Monday, June 30, 2008

These summer days

Summer is a promise. A promise of long, lazy days of sunlight, of farmers’ markets, and beach trips; of strawberry fields and dripping ice cream cones and fuzzy peaches and bubbles blown by my children into the lingering twilight.

It’s a promise that, alas, is never completely fulfilled. Last week I asked another mother if she’d yet been to our town’s new farmers' market, and she said she that she hadn’t. “I always have so many plans for the summer,” she said. “And I never do even half of what I have planned.”

Sing it, sister.

Like today, when Husband announced that we would take a family walk after dinner. We had our dinner outside on the deck, and it was lovely. But afterward Baby Legume was so incredibly, unbelievably encrusted with food (as always) that Husband announced she needed a shower right then. So I gave her one, and one to the Bean-girl, too. And then we were in our PJs. And then the family bed looked so delicious, and Husband collapsed upon it, and the girls giggled and climbed all over him. So… there we were. In bed, watching cartoons in our PJs instead of enjoying the lovely summer weather.

It’s only the end of June, of course, and there are months left to go. But I already know that it will go by too fast.

At least we did get to go strawberry picking this past weekend.

Science links, a new blog

Science linking today--

ABC news has an interesting story on the exodus of women from science careers in the private sector. (This is one of the latest discussions of a study from the Center for Work-Life Policy, showing that "52 percent of women in private-sector science and technology jobs drop out without returning, a vast majority between the ages of 35 to 44.")

For anyone concerned about balancing parenthood and a science career, I'd recommend checking out Motherhood: the Elephant in the Laboratory. I'm currently making my way through the book that gave name to the site (it's good!)

Finally, check out the new collaborative blog that Mad Hatter set up, The Alternative Scientist :
"The Alternative Scientist is a blog about alternative career options for scientists. There are many career paths for a scientist in addition to the traditional tenure track, and the goal of this blog is to provide a forum for open and honest discussions about the various possibilities."

Oh, and I'm a contributor to The Alternative Scientist, too...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Surrealist Bean

A conversation in bed, as I put her to sleep…

Bean-girl (holding her sippy cup of milk): Milk mommy, milk mommy, milk mommy!

Me: What’s a “milk mommy?”

Bean-girl: Milk mommy, milk mommy!

Me: Is that a mommy made of milk?

Bean-girl: Yes. (pause) But how do we stick the milk mommy together?

Me: Uhhhh….

Bean-girl: You use branches. You use branches and you put mud on the branches to stick the milk mommy together. Then you cover it with wrapper. The wrapper is very sticky. And the milk mommy is the biggest, greatest singer in all the world!

I swear, sometimes that girl is a Surrealist poet.

She is also an artist. Here is her “art gallery”, a wall of the living room devoted to her art.

Here is “Paper Daddy.”

Here is "Baby Legume."

She’s been meaning to make “Mommy” and “Bean-girl”, but hasn’t gotten around to it.

These works were conceived, directed, and assembled by the Bean-girl. She announced that she wanted to make a paper Daddy, made his wide pants, and then very specifically directed me to cut out the remaining pieces. She then assembled the pieces together with Scotch tape.

Scotch tape is her favorite medium. Scotch tape goes on everything--I find pieces stuck to the tissue box, wrapped around the handle of her toy vacuum cleaner, strips of it on a book. She learned how to use scissors in preschool, and now she’ll spend an hour cutting construction paper into teeny tiny pieces, when she then presses into bands of Scotch tape. Then more tape gets wound around and around the piece. Finally, the whole things get taped up on the wall, as part of the “art gallery.”

And learning to use scissors has been like having the key to the world for her. No longer does she ask me to please open a package of snacks, or a wrapper-encased chocolate. She scissors the treats open herself. Today, observing Bean-girl solemnly cut open a wrapper-encased chocolate with her new left-handed scissors, Husband intoned: “You have a lot of power with those scissors, Bean-girl. With great power comes great responsibility.”

Bean-girl was too intent on her chocolate to pay much attention.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

job interviews--and now there' s just one...

Even though I haven't yet gone on the interviews, I was still stressing over the possibility of choosing between two very different jobs (and career paths).
Looks like it might be an easier decision than I thought.
My postdoctoral job interview was scheduled for early July, but today I got an e-mail that started off this way:
"My sincerest apologies. It has come to my attention (by the finance department) that the monies I thought I had available to hire a postdoctoral fellow are no longer there. . . "
So now there is just the Science Writer position. left. Strangely, my first response to the e-mail was a sense of relief. I could continue to look into postdoc opportunities with other PIs at the institution, but perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Walking Legume

Have been meaning to jot this down...
Last night Baby Legume took her first steps! We had just gotten out of the shower together; I propped her standing up against a storage bench in my bedroom, then stepped away to towel off my hair. And she took one . . . two . . . three steps toward me! All by herself! Independently!

The feat has not been replicated, not yet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A leap back in?

Before I moved on from Old College Town, I had a talk with a woman professor I greatly admire, the chairperson of the department where I had done some adjunct teaching. She was cheerily supportive of my family’s move across the state to New Midwestern City. “There’s so much great opportunity for you there!” she enthused, referring to the growth of Up-and-Coming-Research Institute in that city. I demurred, and gently pointed out that my decision to take a year off from the research bench (on top of the time already lost in the wake of a layoff) probably meant that I would never be able to get back into the lab—not even at an up-and-coming institute that needed people. To which the professor said, in so many words: Nonsense. Maybe that was true for women of my generation. But I think now we’re seeing many women take time off, and then going back to work at a later time. Everything is much more fluid now. To which I thought, polite and nodding in her office, Bullshit. My career is over. No one will ever hire me again.

Or maybe not.

Maybe things really are more fluid than I had believed. I am finding hints of that fluidity in other womens’ stories in the blogosphere—stories of careers that did not proceed in straight lines, but by circuitous routes and even interruptions like my own. Scientistmother and drdrA hint at this in their blogs. And Jennifer Rohn, of Mind the Gap, actually went back to academic research—starting all over again in the lab, with a second postdoc—after establishing a successful career in scientific publishing. I admire her courage, and also can’t help wonder if she might be just a bit daft.

In which case, of course, I am daft as well. Because I am also considering a leap back in.

After nearly two years off the bench, I’m preparing my job talk for a postdoctoral job interview. If I get it (and take it) it will be my second postdoc. My first ended in disappointment and bitterness that should have been enough to drive me out of research forever. Maybe I need to be burned repeatedly for a lesson to take hold.

I am also still waiting for a firm interview date on my second job application—that of full-time science writer for a large and very well-funded lab with numerous international collaborations. A different position entirely. Perhaps one with more security (or perhaps not). A job that would lead to a completely different path and lifestyle, and one that would probably, finally and forever, close the door on that old dream of a life in academic research.

I could sit here now and spout off on the pros and cons of either path. But after a point, such speculation becomes useless. Back when I was in the lab, prepping for a big new experiment with unfamiliar techniques, I would spend a lot of time planning, anticipating complications and troubleshooting said hypothetical complications; and dreaming about the big results and what they might mean. And that’s all fun, but after a certain point you just need to sit down and do the damn experiment. After a point, all your hypotheses and speculations are meaningless until you collect the damn data. And in this case now, collecting data means going on these interviews, meeting these people, and learning exactly what is involved with each position.

I feel lucky to be getting these interviews. Maybe that professor was right after all, and there is indeed opportunity here.

And maybe life, as well as science, is more fluid than I had thought.