Archive for the 'LifeTrajectories' category

Asking the internet for parenting advice

Apr 14 2015 Published by under LifeTrajectories

"Hey, I would like to do this fairly routine Thing, but I've never done it with a small child. I plan on doing XXXXXX to make it easier for the child and myself. Anyone have any advice?"


1. OtherParent: "Yeah, I think that's totally reasonable."

2. ParentFriend: "We did something similar and it was fine. Have a good time!"

3. AcquaintancePerson: "I don't know, I don't think I would do that with my child."

4. ParentsRus: "Sounds reasonable."

5. HoverMom: "I wouldn't even consider doing that with little Joey! I couldn't live with myself if he somehow contracted Ebola while doing that!"

6. ThatFriend: "OMG, I read an article once about exactly what you're talking about and... [237 lines of inane rambling]... so clearly you are risking the kid's life."

7. HoverMom: "ThatFriend, can you share the link to that? Sounds important."

5 responses so far


Feb 05 2015 Published by under LifeTrajectories

Folks, please go offer your support for Alan Townsend, who could use it right now.

No responses yet

NSF service and secrecy: where's the line?

May 06 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers], LifeTrajectories

Blogging or tweeting about your primary funding sources can be an interesting challenge. I regularly hear from people on the interwebs that they have been cautioned against doing either* from "concerned senior people". To a certain extent I get where they are coming from - the risk of pissing of a PO who decides you don't fit into their portfolio is possible**. In addition, NSF deploys a Cloak of Secrecy when it comes to panel service.

Once you agree to serve on a panel you quickly learn that the first rule of Panel Service is that you don't talk about Panel Service. Not to you friends, not to your colleagues, not to a fox, not in a box. In stark contrast to NIH making the study section roster available to everyone, NSF wants your visit to be treated like you would an interview for a job at another university. Therefore, using social media to publicly detail your time there flies right in the face of official policy. But the problem with all the secrecy is that it leads to difficulty in first time panelists knowing what to expect and to false rumors about the process.

Enter the Fine Line.

When I started blogging I did it for the express purpose of providing a resource to others about what this job entails. Granted, we've meandered and weaved over the last five years, but when I have been asked to participate at NSF I have faced a dilemma - how does one pull back the curtain enough to educate others while not running afoul of the rules? The result is that I've often blogged about the process of dealing with panel service, but never details about the who, when and where. There's reasons I never discuss which panels I apply to or review for and it represents my compromise.

As far as I can tell, I haven't pissed anyone off yet. In fact, my interactions with POs in both IOS and DEB have suggested that they like to see the community discussing what is going on at NSF and, in particular, dispelling rumors that seem to persist. I've had a PO guest blog about what it is like working at NSF (Parts 1, 2 & 3) and it's fairly common for the DEB blog to link back here, as I hope the soon-to-open IOS blog will.

Does that mean there's no risk at all? Of course not. I can tell you that the first time an NSF PO called me out about the blog during a visit to NSF it was an unexpected and uncomfortable moment that I didn't handle very well (and they may still chuckle to themselves about). However, it also speaks to the power of the medium, that one can speak up and be heard***. There are issues and pressures faced by junior faculty that may not be represented by those who have the ear of NSF insiders. Blogging about them is educational to the blogger, the reader community and sometimes to NSF. All of those people are listening and you have the opportunity to get your perspective in their heads, whether they agree with it or not.

Everyone will make their own choices about whether they want to engage their funding source in a public forum and whether they want to do it under their given name or not. I have chosen to do so using a wafer psued that didn't stand up to minor scrutiny and I've always known that. But when people tell you that using social media isn't the "proper" way to engage, they are doing so from a very different space than the one you likely occupy. Obviously you need to balance what your colleagues are saying with your own experience, but it is also worth considering how and when you want to be heard.

*and generally engaging in social media, because it's obviously a waste of your professional time.

**Though I can't actually imagine that happening in practice.

***Also a great reminder to be smart about what you write. Criticism is often warranted, but recognize the different perspectives bearing on the issue you are concerned with.

One response so far

The cool professor

Apr 14 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers], LifeTrajectories

When I started my lab I had a very distinct idea of the type of PI I wanted to be. I had experienced some different styles and observed many others. I knew what my needs were as a graduate student and a postdoc and recognized gaps in what my mentors had provided for me. Above all I thought I could navigate that line between friend and boss where all my trainees would both respect me and want to hang out with me.

Oh, and I wanted to ride a unicorn to work every day.

I'm soon to finish up my sixth year as a PI and have mentored two cohorts of students at this stage. I'm hardly a grizzled vet of the mentoring game, but I've had enough experience to change my views on my role. There's been a discussion on twitter recently about whether someone is a Mentor or a Boss. It's a false dichotomy. An effective mentor is both. Sometimes you can spend your time leading your people in the general vicinity of water and sometimes you have to hand them a cup and tell them to drink.

When I say that I often hear people tell me "Well, my advisor was totally hands off and it helped us be independent and successful!" Whereas I won't dispute that many people can do well in that environment, it's often convenient to leave out the long list of those who flounder in those conditions and spent years of their life without advancing their career goals.

There are times when certain things need to get done for the lab and trainee alike, and there are times when the fostering of independence yields tremendous results. To pretend that a PI never has to act like "a boss" to make sure the bills get paid and the science gets done is a ridiculous view of how a lab functions. If a student comes in with all their own funding, then they can be free from the lab's reporting, publishing and proposal writing needs. Otherwise, as the lab goes, so does one's opportunities.

I still care that I have a good relationship with my people. I still hope that they like me and that we can sit down over a beer and enjoy the time spent together. But I'm far less concerned about blurring the line between the personal and professional relationships. I want to put them in the position to succeed at doing whatever it is they want to do, while advancing the lab's overall agenda. If that sometimes means pushing people to get certain things done, so be it.

9 responses so far

The Universal Experience

Feb 27 2014 Published by under LifeTrajectories

The more I wind up in disagreements with people, either IRL or on the interwebs, the more one thing strikes me. The biggest impediment to people considering an argument that opposed to their own is convincing them that their experience is not the universal experience.

We all have a world view that is a product of our surroundings, experience and path. Some of us who are more opinionated draw upon that background when judging any new scenario or situation. But when faced with opposing views people either stick to their guns, insisting they have the experience to accurately assess the situation, or consider that the views being put forth by another person could have merit even though the conflict with their own worldview.

That ability to stop and listen to a perspective that wouldn't have occurred to you is rarely instinctual and downright appalling for some to consider. I wish I did it as much as I should, but damn, does it open your eyes.

6 responses so far

Same job / new job

Jan 30 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers], LifeTrajectories

The longer I have this job, the more it changes. Outside of the general adaptation to new science and evolution of that arena of my job, there seems to be a convoy of Things That Must Be Learned at each stage. When you first start a lab you need t figure what it is to actually do that job (No, not just what your postdoc-self thought was the job. The one you could totally handle if someone would just give you the keys.). Then you're thrust in to learning how to teach. Oh right, then how the university actually works. Suddenly you're not "new" anymore and people are looking to you for things.

If you couldn't guess from yesterday's short post, it's only now becoming clear to me that I've been taking on an increasingly "political" role in my college. In hindsight, I can see that I haven't found myself here by mistake, rather I've been maneuvered into this position fairly deliberately. Suddenly I find myself navigating yet new waters, once again. But somehow this seems different.

First off, this isn't something I need to do for my job. Yes, we all have a service expectation, but it is surprisingly easy too look busy on that front without really contributing anything. No, this falls under the things you do because you want to make your environment better (as you see it) at the expense of your time doing career stuff. It's also the best way to make academic enemies - the kind that will hold a grudge for decades over a minor slight. And you are BOUND to piss someone off, because resources are limited. If they are used to support something you champion, it means they were cut from somewhere else.

Thus, I'm left in the unexpected situation of being seen as linked to a particular administrator because of... circumstances. It's becoming clear to me that many senior folks are feeling under-appreciated and under-resourced and they are getting antsy. Things are tight everywhere and, man, those new start-ups are looking pretty fat. Do new people really need all that to get rolling? etc. etc.

I imagine that part of being "politically savvy" is being able to contribute to a shared agenda without drawing attention of those opposed to it. I don't know if I've got that ability. I'm bad at keeping my mouth shut (Surprise, I know) and worse at not pointing out staunch defense of the status quo. I have no idea how this is going to go or if I'm pissing people off right now. I'm not even sure if I should care.

So, onward. I guess.

3 responses so far

Repost: On being a great dad

Aug 07 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers], LifeTrajectories

I originally posted this nearly 2 years ago, but have been recently reminded of this wonderful piece of our culture.

For a variety of life reasons, I had to take the Weer One into work today to attend a meeting that included two departments and the Dean. Wasn't a big deal, she slept most of the meeting (wish we could have switched) and when she made some slight noise, I pulled her out of the car seat and held her. People were aware she was there, but it wasn't a disturbance. Life happens and you have to pull an audible sometimes.

But as I was leaving the meeting, I got several comments. A couple people asked me about the baby and then something unexpected happened. One of my senior colleagues with whom I do not interact much, said to me "You're such a great dad." This was quickly agreed to by another colleague. Now maybe I am, maybe I'm not, these people wouldn't have any idea. I could have been on my way to dropping her off to the traveling circus*. But apparently being willing to watch your kid while fulfilling work obligations is enough to win me the distinction.

You can't read the inscription, but it says "Way to at least give half a shit, Dad!"

But it got me wondering, how many women who have to bring kids in to a meeting are considered "great"? While I will admit that my department is pretty family friendly, I have never seen a female colleague admired for just making the best of a childcare "situation".


* Obviously this isn't the case. The circus doesn't take kids until they can eat gruel.

7 responses so far

Daycare ecology

Feb 27 2013 Published by under [Et Al], LifeTrajectories

Every daycare has its own unique balance of individuals. The kids all take their roles: leader, follower, quiet, attention whore, crier, etc. Where your child fits into the room dynamics says little about them in the long term and can change as other kids come and go from the population. But there are certainly niches that are more or less desirable as a parent. This is particularly true WRT the predator / prey relationships.

If you have ever gone to pick up your child and been confronted with the dreaded "incident sheet" you immediately think "Fuck, please let my kid be the one who got bitten." Whereas that may be counterintuitive, you have to bear in mind the alternative. If you have the class biter, you basically feel like you are raising this:


Our first child was the preferred prey of the class biter. As much as it sucked to pick up our daughter looking like she lost a battle with a lamprey, we were also sympathetic to the parents who had to sign the "yes, we realize our child is a bath salts incident away from being Florida Man" sheet. You can't reason with a toddler and explain why it's bad to cannibalize your friends. They don't get it. You can discipline them after an incident, but it takes time for them to change their behavior. As a parent all you can do is wait and avoid eye contact with the other parents of kids in the room, because some get it and some think you spend your every waking moment teaching your child to devour the competition.

This is all relevant this week as the tables have turned and we were faced with signing our first incident sheet from the predator's side. It sucks as much as we imagined.

19 responses so far

Laideez, it's okay, men have validated your position!

Mar 12 2012 Published by under LifeTrajectories

Hey guys, being a researcher and a parent is tough and The Scientist is on it! Today's "nutshell" article in The Scientist, entitled "Research is tough for Dads too" is fraught with fail. It may be a summary of the much more balanced article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, but manages to introduce more patriarchical bullshit in 150 words than I thought possible.

Let's start with the title. The implication is that this is news. Whereas part of me thinks "well, at least some Dads are getting involved enough to feel an effect" the rest of me thinks: A) well now that the survey shows men care, maybe something will get done about it, and B) tough compared to what?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to complaining about the parent/science interface, my last post was just that. But when we, as men, think of having a tough time balancing children and careers, are we thinking of things like having to pump milk in a bathroom stall or closet? What about having to travel to meetings or work engagements with a child, because, ya know, they need to eat. Do guys consider having to go back to work before one's mind or body is ready after having a child as something they share? According to The Scientist " a large percentage of men felt the same stress, suggesting that the problem with research is not a “female problem,” but one that relates to workplace requirements."

Silly "female problems". Good thing it's not just one of those.

15 responses so far

Stubborn from day -38

Aug 02 2011 Published by under LifeTrajectories

This second kid is going to be a challenge. How do I know that, because she is already making things tough. She won't flip and has decided that she enjoys jamming her head into my wife's ribs in the same spot day in and day out. We've done just about everything to get this thing turn upside-down, save for moving to Australia.

Last week we even went in to do the "manual version" of the flip where two doctors try to move the kid from the outside using more external force than should ever be applied to a pregnant lady. Picture trying to turn a football in an inner-tube filled with old Jello. The look of pain my wife gave me on the second try was one I had forgotten existed and hasn't surfaced other than during her first labor. Needless to say, that was the end of that procedure and we've become fairly resigned to having this kid under the knife. Sometimes the plan just doesn't go the way you saw it from the beginning.

And then there is the kid who is already here. The Wee One has been sensing the coming storm and recently decided that her tummy hurt just like Mom's, culminating in the redecoration of our local coffee shop's walkway this morning. We're trying to find that delicate territory between making her feel loved while the focus shifts away from her in the coming weeks and she assaults the very fiber of our sanity with a new combative attitude that she has been honing for a month or so. As has been described more elegantly elsewhere, there is a point where you question whether the new addition to the family is going to snap all the threads of routine we have carefully weaved to function with the schedules we juggle.

We'll know soon enough because we have official been booked for the OR in less than two weeks. The concept that there will soon be another child in our life and we will be starting from scratch is so abstract right now, it may as well be the Higgs Boson.

I think I can make out the head.

We're not ready but you never are. Tomorrow is my last scheduled event until classes start. I've cleared my calendar, off-loaded some travel on the people in my lab and I'm bracing for impact. If we get through tomorrow at noon, we'll have nothing between us and baby.

Good and terrifying all at once.

8 responses so far

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