Sometimes I can't do it all.

I'm this close to crying in my office. I just got out of a candid chat with a visiting speaker and another young female faculty member about work-life and workload issues. And bringing up so many stressful things at once was just too much. I'm starting to have nightmares about next semester. I have two new upper level preps - one on a subject I'm barely familiar with (don't ask why) and one with a lab. That's 9 hours of class time per week. I'm barely hanging on this semester, how can I possibly manage that sort of load? I'm counting the classes until the end of this term and realizing that I've got 3 months worth of projects promised for the one month break. I feel guilty all the time. I'm missing deadlines and letting other people down. Those revisions - progress is way too slow, because I never seem to have chunks of time to work on them. I feel like I'm missing out on so much of Minnow's life and I barely see Fish anymore except to cajole him into cleaning.

When I take weekends off, they are wonderful, but then the next week more stressful, and it keeps building. I need to see this state so that I can start developing research ideas around here, but the thought of more travel with a baby is shudder-inducing. And besides she doesn't have a freakin' winter jacket because they don't make decent jackets for mobile kids as tiny as she is. Yes, she's tiny. We got read the riot act by our pediatrician because her growth has slowed down because she's not eating enough, despite the fact that she's still only sleeping in 2-3 hour chunks and nursing each time in between. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and I don't know who to support in the presidential primary. Not that my vote matters, but I care. I barely get a chance to talk to my mom or brother or dad and haven't even sent a note to my aunt who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. I missed a credit card payment because I never saw the bill - but at least our other house sold. I need to start ordering supplies for next semester's labs (and for fall term too), but I don't know what the labs are going to be yet because I haven't written the damn lab manual because I don't know where the field sites are going to be because I haven't seen the state yet because travel with a baby is not fun and I just haven't made it a priority. And I need to finish some data analysis for next month's conference that mercifully I am not attending but that I did submit an abstract for and convince my post-doc advisor to give the talk for me. And the library wants our reserve requests for next semester before the end of this one, but damn if I don't have a clue what readings I want them do outside of the textbook, because the British publishers still haven't shipped my review copy. And the Princess Pup is stuck outside with dirty water because I didn't have the free hands to give her a clean bowl of water this morning because I was running late and Minnow was fussy. And the poor dog deserves clean water if nothing else, because I don't have time to walk her more than twice a week when she was used to being walked twice a day and her yard is smaller now than it used to be. And my car is overdue for an oil change and my teeth are overdue for a dentist appointment. And if my mathematical equations are a little flawed then that's just the way it's going to be because yesterday I didn't get breakfast til 11 am, having gotten up at 5:30, and I didn't get lunch til 2:30 and today's not looking a whole lot better. Stupid faculty meetings.

So for any of you who want to hold me up as an example that we can do it all and it is possible, please don't give me that burden too. My plate's already a little full.

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(((()))) poor you! Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it is That Time of Year - this stage of first semester is always the worst time for me, even without any of the burdens you have (I'm a single cat-owned female academic). Do what you can, always remember that 'done adequately' is achievable and perfection is never achieveable. Hope things ease up for you a little soon

I second JaneB, though I'm not a professor so I wouldn't really know. You'll get through it--and I bet it it'll be so much easier once you get through the first year. Good luck!

Believe it or not, the taking on too many projects/overwhelmed with new preps stuff happens even to new faculty without kids. It's not just you, it's part of the normal adjustment.

Also, Minnow will hit her stride (for awhile, anyway, until the next developmental stage, after which there will be another re-establishing of equilibrium). Don't make it harder to enjoy the moments of the current Minnow timeslice by beating yourself up for not getting more of them. (And, if it's any comfort, my experience has been that the timeslices get more interesting as you go forward. When your faculty thing is starting to feel more settled, the kiddo stuff will get really cool.)

Being an example of a human being, trying to to something really hard as best she can (rather than simply putting a brave face on things and not acknowledging how hard it is) matters, too! Hang in there!

I do feel your pain. If it's any consolation, things aren't much better here either. I was about to write this in response to another post of yours (about a career and a family, and wanting to do it all), but it fits here too. I feel that I *can* do it all. It's just that I'm not going to do as good a job on any of it, as I would if I were to focus on only one of them.
I'm writing qualifying exams right now, and my exam is due tomorrow. But I still went to my daughter's thanksgiving lunch at daycare, and I am going to have desert with my husband in an hour, and I will spend some time doing speech therapy with F1-2 some time tomorrow. My exam will suffer a little. My kid's will not get quite as much attention as they would without my exam. It's the price we all pay.
I still have to start up another experiment that I need to finish before I leave in December for two weeks. And I have to analyze the experiment I finished last week. I need to re-write my research report and submit it to my committee. I promised to help out with the end-of-the-year social. I volunteered my house for a going-away party for a fellow student who is graduating and leaving. I'll have to clean up the house a little for that. My husband has more than 40 papers to grade in the next two weeks, and 6 exams to set, I can't expect much help from him either.
And yet, I know, for a fact, that it will all eventually work out. I don't know how, but it will. Everything will not be as good as I want it to be.
Cheer up! Get a good night's sleep. Things might look better in the morning. Yes, it is indeed that time of the semester when everybody is burned out. Hang in there, and good luck!

Hey, just a quick suggestion about the classes you are teaching next semester. My PhD adviser gave me good advice to keep me from getting overwhelmed when teaching: have them do some kind of term project. If you make it a presentation that they have to give (individually, or in groups if the class is large), you can fill up a couple of weeks of class, and give yourself a much-deserved break toward the end of the semester. I'm not in academics any more, but my husband is in his first semester full time as an assistant professor, and he is using this strategy to great success. Hope things get better for you!

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I hear you. And wish I could help. :-(

Just know that, even as I can only snatch at your blog every so often, I'm pulling for you. And I'm pulling for us more broadly - the people who want to have balanced existences in academia.

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This post of yours is all too familiar... and I'm not sure you all realize the seriousness. I went through a similar situation because of a circumstance other than a baby.

It's time for a reality check. You need to sit down for an evening, list everything that is making demands on you, and start making a schedule. To get through this you will not only need to become unbelievable super-organized, but you will also need to get real about what sort of expectations are feasible. There are too many demands on you and it's more than you can do, and the fact that it looks to continue long-term is going to destroy you mentally and physically unless you have a plan. Also, you need to take every opportunity to delegate, anything from hired house cleaning, TA's at work, undergrad volunteers, family help, anything. You can't do it all alone. And you also need to work out with your husband what is reasonable and what isn't for both of you so that none of you ends up angry.

You need to prioritize your health, your baby's health, and your job. That comes before everything. Stuff like voting, cleaning, whatevering, comes second. The way you're talking is like someone on the fast track to overwhelm and then breakdown. Everything will start to slide and people are surprisingly unsympathetic in my experience. So prioritize, get organized, keep working, and don't overwhelm yourself with thoughts about the future once you have a plan.

When I get overwhelmed, I like to consider the worst case scenario of how things will work out (in the time frame of my worries) and then the best case scenario. ususally, i realize that most of the things really won't have a huge impact even in the worst case. By breaking it down, I'm able to think rationally and then it feels manageable.

Good luck to you. We're always here to listen.

One of the other things that is problematic is that it's winter and the shifting amount of light can exacerbate depression. And all the damned holidays which seem like fun far in advance, but suddenly come barrelling in one after the other all at once.

Make lists. Start small. Crossing things off the lists when you get them done can help because you feel like you're actually accomplishing something.

See if you can't hire a student to clean house.

Good luck.

Go ahead and cry- I know we're not supposed to say that, as strong independent women that can do anything a man can do (backwards and in heels- as the saying goes), but it's always worked for me. A good 15 minute sob- when no one's around of course- feels amazingly good, and really helps you clear your head. My husband, a non-academic, jokes that he always knows when the end of the semester is near- we've been together since I was an undergrad- because I come home with puffy eyes (I like to cry in my car, parked in the driveway). But you have to give yourself some kind of release (and relief) and sometimes just letting it out is the quickest and most convenient.
Good luck- you're not alone.
Oh- and that presentation thing really does work- I use it in all my classes- though my adviser taught me a nifty trick to go with that- have them grade and evaluate each other anonymously and hand back a single comments sheet to each student presenter with a combination of your's and the class' constructive criticisms. With big classes I also grade the class as a whole on their comments- just to get them to take it seriously. I've gotten good student feedback on this method, and really does make the end of the semester smoother (and in upper level classes I do this in lieu of a final or a term paper- so really win/win). If you want the comments sheet I use just send me an e-mail - I can send you a copy.
Lunch scarfed down and before 3 p.m. YEAH!! Back to the lab....

Unbelievable! Anon123 beat me, and I thought I check SB regularly!

I wanted to say exactly the same - the only answer is prioritize and delegate.

When I just graduated from college, I worked for one of the professors from that college. At one point he asked me, my wife and another guy to take over his evening classes and labs. Wow! Of course, we agreed. That was an experience like no other! Possibly illegal, but that was in Ukraine so for as long as everybody was happy, nobody cared.

What I am saying is for example, have select older students help you grading homework, exams, etc. For an extra credit/better grade/a chance to make up a test/etc., they will be happy to prepare slides, presentations and other similar things.

Cleaning: what cleaning? In our house (unless an emergency), cleaning is pretty much a last priority item, on par with cooking (unless my mother comes over and does both). Bad, I know. But, as we say here in Brooklyn, you do what you gotta do.

Thing #1 (being a teen) is asked this year to sweep the leaves all season, and Thing #2 - to clean the bathroom. For a certain reward, of course - this is capitalism. But still, less things for us to do. Any friends/neighbors with older children in your situation to do the same?

Can either your or Fish's parents take an "extended working vacation" to help out? My mother lives close, and I don't know what we would do without her help.

Any of this requires complete synchronization with the Fish - and I say this not as a husband myself, but because this is a requirement in any social unit (think sports, military, etc.)

We are fairly politically (haven't missed a single election since becoming a citizen), socially (volunteer in two orgs) and family-wise (theater, vacations, etc.) active despite both having full time jobs. And the only reason we can do this is prioritizing and delegating.

Children know we aren't going to attend parent-teacher conferences during the day, only in the evening. They also know not to call me at work unless the sky is falling down. And any house visitors remarking about stuff on the floor or anything else like that are politely, but firmly reminded that they are only guests and where the door is located...

Finally, my wife tells me that crying also helps, although I have failed to replicate her results. Supposedly that's why women live longer. Well, what do I know...

You will soon discover that what you're doing now (teaching a new class) is about 50 times harder than teaching one you've taught before. You need to talk with your chair about minimizing the number of new classes you need to teach until you have a chance to get your feet under you. They hired you because they want you to be successful, and if this is what you need, then it's OK to ask for it. Seriously, this is the biggest thing you can do for yourself to make your life better over the next 3 years. Tell the chair you want to teach the three classes you're teaching this year over and over again for the next three years, if at all possible, if he/she really wants you to be in a position to get tenure. You should have this discussion ASAP, before schedules are locked down and you're stuck with another 3-4 new courses to develop next year. If schedules already seem to be locked down, talk with the chair anyways.

As for developing new courses (which you're kindof stuck with the first 2 years), make liberal use of ideas that are already out there on the web. What's a new course to you has probably been taught somewhere out there in another institution. That means there are syllabi and problem sets and lab exercises out there on the web you can look at and draw from. I'm not advocating wholesale theft, but there are a limited number of ways one can organize a course, and seeing how other people do it can minimize the anxious "how the hell am I going to do this???" phase. Also tap into your network in -ology and ask friends/advisors for any relevant course materials they can share. Next time you teach the course, you can make it more fully your own, once you spend a semester getting the ebb and flow of the material down. This year, you just have to survive, and maybe settling for being a mediocre professor for a year is the cost. A year is an insignificant fraction of a career, and functioning at 50-75% of your full potential during a limited, difficult transition time is OK. Really.

If it helps, the way I try to wrangle coursework development into my kid-filled life is limiting it to after a set time of day after kids have gone to sleep (harder when they're waking every few hours, but even then I just didn't start till after 9pm). Then, whatever I can get done before I sleep is by definition "enough", and the teaching didn't completely crowd out every single moment of my research life. I didn't feel great about it sometimes, but I had to suck it up and make due. By this point, I've got a suite of 6 courses or so that I can teach on a moments notice, with less that 10 hours of prep a week, and my life is much, much simpler. But, it sucked ass getting to this point.

I'm so sorry you're at this point. I remember times where I knew there were probably ways of arranging for help, but I couldn't even make the time to find that help (place an ad? interview people? find a cleaning service? how the hell am I supposed to do that when I can't find time to _shower_??!?!). Looking at that horrible list of things that are weighing on you, there are things that you can just give yourself permission to punt on until the holidays. Your teeth will not fall out if you don't get them cleaned until next summer (seriously! they'll just spend more time scraping tartar), the car
engine will not explode if you don't change the oil, the library may _want_ your reserve requests, but the students will be fine with xeroxed handouts or PDFs pulled off the web or even no extra readings at all. You've got a lot of expectations that have been piled on you by other organizations and by habit, and you know what? Screw em. Be upfront and send an email to the people you've promised things to letting them know that you're swamped -- doing so will let them adjust their expectations and schedules as needed, while allowing you to stop feeling guilty, which can free up energy and time to deal with the things that you really truly need to do (teaching tomorrow's class, and taking care of Minnow). Though it's hard for overachievers, during this incredibly tough first year, you have to find a way to give yourself permission to let stuff slide, and to not punish yourself.

Sorry for getting all bossy on you, but man, this brings back bad, bad memories. I only got through it with a lot of help and advice like this. Somehow, you will get through this, and it will get better.

Hang on! Is this the same woman who reposted two days ago "I will not be a foregone conclusion"?

I'm absolutely sure it's tough. I don't *know* what it's like because I left science before my career hit that stage - my decision, based on what *I* want from life. But you want this! You knew it was going to be an absolute bastard. You knew it would be tough and there'd be these moments.

But you were also one hundred percent sure you could do this.

And you can.

So your students don't get 100% of you. They'll live with 80. Hell, I lived with what I'm sure was less than 30 and I still got a great education. So your research won't be 100% this year. And? You've got next year and EVERY young research leader (male, female, foreigner, native, parent or not) needs time to find their feet.

You are the woman who wants it all. You have it all. You just have to work with it- and the boundaries of a 24 hour day.

I don't know if it's any consolation, but it's like that for all of us sometimes -- I know I've been there. The first years are the hardest, for kids and for jobs. Hang in there; it does get easier.

By Physicalist (not verified) on 16 Nov 2007 #permalink

Thank you all for your comments. Some of what you said I already know/do (we have a cleaning service in every other week, for example, but we don't trust them to wash the bottles). Other ideas inspired me. (I think I'll email a group of -ology profs and see who is willing to share materials for one of my new preps.)

At the macro-scale, this blog is a place for me to try to be 100% honest about what it's like to be a woman scientist (or a parent scientist or a woman on the first year of a t-t position or whatever it is that I am)...and that means sharing my downs as well as my ups. So I can be the same person who writes "I will not be a foregone conclusion" and two days later confess that I don't think I can do this all. That's just what my life is like and anyone who thinks that my attitude toward life is always sunshine doesn't know me. I will have my down days and my up weeks, and right now my attitude is better than it was this morning. But I'm about to log off for the evening and go pick up Minnow and hug her tight for a while, then go to dinner and an evening seminar with a colleague. And so the hamster wheel keeps turning.

But keep the advice and the commiseration and the comfort and the strategies coming. I can use all the help I can get.

Take a deep breath, and cry if you need to.


There are some great suggestions about classes. (Term projects & presentations really are great in upper level classes.) And I second Julianne's suggestion to talk to your department chair and make sure that you will be able to repeat class preps a lot for your pre-tenure years, because it gets a lot easier by the third time.

Also, find out if the last person to teach the upper level classes (especially the one outside your area) is willing to share teaching materials. (Retirees can be very helpful, as can faculty going on sabbatical. Even people who left unwillingly might be supportive of their replacements.) If that option doesn't exist, see if the last TA for the class (or a student who took the class) is around and willing to introduce you to field sites. And if that isn't an option... send a friendly e-mail to faculty at other institutions in Mystery State asking for help finding good field sites. (Most of my good field sites have been poached from someone else who knows the terrain. And I've found that a lot of people are eager to pass on the legacy of their Great Teaching Spot.)

And then, finally... check online collections of teaching materials in your subject. And feel free to contact the people who wrote them originally - people who share teaching materials online tend to be willing to help others use them.

(And don't fret about being perfect and original the first time you teach a class. Nobody ever is.)

(And, you know, these are suggestions - everyone does something different to survive.)

Good luck.

And breath.

Hi, I'm a lurker, I just wanted to say I empathize. I have no tips though the ones you've been given look good :) I'm a scientist and have a little one. I feel like I'm a cr*p employee and mom at the mo. I'm hoping it passes. The worst thing is I used to have downtime when I had ideas and planned expts. Now I think of the hundreds of things I have to do, and about my daughter, and about how tired I am, instead of a decent hypothesis. Oh well I'm hoping it gets better, work that is not parenthood!

Look after yourself and your family :)

Your chair shouldn't give you that many new courses/labs in your first year. Is that really normal? Is it negotiable or too late? If you have a faculty mentor, this is something they can (or should) help you with.

In relation to prioritization of tasks, I forget where I read about this system, but it really works well: Every task should be assessed on two dimensions, urgency and importance. Urgency is about how soon tasks need to be done, and importance is about the relative consequences of performing or not performing the task for achieving *your* goals: health, your family life, your career. People have a tendency to only focus on the urgency dimension, while ignoring importance.

(1) The tasks with the highest priority should be those that are urgent and important. (2) The next highest priority should be not urgent, but important. (3) Next should be urgent, but not very important. (4) Finally, not urgent and not very important.

People have a tendency to reverse the priority of (2) and (3), that is, to give undue weight to urgency, and that is very counterproductive in the long run.

Another important principle in academia, particularly in dealing with students, is to never allow other people's failure to plan ahead to become your emergency.

Finally, I'm not sure about this, but I think I recall that you just started on am entry-level tenure-track academic position in the biosciences. Keep in mind that after a couple of years--when your research program has momentum, you have funded grants, and you have practice with your teaching--you will be able to spend substantially less time fulfilling your academic responsibilities. You will also need a lot less "face time" in your laboratory once it reaches a critical mass of trainees, and you can do a lot more work from home.

By PhysioProf (not verified) on 16 Nov 2007 #permalink

I too am amazed that you have so many courses this first year! I don't see how that's good for anyone!?!

Anon123 said it best. Organize, prioritize and delegate. And though the concept of organizing may, itself, seem like one more insurmountable task, it's something that a sympathetic and loving Fish would likely be very happy to help you with.

Hire a housekeeper if it's stressing you out. That will free up Fish to help with other duties like taking the car in, walking Princess Pup, and paying the bills.

Don't let the doctor stress you out about Minnow. She's breastfed, and she's clearly loving her solids. She's getting nourished and loved. She's probably just a petite one like my Bean. Babies come in all shapes and sizes. She looks healthy and happy. Underfed babies don't have bright shiny eyes and big happy smiles.

And yes, the concept that we can "do it all" is a burden. An unreasonable expectation. So just prioritize the things that matter most (Fish, Minnow, classes) and do what you can of the rest. There's NO WAY to do it all, so stop expecting yourself to. Just do what a reasonable person possibly could, and DO NOT feel guilty for weekends spent as a family.

Oh dear. I have nothing to add beyond what's above, Physioprof and Anon123 gave you very good advice as did some others. The urgent/important distinction is very very important to attend to. And also, I echo what others said about giving yourself permission to function at only 50%, to do something not as well as you know you are capable of, but only as good as necessary to get by. Or as good as you can muster at the time. That can be very painful but letting go of the need to over-perform on every task can be liberating. Your health and Minnow's are the only things you shouldn't skimp on.

Hang in there. I have seen other women go through this incredibly difficult phase and come out the other side okay, so I know it's possible not just in theory. It may not be pretty but it can be done.

I think you are wonderful for speaking so honestly, openly, and at length about what it is like to go through all this. I am sure you are a comfort to many other women going through similar things.

Hi there, I enjoy your blog. Minnow looks like a cool kid.

Look after yourself; sleep well, eat well, & have a nice glass of whiskey every day to calm your nerves!

Best of luck,

I'm glad you are feeling a little better. And don't worry, we don't read your blog because we think you are a superwoman who can do it all. Actually what I like about your blog is that it feels very human. So I'm afraid you are still my hero... :)

I strongly second what Julianne said - one of the hardest but most helpful things for me when I'm overwhelmed is to let people know that I may need to readjust the time frame for things to get done. But once you tell them, then you're able to breath and spend time on the things themselves rather than on stressing over how you can't do it all.

Just a thought - the mom I sit for uses the playtex drop-ins, and that really helps reduce the bottle sterilizing. You still have to wash the nipples and the bottle caps and the case, but if you have a large supply of nipples it doesn't have to be done as often, and you can reuse the other parts with just a rinse in a squeeze since the milk is going to be inside the sterilized drop-in. Plus the drop-in contracts as baby sucks the milk, so no need for air to get in and cause gas.

Hang in there! It *will* get easier next year (and especially once you start repeating courses). Just focus on survival this year---you don't have to change the world this year, or be the world's best teacher---you can work on that later when you have more time to breathe! I agree with Julianne and FSP: if you can get your chair to cut you some slack with the course preps, that will make a world of difference. (And I also like Paul's advice about the daily glass of whiskey, although the whole breastfeeding thing kind of puts a kink in that idea...)

You *can* do this. You can! Cry if you have to; breathe deeply when you feel your world spinning out of control; and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Good luck!

you mean it gets WORSE than being a grad student? GREAT. ;) obviously the people above have had lots of good thoughts for you academically, which i cannot comment on YET...

as far as your little one goes... pediatricians are placed on earth to make you nervous. every time i had to go in which was all too frequently, there was some other 'guideline' and 'recommended' action and it all amounted to nothing. listen to your little one and all will be well. allow yourself to make your parenting life EASY above CORRECT (according to the doctors). shortcuts are allowable if they stop you from going mental! :)

good luck. i love to check in and see what life will be like when i get there, and i know it is hard, but i'm sure the end is worth it (i need to tattoo that on myself somewhere!). here's to all of us...

Oh SW. First off, kudos for posting the good AND the bad on your blog. I think it is really great for women to know that those of us who are 'successful' don't always have it easy and that sometimes balance is just impossible and we end up crying.

My first year of motherhood was incredibly hard. I can't imagine the racheting up of that experience with the first year of a t-t position. All I know is that once we hit #1's first birthday, things got better. More sleep, less pressure to be the best parents, more acceptance of our live as it is NOW and not what it was or should be. And Dr. FR is right -- the kiddos get more fun and you actually get MORE 'moments' as they get older, believe it or not.

The best I can say is hang in there, try to live in the 'moment' and take comfort that you are so NOT scarring Minnow for life, but instead providing her with a long term role model that she will love and take inspiration from. And Fish is there with you too!