIs do? Etc., etc.

This mix of variables is always different and often in surprising ways. Much of the tolerance for some features is in the eye of the beholder, in that we all make sacrifices in areas that hold less priority in our lives. How much weight do you place on institutional support of grad students? More than lab space? More than having an office and lab in the same building? What about teaching load?

In the non-biomed sciences there is perhaps a surprising amount of variability in the conditions and demands associated with PIhood at institutions across the country. Additional variability can come from the relative funding rates of PIs, but the NSFers can't haul in the type of funding that frees you up in the way that NIH peeps are accustom to, leaving only so far one can deviate from the base. In that way, institutional variation may be more critical to those of us in the "basic" sciences.

All of this is perhaps a round about way to say that I my travels have unexpectedly given me more appreciation for my own job and institution. I think we tend to fixate on the issues we know well from our own places of employment and believe that nowhere else could possibly be as backassward and maybe that is true on certain topics. At the same time, most of us chose our institutions in comparison to others where we might have had an offer. We did so based on the value we place on some of the many variables associated with this job. Perhaps some things were unanticipated from the vantage point of being on the job market, but on the whole it is probably a good idea to identify some of things about your job and institution that you appreciate once in a while.

Then you can go back to complaining to colleagues about how horrible your institution is.

3 responses so far

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