Friday, November 20, 2009

Why Don't I Just Quit My Day Job

Sorry for the obnoxious title, but I get a lot of requests via my FSP email. I don't want to discourage people from emailing me: sometimes there are very interesting and important things that come my way via my FSP email, and I try to answer some.

BUT: I don't have time to answer all of the emails, and I don't have the inclination to answer some of them. In real life, I always answer emails. If I weren't (semi)anonymous, I would probably feel more pressure to answer all emails, so chalk up non-answering-of-all-emails as another benefit of anonymity.

Here is an example of an email I am not answering, however much I might sympathize with the situation of the person writing it. Perhaps someone else can be more helpful than I can be with this; perhaps someone who is closer to the caring-for-an-infant stage of life than I am and/or who has a bit more time than I do right now and/or who doesn't find this email quite so.. exigeant?

I would really like to know details of how you managed your schedule (balanced your professional work and your life with baby and husband and fit in exercise etc) when you had your baby years ago. .. I would particularly appreciate specific examples especially of day-to-day and/or typical week activities, including grant writing, teaching, writing papers, advising students/post-docs, managing it to make it to the gym, taking care of a needy baby, etc. .. specific examples and ideas would be most appreciated. I would also really appreciate a personal reply.


ml said...

i would reply to this person in such a manner.

"just do it" ((c) Nike, ~1990).
(and find a non-anonymous mentor)

Anonymous said...

There are a finite number of hours in the day. When you decided to have kids you decided to sacrifice most of them to raising your kids. Or if you are a better provider your husband should. You are in charge of a human life, no one forced you to be. You don't fit your kid in around you work and exercise and brunches and basket weaving and French lessons, you drop them and look after it.

Perceval said...

What about "search the archives" or "it depends"? Both entirely legit answers. Because how one manages depends to a large extent on the support networks both at work and at home.

(FWIW, I'm a mum of two, work part-time as a senior research fellow, and boy do I juggle.)

Anonymous said...

Oh what the heck. I’ll take a stab at it.

Life with a new baby is challenging especially combined with a TT position. But it’s temporary – it will get better. In the meantime, prioritize, organize, and delegate. Put your effort into what is going to count: grants and papers. Save your precious time in the office for these activities. Work with your door closed and avoid temptation to fritter time away in…oh the usual ways we all fritter time away...answering other people's email.... I spent about 3hrs every night (often after midnight) answering emails and doing other online stuff, which freed up a huge amount of time during the day. Advise only by email. Let your teaching slide. Easiest way to do that is to start preparing for lecture only a couple hours before (or the night before) class. You’ll be amazed how efficient you’ll become. Does all this sound irresponsible? A lot of people who don’t have small kids do all of these things ALL THE TIME. And if you land a big grant with a new baby, no one is going to care about the rest of the stuff. Choose your service commitments wisely. Don’t be afraid to say no. If you must go to the gym, go less frequently but for a longer time. That way, you won’t waste as much time in transit. Try to incorporate other physical activity in your day (use the stairs, etc.). Walk with your baby. And most importantly, spend time with that baby. Try to free your mind of all your other worries and enjoy that time as best as you can. Your career will still be there in a year. Your baby is going to grow up before you know it.

Anonymous said...

yeah, totally exigeant.
As someone who has recently done all of the above my best advice is to quit wasting time worrying about things and start doing things. Prioritize your life, don't waste time waiting to find out answers from someone else. What works for one is unlikely to work for another. Children have their own agenda that you can't control theym. And - It won't all get done because no one is that perfect.

Janice said...

Ah, there's the rub! You want someone to comment who is "closer to the caring-for-an-infant stage" AND who has time? Ha ha ha!
I have 3 kids under the age of 6 but I work at a teaching-focused institution where the pressure to publish is not so high; I live in Canada where we get a full 12 months mat leave by law; and my husband is a stay-at-home Dad.
That's as close to work/life balance as I can get, (outside of "regular work hours", family comes first) and I still have trouble finding time for myself i.e. exercise etc!
Just recently started following your blog - love it!

Female Science Professor said...

The comment about who has time was sort of a joke..

swede in us said...

I'd second the whole "don't fret too much, just get to work". It's amazing how much you can do with only a few hours and letting things be "just good enough and not perfect".

Most problematic is to decide which to let slide.... because somethings usually isn't as perfect as you thought it was going to be. There has to be a prioritizing order, and the family is probably going to be in either of the top three (family/grants/paper/teaching/supervising/committees/other stuff...). why? because when it is too late it is too late.

also, it is a few years with the young kids... and most crucial a few months. That said, hopefully you have a good spouse who wants to share the child rearing if you have a job too.

Anonymous said...


awesome word--I had to look it up. I'll try to use it in conversation later today. A great word to use in response to "urgent" requests from student sin my classes.

Mark P

ChemProf said...

Sounds like somebody is trying to research a book.

Rosie Redfield said...

I would really appreciate your handing over your paycheck to me.

(I occasionally get this kind of thing from students in my freshman biology class ("Please write a special set of notes for me"; "Please spend 2 hours giving me a private lesson"), but I had hoped that adults were less self-centered.)

amy said...

While you're at it, FSP, would you mind putting that schedule into an Excel spreadsheet, and make sure it's properly formatted so that I can print it out and post it on my fridge? I prefer Arial font, 12 point.

Female Science Professor said...

I agree with many of the comments, especially the more entertaining ones, and hope that they give the email author a bit of perspective on the nature and style of her request, but let's also recognize what a stressful time it is for her, how much she has to deal with etc. etc.

another junior FSP said...

The part that puts it over the top to me is "I would also really appreciate a personal reply." That turns it from "Hey, I think this would be a cool blog post that would be helpful to people like me" to "please spend all this time on just me!"

Besides - if there's anything one learns from doing as an assistant prof it is that every lab, every prof, every life is different and there is only so much that anyone else's precise coping tips can help!

(It really does strike me like the student who wrote in, having missed 3 classes, to ask if I would personally review each lecture with them.)

amy said...

Fair enough. I just couldn't resist a little sarcasm.

Honestly, though, sometimes I do wish for some specifics on scheduling, and I wish to have them from FSP in particular. This is for a number of reasons: 1) I suspect that I'm not putting nearly enough time into my work, and that's why I'm having trouble getting published. 2) I'm vaguely considering having a child and I'm really curious about what a realistic schedule would look like; maybe if I saw the cold, hard facts, my desire to have a child would evaporate. 3) I don't trust others as much as I trust FSP to give realistic numbers. On websites where academics discuss how many hours they work, one suspects they're just bragging and trying to out-macho each other. And parents whine all the time about how much time and energy it takes to have kids, but it's all just vague complaining. FSP, on the other hand, never seems interested in using this blog for self-promotion, and she only gets vague when she needs to protect her anonymity.

Anonymous said...

Anon@7.40am nailed it. This is what you have to do. This is what you have to do ANYWAY, baby or not, but if no baby, you can stay in your office nights and weekends and avoid your wife :D

Anonymous said...

what an entitled brat that person who wrote you that e-mail is!! And they are a parent too?? And a TT prof (or grad student or postdoc, someone who is in academia)?? gosh what are their kids gonna be like, expecting their teachers to do their homework for them??

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I'd take that email at face value. There's at least one hostile, nit-picking anonymous commenter plaguing FSP. Were it me, that would make me skeptical of requests for the specifics of my schedule and how I spent my time, especially those that seemed demanding in tone.
(Of course, I've only seen the excerpt, and FSP knows her correspondents best.)

a physicist said...

I don't think the original email was something trying to annoy FSP on purpose. I get emails like this from time to time, requesting way too much information related to something on my website (not on the same topic as FSP). Some of them look like requests for help on homework, and I'm pretty sure the teacher didn't tell the student that they're supposed to email a random person for the answer.

Janice said...

The number one rule to publish more and win more grants with small children is to do the absolute minimum on teaching and service. And sleep very little. (You compensate by taking vitamins, exercising as much as possible and giving up all other semblance of a real life.)

Note: I failed to follow this advice regarding the teaching and service. Therefore, I didn't publish as much as I should. Still got tenure, but was kind of derailed when it came to getting grants and publications.

And, of course, if you end up with a special needs child, you will discover that the best-laid plans are rarely enough. That's where having your own Time-turner would really rock!

Cloud said...

I'm inclined to be a bit more sympathetic to the email correspondent, perhaps because I am closer to that initial shock of motherhood and the overwhelmed "how in the world am I going to do all of this???" feeling. I suspect she's just panicking and sleep-deprived and desperate for someone to tell her it will all be alright.

It will all be alright (probably). But I'm still not going to give specifics, because they would be useless. And they would be useless even if I were in academia rather than industry.

Every baby is different. Every mother is different, and every father/partner is different. So the specifics of how I ended up arranging my life to handle the needs of my baby and the demands of my career while keeping enough of the rest of my life to remain sane are irrelevant to any other woman's situation. We all, unfortunately, have to figure it out for ourselves.

What the e-mail writer really needs is someone with whom she can discuss the specifics of her situation (does the baby nap well? Is she a fast writer or a slow one? How did the housework get done pre-baby?) and help her figure out what her specific problems are (not enough uninterrupted time to work on grant proposals? Severe sleep-deprivation interfering with her ability to be an effective adviser? Household falling to bits and causing arguments with her partner?) and brainstorm some solutions.

Anonymous said...

The demanding tone of the e-mail is irritating because it is rude. Not only is she being inconsiderate in demanding you give her your undivided attention, but also she also apparently has no qualms about intruding on your privacy too. I assume it's a "she" cos men don't tend to freak out like this over work/life balance when they have babies (probably cos it's not usually a problem for them as society is more unfair to women). I would simply ignore such an e-mail.

Hope said...

I agree that the request is obnoxious, but on the theory that the letter writer is sincere albeit lacking some social skills ….

Kudos to Anon@7:40 (4th comment) for providing what this person seems to need most: concrete advice. But I have a question for you. You say, “Advise only by email.” Is this really possible? And when you say this, do you have a time frame in mind, as in, do this for the first x months back, or would this extend to a year or more?

Also, I’m surprised that the commenters who complained that the Kidlessness thread (and the associated one over at Isis’) was too depressing aren’t stepping up with more specific advice. As someone without kids, it’s not very reassuring to hear that “you can have kids and your career won’t suffer,” but that how I accomplish this will be something I’ve got to figure out on my own.

Ann said...

Ok I did it, I'm trying to remember how. In the haze of memory it seems to have been an interesting, challenging, fun time.

Hire lots of help, both for housekeeping and the babe.

Live close to your job in a low maintenance house or apt, so you spend minimal time commuting, gardening, house upkeeping.

Dont answer the phone. Let the answering machine pick up and prescreen.

Set your email to a vacation message explaining that you will not be answering most emails.

Instead of going to the gym, get a jog stroller, or find a gym which offers babysitting. Also one which does not have a long commute to get to.

Do not worry about keeping your house in order.

Do very minimal amount of reviewing for journals or grant agencies.

Be very selective on any service.

Only buy clothes that do not need ironing.

Wear minimal or no makeup.

Get a no upkeep haircut, or dont worry about your appearance.

Answer your most urgent or research related emails while nursing.

Hire a college student to help with after daycare nannying, and/or dinner prep and shopping.

Order out a lot.

Do not read blogs, watch TV, or web surf.

Explain that you dont have time while your baby is small to review grants, be on search committees etc.

You will be sleep deprived for the first year, that's just how it is.

Sometimes you might have to bring the baby to work. A young, quiet baby can be held or worn in a snugli while holding research group meetings, office hours etc. My husband even gave a graduate student lecture with the babe in one arm, and adding in his own chalk drawings and occasional babbles. You and your husband can have playpens in your offices.

You can also bring the baby to conferences. Bring the nanny to conferences so you can hand the baby off now and then, like if he is crying and you want to go to a talk or need to give one.

Anonymous said...

regarding Ann's comment. Thanks, it's (nearly) all good, but for crying out loud, don't bring the kids to work unless, it's a state of catastrophe. Please!

The child will invariably, at one moment or the other, cry, throw a tantrum, scream, be noisy, disruptive etc. Your colleagues will be annoyed and the likelihood of it backfiring is definitely there. They probably won't think about all the hours the child spent quiet (they might not even have known the child was there), but they will certainly consign to memory the odd half hour during which they were getting their eardrums and patience tried.

Dumping the kid to one of the grads might seem like a good solution. However, grads are not cheap babysitters. They might resent being regarded as such. And grads need to get stuff done too. By dumping them a child to supervise, you are intruding on their working hours. You might say, but what if the grad in question does not mind?

However, since grad office tends to come in the 'cubicle farm' variety, you bet that there's a very high likelihood of the child not only intruding on that single kid-friendly grad's schedule, but on all of them. Seriously annoying the 20 odd grads of your department isn't the way to go.

For the grads and your colleagues, they are there for work, and if they cannot concentrate due to a child's wailing, they'll hold it against you (and with good reasons).

Work is not a place for children, period. They might be brought if there's really no other way, but please avoid it as much as you can.

franglais said...

The issue of appropriateness of this email has been discussed ad nauseam. And I agree with the obvious consensus: Just do it.
Yet, the fundamental question persists: American academia brings a lot of stress because virtually nothing is done to help mothers and fathers in the work place. If things were better set-up (maternity and paternity leaves, institution-supported child care, etc.), like in Janice's Canada, I suspect there would still be whiners, but we may see less of the OMG kind of panic at the prospect of having a child.

Anonymous said...

I'll try to give some specifics too.

I am on my 5th year on the tenure track and quite succesfull getting funding/publishing and I do have a child. When I entered this job, my child was 3.5yo. So not a baby, but not independent either. What I did was this:
1. Woke up at 5-5.30am every morning. Got in the office no later than 7am. Husband was doing morning routine (dressing/washing/taking kid to daycare).

2. Never prepared for one lecture for more than 3 hours. When teaching the same class the second time, the preparation was reduced to 1h. Third time more like 15min. Aimed for a teaching score of 4/5, if it went to 3.5, not big deal. Do not let it go lower than that though. I could tell you what techniques to use to raise your scores with less effort, but they'd boo me here lol

3. Did everything I could to schedule classes at 8.30am. Prepared for them from 5 to 8 am. The rest of the day was spent on grant writing/papers writing.

4. Bare minimum on service. Never volunteered for absolutely anything, did not refuse specific assignments though(they were reasonable). They may mumble that "you don't care", but when they see the $$$ and papers the mumblings will pale.

5. Do not be nitpicking. Do not take 1h to read one page of your student's master thesis. Take 2h to read the entire thesis. Spend time on what matters, not on details that don't matter but just help your ego or something.

I do not agree with this advice:
-do not answer email. not working, you have to answer email. I did it at night mostly.
- advise via email--not good. Take care of your students, you need to graduate a Ph.D. for tenure. Do your best advising your grad students, their results are your papers, do not cut corners here. Take care of their physical and psychological well being, care about them, encourage them constantly, make them work with enthusiasm and let them try their ideas, although sometimes you think they are crazy.

- do not do reviewing for grant agencies and journals---not a good idea!! In fact you HAVE to get on panels. Some say it doesn't matter but it really helps, for NSF at least, if you get to panels. Not only that you learn what is expected, but if the program manager knows you from panels, you have a seriously increased chance at getting funding from them, although they do not admit. Your grant needs to be good anyway, but if it's borderline and they know and like you (did a good job in panels), they'll give it to you. Also, it's good to be in good terms with editors and review some articles.

Anonymous said...

I do NOT think it's true that you can have a kid and NOT have your career suffer. There is no free lunch, people. UNless, like one commenter said, you intrude on everyone else by bringing your kid along to conferences, group meetings, etc. But that is unprofessional because it is being inconsiderate of your colleagues (how would you feel if all your grad students brought their babies to the group meetings you called? do unto others as you have want to be done unto yourself. Don't expect exceptions to be made just for you to accommodate your wishes). So on that grounds I think your career will suffer indirectly if you attempt to incorporate your kid into your work life to minimize the impact on your career - people will see you as a selfish jerk. And people tend to put less effort in working with people they dont' like.

your career may not be ruined from taking the time off to raise a kid, no. But it is a fallacy to believe that your career can carry on in its original kid-less trajectory at the same pace and level, once you DO have kids. If you are succesful with kids, congratulations, but you would probably have been even more so without (but not that it matters at this point since presumably your joy at being a parent should outweigh any regrets over lost career opportunities).

I just don't think this increasingly prevalent attitude among this generation of new parents of "I want it to have it ALL" is healthy or realistic. And when you attempt to have it all by doing things that intrude on others, that's just being selfish and not a good citizen of society.

Bonnie said...

I left academia so that I could have kids. I was working 80 hours/week and could not see how children could fit that schedule. In fact, after my second was born, I dropped to a part-time schedule (25 hours/week). That worked really well while my kids were small.

I probably would have stayed at the part-time position for a very long time, but the company was acquired and I lost my job. My kids are now a bit older (9, 7, and 3),so I thought I could try academia again. But I am finding it is still as child-unfriendly as ever. Fortunately, I feel that I spent a lot of time with my kids when they were small, so they can handle more of my being away a lot now.

I am sorry to say this, but if you are going to work at a very high powered job, and a tenure track position at a R1 school is definitely that, you either need a nanny or a husband that does most of the childcare. I have never met a mom in this type of position that didn't have one of these. And you have to accept the fact that you will not be as hands-on of a mom as some others in your neighborhood. You will need a thick skin, believe me!

back to my class prep, on a Saturday afternoon while my husband gets to take the kids on fun outings :-(

Anonymous said...

Ah, I'm Anon @3.44, forgot to discuss the housework and such. Housework doesn't really matter. Hire a housekeeper by all means!! Best money spent. You can cook on Sundays for 3 days ahead. All in all, you don't have to have a spotless house and gourmet meals every night, don't fret over that. Also, make sure you relax too. Don't work too much nights and weekends, just email, some light reading, don't work yourself to death, it will just lower your productivity.

Anon@3.51, you're wrong. You can have one kid without your career suffering. One is a breeze. Maximum of 2 kids if the husband shoulders half of responsability. More than that, I agree it's not workable. And I don't understand the bringing the baby to the office idea. Why do we need to bring babies to the office? I never did. Find childcare. A live in nanny is best, but other arrangements work too,if husband helps. When the kid is sick, work from home, get a babysitter or alternate with your husband staying home. Not a big deal.

Everyone wastes some time, if they don't have kids, they have hobbies, or are just .... (this was offensive lol) who don't do anything much, just walk around bothering everybody :D

In any case, if you have kids AND are a woman, like Mrs Mentor says, make sure you hide them from your colleagues. That means, don't bring them to the office, don't talk too much about them at work etc. You may encounter narrow minded individuals who think you cannot have a career AND kids bc. they didn't and are envious, or bc. they are just narrow minded or sexist. If you are a man, you can talk about the kids all you want and bring them to the office sometimes, everybody will think you are a wonderful man and father and no less of a scientist [:D] That's the tough reality. But because we, women, are smarter and stronger, we can do it despite all of this!! [:D]

Ann said...

Look, its for only a small fraction of the totality of one's career than one is dealing with raising small kids. Statements like "it is a fallacy to believe that your career can carry on in its original kid-less trajectory at the same pace and level, once you DO have kids." seem like overstatements. Soon enough the kids will be old enough to no longer need or desire constant attention, and time management will get easier.

Just to clarify: I wasn't saying never do grant reviews,answer emails, or get on committees, just do a reduced amount while the baby is small.

And I disagree that one should never bring the kid to work. Sometimes, the kid is too sick for daycare, or the daycare or nanny have a day off. Also, before the babe is 3 months old, he is too young for daycare, and needs to nurse frequently. Science requires lots of talking with collaborators, and usually this is easiest in person. So, for a few months, one sometimes has to juggle. Yes, you need to be responsible about not bothering people, and yes one can sometimes work from home, or juggle the baby with one's husband, but babies sleep a lot. Mine always slept best while being carried. Even while awake, before they are mobile and verbal they can be fairly simple. My daughter and son often enjoyed being held in one arm while I discussed physics with people and wrote on the blackboard with the other--they didn't know or care what I was talking about but liked to be near me.

And I would rather have a student with a child care problem bring the kid in than miss a meeting.

Why hide the kids from colleagues? When you do encounter narrow minded individuals who think you cannot have a career and kids then just ignore them.

I do find it weird that people would consider not having kids because their career might suffer. If your career is more important to you than having kids then, yes, you shouldn't have kids. You don't try and fit kids into the rest of your life. You juggle everything else around the kids' needs. But you shouldn't give up the career to devote your life to the kids either--they will grow up and move out and wont want to be the center of your life forever. Even when they are in the upper years of grade school they don't want you hovering and smothering.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Am only a postdoc, not TT (yet) but echo the advice here. I'm only working an 8.5 hr day because of my 3-month-old, but I make each minute count. I scrounge a little yime to work on my bus commute. When I'm at work, I go full-bore (except for the pumping breaks! we'll see how long that lasts...) I answer emails while breastfeeding. I read blogs while breastfeeding late at night...My husband works 9:30-6:30 and I work 7:45-4:15. I hate eating out a loy so I cook and prep part of dinners on Sundays. Housekeeping and personal care standards are very very low.

And I try to make things easy on my husband, and he does the same for me. Having a happy marriage probably saves both time and sanity.

EliRabett said...

FSP provides an excellent example of time management. She posts every weekday at a few minutes after midnight. And so to bed.

Anonymous said...

Ann, hide the kids if you are a woman, because if you have narrow minded individuals in your tenure commitee, not doing so might potentially hurt your chances. In the end, it's an image game, really, is not what you are doing, but how you are seen (of course, you have to be good on paper too). If you went through tenure already, congratulations, you don't have to do it anymore and you were lucky to have nice people in your department. If the kid is sick, I think staying home and rescheduling meetings is best. I went even further than that, when staying home with the sick child, I sometimes said I was sick or some other excuse not involving the child, tried not to bring the child up too much. Now that I have grants and such, and the kid is older, I admit I am less careful about this, but still try to avoid bringing up problems with the kid as the reason for me staying home or leaving early (which I do anyway and probably everone knows why but is better not to say it in their face). That's my advice. I admit I'm a little paranoid, as a result of some traumas I had when pregnant (been treated badly/disrespectful bc. of that) and as a postdoc with a 2yo (was fired bc. of sick kid, leaving early etc). So in the next job, I decided Mrs. Mentor is right, you have to hide the children. Put them in your basement LOL

Cloud said...

@Hope- I think the variations in the advice being given proves my point: every working mother's situation is different. How other people manage may provide some useful ideas, but no one else can provide a blueprint for how it will work best for you and your family.

However, I really do think that in most cases it works out fine. You'll solve the problems that you face. If you're like me, you'll have moments where you think you can't do it and maybe even cry and say something to that effect to your husband... but then you do it. And there will be other moments where you feel like superwoman. Really, it comes down to problem solving- taking the constraints in your situation and figuring out how to make it all work. And most scientists are pretty good at problem solving.

Anonymous said...

you need to have a good husband who will be supportive of you and split the work (and who is actually useful. i.e. someone who will take action and do the work not just give you encouragement so you can go do all the work yourself!!). That's the key.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the mini-controversy between Ann and Anon 01:21 - I don't think Ann was suggesting passing the child off to her graduate students (which indeed would be extremely unprofessional/etc., etc.) but hiring an unrelated college student (perhaps in child psychology??). Very good idea!

Ann said...

yes anon04:45, i never even thought of hiring a grad student to sit--that would clearly be inappropriate. I have had many wonderful babysitters who were university undergrads. Universities are full of bright, hardworking students who need jobs and are reliable, fun, and good role models for the kids. Also the first one I had remarked that "it is very good birth control" to learn how much work new babies require!

Meadow said...

My favorite "I need to miss your class how will you help me compensate for it" (said politely). On receiving my generic answer on taking notes from a classmate. "No, I meant how will YOU compensate."

But like FSP said she's overwelhmed and just wants some specifics. Been there, done that. My advice remember you may not be able to accomplish much and plan on how you will catch up in a few years. And count yourself lucky if you have a job while having kids. Too many women get kicked out one way or the other after having kids. Plan on what to do if this job doesn't work out. Make plans that will give you a feeling of control.

Anonymous said...

"And I disagree that one should never bring the kid to work. Sometimes, the kid is too sick for daycare, or the daycare or nanny have a day off. Also, before the babe is 3 months old, he is too young for daycare, and needs to nurse frequently."

The last reason is logical and understandable. As is the occasional "daycare is closed/nanny is home sick" day.

Bringing a child to work because he/she is sick, on the other hand, is incredibly selfish. Exposing your co-workers to your child's virus so that they can get sick too? Not fair. Take the day to work at home with baby and let the rest of the department stay healthy.

Dr Spouse said...

This reminds me a lot of the types of emails students write when they want you to write their essay for them.