The hardest week so far

This week has been the hardest week so far in my first 8 weeks of professorship. I had a grant proposal due today, and two lectures to write on topics I've never formally studied. Monday was chewed up by a doctor's appointment, meetings, and errands, and there were the normal distractions of grad students, office hours, and pumping. But mostly I frantically worked on the grant proposal. In -ology, we can ask questions that are general, but the experiments get done at a specific place. In this case, the place was specified by the granting agency. So I had to learn a fair amount about a place which I've never seen in order to write the proposal (and that's probably it's weakest point). But that's not what I wanted to write about.

The hardest part about this week was how physically drained I was and how little I could do to make things easier on myself. I simply couldn't fail to write a lecture. I had to say something for 75 minutes at 8 am twice this week. I couldn't cancel my meetings with grad students, because they have timetables to meet as well. I had to hold my office hours - students are still freaked out about their midterm. I had to pump - Minnow would starve and I would be in excruciating pain if I didn't. I had to drop Minnow off at daycare, go to her when she was crying in the night, and help her get back to sleep when she was restless from 4 to 5 am. I suppose I could have just opted not to finish the grant proposal, but too much work had already been done to make that palatable. Plus, this proposal is the best chance I have of funding a graduate student next year.

The things that ended up slipping were the things I do to take care of myself. I've hardly seen Minnow and Fish in daylight and not very much by twilight. I didn't just give up blogging, but also really basic things like getting more than 5 hours of sleep, taking a shower, and even eating dinner. Those were the things that felt like they had the most "give." But by giving up those things I sacrificed the things that my life worth living - time with my family, my health and happiness.

The low point of the week came Wednesday. I gave up my morning with Minnow to work on the proposal, and at the end of the day, pulling into the driveway, I realized that I had left all my pumped milk in my office. Not in a refrigerator, but just in a little chiller bag. There was no way it would last overnight, and I don't have enough of a freezer stash to lose a whole day's worth of milk. I had no choice but make another hour roundtrip to school, completely losing my only time with Minnow. I also lost my opportunity to eat dinner and driving home the last time I caught myself dozing off twice. Scary. But, hey, I still had a lecture to write.

Was this week an example of misplaced priorities? Or was the short term pain worth the (potential) long-term gain? Is it fair to put my body through that? Is it fair to put my husband and child through that? How do I keep this from happening again? Or is it just part of the academic lifestyle? Is it worth it?

Those are the questions that I asked myself last night as I sat up with Minnow from 4 to 5 am. But then at 6 am, in the shower, I got an idea for a research project that would be perfect for a M.S. student...and, hey, there's a grant deadline on the 15th that wouldn't be that much work...

So, the question of the day is, "Am I crazy?"

I'll let you know when I've gotten some more sleep.

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I've been reading your blog for several months now, and felt compelled to send a word of encouragement. Like you, I'm a first-time mom (Pea was born 6/3/07). However, I'm in year 4 on the tenure-track, also in an -ology. So: it gets A LOT easier. Pretty soon you'll get to start recycling or revising lectures, and you'll get even better at writing them in the first place. The curriculum will gradually seep into your memory, so you won't have to scramble for catalogs. Your brain will seemingly grow to accommodate multiple students and their projects. And when this happens, you not only love your job in -ology even more, but you get your life back. The trick is to figure out how to hold onto at least some of your time with Fish, Minnow, the pup and yourself even now...and it's clear from reading your blog that you love them enough to figure that out.

That sounds like a very tough week. Will you have a little time to rest on the weekend?

Take care, I'm thinking of you.

By Writer Chica (not verified) on 04 Oct 2007 #permalink

:( *Hugs*

I sympathize. I'm currently 7 months pregnant with my first papoose, and nearing the halfway point of my first semester in a new Ph.D. program. I'm really struggling to keep up with all of the reading that is required for my courses, I have a research proposal due on Monday and haven't even started my lit review, I have to come up with an idea for a project (worth 30% of my grade) that is due by the end of the month, and I am supposed to be doing data analysis for the research that is paying for me to be here. The problem is that I am SO TIRED all the time, on top of feeling achy and fat. I'm just getting overwhelmed with work and I can't seem to find enough time to get things done. I even have to cancel date night with my hubby this week, and that is very depressing.

I realize that you're a lot busier than I am and that you already HAVE a child, and the fact that you've been able to pull off so much gives me renewed hope. I really look to your blog for inspiration, so thanks for that! I hope next week is a bit easier for both of us.

Hey! We're having similar weeks! What do you do when you waste 15 precious minutes going through a time management prioritizing exercise only to realize that EVERYTHING is at the top of your list?
1)Nurse baby
2)put baby in cutest pjs possible
3)Write paragraph for proposal
4)Deep breathing + face slapping to stay awake....
5)Take a vow against mediocrity - ideas are energizing!
We have awesome jobs. We have flexibility. We are paid and rewarded for creative thoughts. Personally, my identity hinges on it and it would not benefit baby to be unhinged...reward yourself with a Minnow gigglefest this weekend.

I'm having a baby in March and starting my t-t job in August. Most people think I'm crazy, and they're kinda right. I have no idea what I was thinking. Yet I don't think I'd have it any other way.

I'm so glad you tell us everything about what it's like to be starting the tenure track as a mom and scientist. I hope you know how much we're rooting for you and are proud of you every day (no matter how that day looks).

This may sound horrible of me because I know nothing about what Fish's life looks like, but is there any give on his end to give you a little extra support now, and you can get him back later? You just write as though you feel really isolated, and as you seem to be a smart, interesting woman with good judgment, I'm sure you picked a fantastic mate who wouldn't want you to feel that way, not for a second. I suspect any person who knows you IRL would jump at the chance to get in there with you -- I feel like moms are taught not to ask for help in our culture. It's incredibly presumptuous for me to say all that, but there it is. Just thinking of you, and sending good wishes in your direction.

Oh dear! I hope you get some recovery time this weekend. The first semester is the hardest by far---as DEJ says, the job will slowly get easier. Hang in there!

As the other commenters said, I think your first semester is probably the most difficult with all the new lectures and adjustments that need to be made. That being said, if its not one thing, then it will be another. The life of an academic scientist is difficult especially with the current funding situation. Its difficult without being a new mother on top of it. However, with support from family and friends as well as dedication on your part, you'll be able to do it all successfully.

The questions you ask:
"Was this week an example of misplaced priorities? Or was the short term pain worth the (potential) long-term gain? Is it fair to put my body through that? Is it fair to put my husband and child through that? How do I keep this from happening again? Or is it just part of the academic lifestyle? Is it worth it?"

...they're all completely valid. The answer to each one though is completely personal. Those are the questions that each one of us as mothers has to decide. There's no one answer for everybody. We are all trying to find the right balance between a career we enjoy, the family we love, and taking care of ourselves.

My son is about to turn 1. The past year has been complete turmoil for me professionally. For a while after coming off of maternity leave, I felt like I wanted to quit working. Then I calmed down and realized that I love science and don't want to give up that part of myself. However I needed to find the right balance. I am now about to start a new job that will keep me in science but in a slightly different capacity than a tenure-track faculty position. I am hoping it will give me satisfaction at work while leaving me time for my family and myself. Like I said, this is an individual decision that each of us has to work out for ourselves.

I wish you the best of luck and will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

short term pain for long term gain. it does get easier. you won't always have grants due. class preps can be cumulative in some cases. grant prep can be cumulative for that matter, it starts being easier to pump them out. infants move on from breastmilk eventually.

in time you will come to see that the flexibility of the academic sched does have advantages over the strict 9-5/5/50 job schedule in terms of family time.

By Drugmonkey (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

Thank you for writing this. Actually - I've been reading your blog a lot over this last year and it is so good to feel like I'm not alone. I'm also in my first teaching position post-postdoc, and have just started trying to get pregnant because I'm certainly not getting any younger. I'm not going to be covered by the FMLA for a bit because I just started working here, so we've waited until now to start trying to conceive so I'd have the baby during summer when I don't have to teach.

I never hear men worrying about the FMLA, nor about trying to conceive so that birth doesn't interrupt their semester schedule. Or about a bunch of other things that you've written about extensively.

Just wanted to let you know I'm reading, and that I appreciate that you're writing.

By another young … (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

I am exhausted just reading this. I really hope you get some time to yourself this weekend just to rest up and enjoy Fish and Minnow.

I'm also a Mommy -ologist, and I just wanted to say that I share your pain/dilemma. I have 2 year old twins and I had my PhD defense 2 days ago. This means that for the last 6 weeks I?ve lived in the lab and have barely seen my girls except when I get them ready to head out the door in the mornings. I think I have a husband, but I?ve seen him even less than I?ve seen the twins.

In the grand scheme of things, being a scientist is who you are and, in my opinion (and in my own life) I?d be doing my girls a disservice by giving that up. So, for now someone else is giving them baths while I struggle to meet the rest of the graduate schools requirements.

Take care of you self! And good luck with the grant proposals.

Sounds like my week, too. I think it is just that time of the semester.

I HATE when I leave milk or pump parts someplace, and I find that I make more of those mistakes when the schedule gets very crowded.

Could you maybe condense your office hours by seeing students in groups for a few weeks? You could pass around a sign-up sheet in class...

I have a similar comment as two above.
1. Why doesn't Fish seem to drop off or pick up Minnow? Again we don't know his schedule, only yours.

2. I totally agree with this comment "I never hear men worrying about the FMLA, nor about trying to conceive so that birth doesn't interrupt their semester schedule."
My husband has been trying to convince me we should have a baby once he saw the Ph.D. in the conceivable future. I however am a year behind him in the process. I keep trying to calculate the perfect time for baby. Should I be pregnant while I'm interviewing? Should I have the baby by July so I can take the summer off and start a position in Sept? Now seems to also be a good time to be pregnant since I won't be doing anymore lab work for my Ph.D. But should I conceive since it's convince now? what if I don't feel ready?
I just don't think my husband understands how much work it will be for *me*
His thinking is. I've got a real job making real money I can now support a family. Such dark ages thinking.

Jennie: The answer is... there is NEVER a perfect time to have a baby. :) I would say just go with your gut; when you feel emotionally/financially ready, go for it. There is no sense putting your life on hold and waiting for the perfect moment... after all, this IS your life, right?

Like I said, I'm in my first semester of a new Ph.D. program, and I'll have a new baby this November. Probably not the most convenient timing, but eh, you only live once. We can hack it.

Only somewhat on topic--I was in lab late the other night, trusty NPR keeping me company. Hour-long show with James Watson, his sage advice for scientists or whatever. He thinks that people do their best science when they're young, and stay late, night and weekends. Before they have responsibilities and "have to get home to help their wife with the baby."

By Grad Student (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

You amaze me and inspire me! I hope next week goes better for you.

Oh SW, so so sorry! I feel the same way about giving up the stuff that takes care of myself because it's the only thing that doesn't impact other people. Yet. :-S I hope your next week is better... is the grant in now?

Thanks everyone for your support. The grant is in now and I've gotten two nights of decent sleep. Of course, I think I'm going to submit another one about a week from now, so, yes, I am definitely crazy.

Why doesn't Fish seem to drop off or pick up Minnow? Again we don't know his schedule, only yours.

Fish goes to work at 5:30 am, so I do the daycare dropoff. He picks up Minnow and brings her home for play and nap before I try to get home between 5:30 and 6:00 pm so that I see her a little bit before bedtime.

This may sound horrible of me because I know nothing about what Fish's life looks like, but is there any give on his end to give you a little extra support now, and you can get him back later?

See above, and Fish does what he can on the childcare front. He could probably do more around the house, but, in general, he's pretty darn good to me and to Minnow.

You just write as though you feel really isolated...

This is true, but it probably has more do to with not having an IRL social network than it does with support at home...

I keep trying to calculate the perfect time for baby.

As another commenter said, there is no perfect time. PLUS there's no guarantee that you'll get pregnant right away. We tried to conceive for 17 months. I *thought* I'd have a baby before finishing my PhD not after. Plus, we worry a lot about interviewing while pregnant and that nine month window, but after the pregnancy there's a baby and then a toddler and then a child. That kid's gonna be affecting your game for 18+ years. So have the baby when you and your SO are ready to have the baby. Screw what everybody else thinks.

Hang in there! Remember you will never have a day that doesn't end.

By ecogeofemme (not verified) on 07 Oct 2007 #permalink

What a week! I hope this was an exception. Ideas that come to my -- still fairly child-untested -- mind: could you have taken Minnow with you driving to pick up the milk and back (if she likes being in the car, that is)? Could you organize a small freezer for your office in which you can keep the milk? There will always be a chance to re-use it later, for homemade lunch or a bottle of Cava to celebrate accepted papers or whatever, so it might be a reasonable investment. And if it was me, I'd probably forget it more than just once, at least in such stressful times.