Thursday, March 28, 2013

When talking to students and post-docs

Dear senior investigators,

When you are invited to give a talk somewhere, and are thus scheduled to have lunch with students and post-docs, PLEASE don’t talk about the following topics:

  •          The bad state of the economy
  •           The recent sequester
  •           How those two things lead to a sad state of funding
  •           How that leads to very little job opportunities for students and post-docs that want to stay in academia
  •           Oh wait, industry is not much better at the moment
Because really, we have heard that before and to talk about this a couple times a month with different people really doesn’t add to our morale. Please just talk about other stuff, like science, or your hobbies.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Guest Post: The Pregnant Post-Doc Search

Today, my fellow blogger and electrophysiologist (and soon-to-be mom!!) The Cellular Scale and I are swapping blog posts. I am over at her blog writing about science, and @TheCellularScale would like to hear your advice on the following:

Hi BabyAttachmode readers, thanks for letting me guest post here. Honestly, I am hoping for some advice. I am a (senior) graduate student in a computation/electrophysiology lab and am planning to graduate in December. Everything is lined up for this to happen provided I actually write a lot in the next few months. However, I am also 5 months pregnant (baby due in July). 

This pregnancy was planned, and my advisor even thinks it is good timing. She had her first child when she was finishing her Ph.D. as well, and now she has tenure (It is possible, folks). I didn’t necessarily want to try to have a baby right after I started a new post-doc position, but I also didn’t want to wait forever. In addition, my impression is that the ‘clock’ starts ticking after you get your Ph.D. (for early investigator status grants and so forth), so I rather delay graduation now than delay productivity later.
But here is my question: When should I apply for post-doctoral positions? 


Part of me would like to apply right away and have a settled position for January as soon as possible. Or alternatively if it is really difficult for me to find a position, I would like to find that out sooner rather than later. If I apply now, I could even work on submitting an F32 NRSA grant with someone, and possibly have my own funding. The thing I am hesitant about is that I am obviously pregnant, and if I get invited to interviews any time in the next 4 months, I will be HUGE. I am worried that I might not be a sharp and quick thinking as normal. But more importantly, I am worried about implicit bias against mothers and motherhood in academia. Will a potential advisor think that I’m not serious about science or that I won’t have time to devote to the lab? Should I hold off applying for positions for this reason? 


There are benefits to applying later too. I have 3 papers currently submitted (1 as first author), and it would be nice to have those accepted before sending out my CV. But I worry about applying to post-doc positions at the last minute. A recently graduated friend of mine (who had some great publications) sent out about 100 applications/letters of interest and got interviews for only 4 or 5. This is more or less terrifying to me, even though he ultimately landed a great position. Also, I won’t be pregnant ‘later’, but I will have a tiny baby... which I’m sure will present its own problems: For example maybe I won’t be well rested for my interviews.

Any pros or cons that I am not considering? Any advice from successful or unsuccessful post-doc applications?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

About academic culture and reward/bullshit ratio

Dr. Isis’ blog was the first science blog I read when I was in grad school. I was always impressed by her upbeat way of writing about combining her life as a scientist with being a mom. She wrote it in a way that was both hilarious and sounded real. Today I asked on twitter why she hadn’t blogged in a couple weeks and that started a whole conversation about being a mom in academia. I storified the first part of that conversation here.  (It was my first time storifying something so am not sure if I included everything that was said, but it gives you a good impression). I often wonder whether someday I will regret all the time and energy devoted to science and Dr. Isis said:”TBH, I suspect we'll regret it.” Later, I asked her whether she was thinking of making major chances to her (academic) life and she answered:” I am thinking that I won't be in academia 6-9 mos from now.” She added that science is not necessarily harder than other things, but that it is not rewarded equally. Also, she added “Let's just be clear that I am in now way "failing." I am just reevaluating what makes me happy.” And later: “Again, this is not about success. It's about culture and reward/bullshit ratio”

To me, this was a shocking reality-check. Because if everyone’s favorite domestic and laboratory goddess reconsiders staying in academia then what does that mean for me? It feels a little like when I hear peers that published in better journals than me decide that science is not for them; it makes me feel that if they can’t do it, then neither can I. Do I work hard enough to ‘make it’ and more importantly: do I want to put in all this time and energy, especially now that the funding situation everywhere is so dire that we are competing for grants with a success rate of 10-15%? Or do I want to spend more of my time with BlueEyes (or in a job that asks less of my commitment)?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do appreciate everyone’s honesty in this conversation. I like hearing other people’s experiences, and I would LOVE if Dr. Isis would someday blog about the things that drove her to make the decision to stay in academia or choose something else. In the mean time, I’m thinking about my plan B, and whether this should someday upgrade to plan A.

Edit: here are two other posts about the subject from Potnia Theron and Barefoot Doctoral
Edit 2: here's Dr. Isis' response

Things that make me sad and angry

In my homecountry, the country that was the first to allow same-sex marriage, obviously same-sex parents also care for foster children. These children either don't have parents that can take care of them, or the authorities have decided that their parents cannot take care of them for whatever reason. It's great that there are people that step in and lovingly care for these children. However, sometimes these foster children are Muslims, and their biological parents don't agree with the fact that same-sex parents take care of their children. And now it has gotten even worse, and an entire country (Turkey) has become involved (Here is an English article about it). It basically comes down to the fact that prime minister Erdogan from Turkey has promised to visit 2 lesbian moms that have a Turkish boy as their foster child to pressure them into giving up the care of this 9 year old boy. The parents and the boy are currently hiding. Sigh.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On babywearing - infant positioning

I’m finally going to do something about the lack of babywearing posts on my blog, so if you’re not here for that, feel free to leave now. If you are here for that; today I’ll talk about how to properly position your baby in a wrap or carrier. How do I know all of this? I had 3 months of maternity leave and lots of procrastination time after that learning about babywearing online and by doing it myself.

Position of the hips and back
When a baby is just born, his spine is in a C-position as opposed to our adult spines that are shaped like the letter S. So to optimally position your baby in a wrap or carrier, you want to imitate as best as you can the natural C-shape of your baby’s spine (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Source

In order for that to happen you want to make sure that his knees are higher than his bottom, which is the way most babies are positioned in the womb too. When a baby grows up and learns to hold his head up and when they learn to crawl their spines are starting to curve more like our adult spines, however even with older babies and toddlers you want to make sure that they are in this position, because it is not only key for proper spine development, but also for the development of their hips (Lots more about his, including references can be found here). So it is important to make sure you have a carrier with a wide seat that supports baby’s legs from one knee to the other. Carriers with a narrower seat will cause your baby to have their knees lower than their bottom, which may cause hip dysplasia, and causes most of baby’s weight to be on their pubic bone instead of divided over their entire upper legs and bottom (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Source

Position of the neck and head
Especially with a really small baby, it is important to make sure that you are not blocking their airway when babywearing. Make sure you can put a finger under their chin and when you’re just starting to wear your baby be mindful of their breathing. The best way to carry a newborn is tummy-to-tummy (like in Figure 1), and not in the cradle carry that is often recommended by manufacturers of stretchy wraps. When wearing your baby tummy-to-tummy, for example in a Front Wrap Cross Carry in a stretchy or woven wrap, make sure he is high enough on your chest that you can give him a kiss on the top of his head.

Facing forward
With what I discussed before about the position of the hip and spine, it is easy to imagine why carrying a baby facing forward is not recommended. It is nearly impossible to get baby’s back in a C-shape when he is with his back against your tummy, and it is also almost impossible to get the knees higher than the bottom in this position. Another argument against having your baby face forward is that it is impossible for the baby to ignore all the stimuli around him, whereas if he is facing you, he can much easier look away in crowded situations. Many people argue that their baby wants to look around and that that is impossible without having them face forward. However a high back carry of hip carry is much more appropriate for this and allows for good positioning of your baby.

Next time I'll talk about the different carriers and wraps that are out there.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On parent-friendly science

So a lot of people, for example Erin McKiernan and TSZuska share my opinion that the recent piece in Nature kind of misses the point in trying to show that it is a piece of cake to combine a career in academia with being a mom. However, when I talk about this with friends or with my husband, their comment is often:”So who cares when women quit science because they want to stay home with their kids? What if these women don’t want academic careers, but they just want to be a stay-at-home mom?” I find it hard to formulate a good answer to this, because sure, if women want to stay home then that’s their choice. But I think that often it is not their choice to leave academia, but it is the academic culture that makes it incredibly difficult to pursue an academic career as a woman/parent/both. 

As Zuska says:
  But every time we devote words and energy to discussing How Women Can Be Mothers And Scientists Too! we are not discussing What The Hell Is Wrong With Science And How Can It Be Fixed.
So let’s move on to what I think can be done to fix this.

First off, it would be great if having babies and putting those babies in daycare would be easier, especially when you’re a post-doc and you don’t have all the money to arrange help in any way you would want. But this is not really changing science, it is just changing the environment around us a little bit.

What would also be great is if you could be a scientist also if you don’t love insecurity about your job. It would be awesome if there were more research associate/staff scientist type of positions for those of us who LOVE to do science but who HATE the fact that science can only be done on a short-term contract OR on a super-hard-to-get tenure track position that in itself means tons of insecurity in terms of getting grants. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a science job that doesn’t come with tons of disappointment…?

Next, it seems like right now it is impossible to take some time (i.e. few years) off to take care of children when they are very little. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that and then be able to come back as an academic scientist? I sure would consider it. Or work part-time for a bit when your children are little.

Finally, for women it would be beneficial if grants and papers would be judged either anonymously or with only your last name on it. In comparison with the two items above this seems like something that can be pretty easily implemented right?

All this is coming to you from a disgruntled post-doc who just heard that she didn’t make the cut to be interviewed for a TT position in the home country and who is in a lab where funding is running out, while desperately trying to find grant money to support myself. I'm going to go dream about this fairytale land where you never have to worry about grants and you can do science with the unicorns.