Tag Archives: tenure

My Blog Title is Apt Again

Well, whaddya know.  I’m pregnant.

It has never taken us less than 8 months to conceive before.  This time, first try.  We are thrilled and a little stunned.  I’ve always been a little skeptical of the stories you read of how people who have experienced infertility/loss often get pregnant quickly after a full-term, healthy pregnancy — I mean, maybe it happens to some people, but I was sure it wouldn’t happen to me.  Well, here I am!

For now, of course.  I know as well as anyone that first trimester miscarriage is a distinct possibility, as are losses at later stages of pregnancy, as are all manner of other health problems (I’m still at elevated risk for ectopic pregnancy and placental abruption, for example).  But for now I’m pregnant, and that’s a very, very good thing.

We’re a little shocked at the timing — I mean, we were trying to get pregnant, obviously, but we just didn’t expect it to happen this quickly.  Of course our minds started jumping to the possible reality of having a new baby join our family in January.  Two under two — yikes!  It would also throw a monkey wrench into my tenure plans (I’d been on track to submit my materials a year and a half from now), but… we’ll deal with that.  Our family is more important than my tenure case, and if I wind up using both my clock extensions and spending nine years on the tenure clock, so be it.

I was also just starting to cut back on pumping at work this week, but for the moment I’m still breastfeeding/pumping four times a day, which is going to start feeling like a lot as I get more pregnant.  But… what if I wean, and then miscarry?  I’ll be mourning the loss of a baby simultaneously to mourning the loss of a wonderful breastfeeding relationship.  I suppose I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing (i.e., weaning from the pump during the day, since I would never mourn the loss of a relationship with my pump!) and see how things go over the next few weeks.  I’ve got a viability scan scheduled for a week from Monday, after which we’ll know a little more (and, if all goes well, I’ll start back on Lovenox).

What a weird and wonderful week it’s been.  Pregnant again.  Holy cow.  Here’s hoping this little bean sticks around!

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Dragging My Feet on Trying Again

I’m curious whether any of you have ever felt this way.  Before we were pregnant with our daughter, and then again after her death, I was laser-focused on getting pregnant as quickly as possible.  I was temping, I was charting, I was using OPKs, I was doing everything I could to time things properly and maximize chances of conception.  This time around feels… different.

I want another living baby, very much.  Therefore, I want to be pregnant again.  And rationally, I realize it makes sense to start trying now.  It has never been easy for us to get pregnant, and it probably won’t be this time either.  I’m 34, so Advanced Maternal Age is staring me in the face.  If we want another kid, there’s no time like the present, clearly.

But… our son is still so little.  Our breastfeeding relationship is still going strong.  He’s only just started reliably sleeping through the night.  I’m enjoying the mommy-daddy-baby triad and am not eager to upset it with another little one, even though it’s absolutely what we want for all three of us in the longer run.  Starting over with a newborn sounds exhausting.  Being pregnant again sounds exhausting.  Heck, even getting pregnant again sounds exhausting — getting pregnant with my son was an exhausting and heartbreaking almost-2-year-long haul, counting everything we went through with my daughter.   That’s part of what makes me eager to get started sooner rather than later, but it’s also a big part of what’s making me reluctant.  I just can’t imagine going through it all again.

So, I’ve been dragging my feet a bit.  Just last night my husband asked… isn’t this the week?  And I was surprised to realize that it was, and I just hadn’t really been on top of keeping track.  But he’s keeping track, apparently!

Are we really ready to get back on this roller coaster?  I know that another living baby in our family will be more than worth it in the long run.  But it’s been a LONG run to get to where we are now with our son, and it’s daunting to think about going through it all again.  There’s also my tenure clock lurking in the back of my mind.  If all goes as planned, I’ll submit my materials about a year and a half from now.  Another baby between now and then would practically require me to push back that clock.  But since it’s probably going to take us a while, it still makes sense to start now so that ideally our pregnancy will be timed (ha!) so that my due date would be shortly after I submit my materials.  So there’s the gamble about trying to time it so that it’s soon… but not too soon.  But I also fully subscribe to the mantra that there is no good time for a baby, and that the potential pitfalls of waiting too long are far more dire than the pitfalls of moving back my tenure clock a bit… or even than not getting tenure at all.

Maybe it’ll be easier this time.  Maybe we’ll surprise ourselves and get pregnant quickly without intervention (unlikely, but possible).  Maybe I won’t lose another pregnancy.  Maybe the Lovenox will just inject itself every day.  Maybe we’ll get a magical easy newborn (ha).  Right now, it just looks like a lot to handle, and I’m tired (but not newborn tired, thankfully!), and I want to enjoy my son, whom I love to the very depths of my soul and with whom I never feel like I get to spend enough time.  I’m sure this ambivalence is normal.  But I’d love to hear any thoughts about how to get past it.

In other news, S continues to delight.  He’s walking and climbing all over the place these days, and starting to communicate.  No clear words yet, but definitely several expressive gestures that he uses in different contexts (I won’t call them “signs” because they’re not the official ones that I’ve been using with him, but he has clearly developed his own signs — instead of “all done,” for example, he’ll grab the front of his high chair tray with two hands, and just this morning he also did it when he wanted to get out of his jumparoo.  It was very clearly the same communicative gesture in a different context, and it was so cool to see that he is actually putting together the pieces for communicating with other humans!).  He’s big into blocks and wheels and gets delighted whenever he manages to balance a thing on top of another thing.  He’s very snuggly and pretty social and loves to hang out with our friends and family members, or walk outside and just look at the world and touch the bushes and trees.  I simply can’t get enough of him these days!  Having another little one to watch grow up has to be just as great… right?

Back to Work(?)

I’m going back to work on Wednesday.

Well, sort of.

The plan is for me to work half-days for the rest of the summer.  In June, for the four hours that I’m at work daily, my husband will take care of our son four days a week, and my mom will do it the fifth day.  In July, we switch to half-days at the university daycare.  In September, everything becomes full-time.

My logical brain is very happy with this plan.  There are a lot of very good things about it:

  • My husband will take on a more prominent role in the childcare.  Right now he is pretty definitely the secondary parent, and rarely cares for Soren when I’m not around; having primary caregiving responsibilities when I am not there for four hours a day will be a big step up in his relationship with his son.
  • Ditto for my mom (Nana).  She was a huge help in the early weeks, but hasn’t spent as much time around her grandson lately.  There’s no substitute for one-on-one time, and I’m so glad that she is able to help us out in this way and strengthen her relationship with her grandson.
  • Getting back to work is going to be good for my brain.  The few times I’ve done work or gone to the university to meet with students or colleagues, I’ve come back feeling refreshed, and caring for my son has been all the more fun and interactive because of it.
  • Giving my research program a boost with my time this summer will be good for my long-term job security.  I’m just about 2.5 years away from the crucial up-or-out tenure decision point, and research has been harder for me to maintain at a high level than teaching.  I love my job, I get a lot of personal satisfaction from it, and I know I make an impact on my students.  Also, it pays the bills, and more.  I want to keep my job in the long run.  Summer is the only time I can focus exclusively on research, and so this time is particularly important to help me do my job well.
  • Transitioning to part-time daycare when my son is just over four months old will mean that he gets care from people trained in early childhood development, and has a chance to ease into the daycare situation instead of suddenly going full-time when he’s six months old.
  • Since my schedule is completely up to me this summer, we can try things and change them if they don’t work.  If everyone is miserable with the plan, I can work less or not at all, and then we’ll have time to work out a new plan before September.
  • I can pay myself for my time out of a grant.  Me working even half-time this summer means about an extra $10k for our family, which more than pays for daycare and offsets the cost of the unpaid leave my husband is taking in June.  And if I don’t take summer salary this year, I might not be able to use up the summer salary I budgeted before the grant expires.  So the finances make sense for us.

My emotional brain is much less happy with the plan.  There are some negative thoughts that keep running around in my head:

  • My son is too little for me to go back to work.  He’ll be 14 weeks old when I start back part-time, which is more leave than most moms in the US get… but theoretically I could stay home full-time until he’s six months old.  What kind of mom would choose to go back to work before she absolutely has to?  This is mostly guilt, I think.
  • Being apart from my son feels physically painful — and I’ve never been apart from him for as long as four hours before.  Still, I know that it will be healthy for me to have a break from caring for him all day (while I love him to the ends of the Earth, taking care of an infant full-time is difficult work mentally and physically), and I know that learning to separate from him is something I will have to do eventually — better to do it gradually than all at once in September.
  • Then, there’s the bottle situation.  My son is not good at eating from bottles.  We’ve been working at it since he was six weeks old, and most days he just doesn’t seem to want to do it.  I will feel extremely guilty if I go off to work for four hours a day and come back to a screaming baby and a frazzled husband/mom because of the bottle situation.  I’ve heard horror stories from friends of babies who refused bottles for 8-hour daycare days for weeks before they finally caved.  I do not want to do that to my baby, or to my husband and mom.  The logical part of my brain points out that Soren is entirely physically capable of going without food for four hours even if he’s not happy about it, and it’s better for him to learn to take a bottle during four-hour days than during 8-hour days in the fall… but that’s going to be cold comfort to my stressed-out husband/mom in these early weeks if it’s as bad as I fear it’s going to be.  Maybe it won’t be, though?  The good news is that I’m only a 7-minute drive away, so if it gets too bad there’s always the option that my husband/mom can drive him to me (or once he’s in daycare, he’ll be a 10-minute walk from my office).  I’d rather nurse him than pump anyway!
  • Once we start him at daycare, the chances that he’ll get sick increase astronomically.  I’m dreading his first illness.  I will feel awful when he gets sick.  Holding off that inevitable first illness until he’s six months old instead of four months old sounds awfully appealing.

As I read this list now, I’m pretty confident that our plan is what’s going to work best for our family, and that the positives outweigh the negatives.  But the guilt I’m feeling right now is enormous.

Well, hopefully everything will go smoothly this week, and there will be mornings full of father-son bliss at home while I productively pound out papers and then come home to hang out with my smiling, cooing baby for the rest of the day.  I can dream, right?

My Surprisingly Intense Sociological Climate Study Interview

I’m always a little bit tickled to be the subject of a research study.  Who knew you could study people?! 🙂

And now for an academia/pregnancy loss crossover post…

On Monday I participated in a follow-up phone interview for a national survey of professional climate in my field, which is being run by a national women-in-science organization.  After the interviewer (a sociologist who focuses on issues of gender and minority status in the sciences) gave me her standard spiel, I said something along the lines of “Well, I’m happy to help out, but I don’t know that I’ll have much to tell you — I can’t imagine that I wrote anything interesting on the survey!”

Ha.  What was supposed to be a 45-minute interview, max, lasted for over an hour.

Sociologists are good at their jobs.  I had been thinking about the climate survey as a chance for women to talk about sexual harassment and overt sexism in the field, and I’m fortunate enough to have experienced blessedly little of this.  I’ve got my stories, as does any female physical scientist who survives to the professorial stage, but on the whole they’re quite mild compared to what many of my friends and colleagues have been through.  But man, this sociologist drew out all kinds of climate issues that I’d never even thought of as climate issues before.  I thought I’d talk about two of them today.

First: the hierarchical attitudes towards professor jobs at R1 institutions vs. liberal arts colleges. 

This came out when I was talking about my time as a postdoc, at an institution where I was very unhappy for a number of reasons.  I had (and in fact still have) several issues with my postdoctoral supervisor, who was not particularly supportive research-wise, and was blatantly unsupportive along several other dimensions.  This culminated in an experience mere weeks before I left the institution for my current job, which I shared with the interviewer:

My postdoctoral department had a Christmas play tradition.  Maybe you know the sort — every three years the responsibility rotates between students, postdocs, and faculty, and the relevant group writes, produces, and acts in a play that “roasts” various other members of the department.  Lighthearted and fun, right?  Well, my postdoctoral supervisor was the faculty member who wrote the Christmas play that happened a few weeks before I left this top R1 department for my current job.  During the play, he referred to me as a suffragette (because of my work on equity and inclusion in our field), and gave the following line to a character in the play: “Oh, [the pregnant physicist].  You don’t have to worry about her… she’s off to tutor rich kids and will never be heard from professionally again!”  And this mere weeks before starting my job as an assistant professor at a top liberal arts college.  You can bet I felt devalued, demoralized, and ready to get the heck out of that place.  It did an amazing job of making explicit many of the climate issues I’d barely been able to put into words while I was there.  But indeed, in a top R1 institution that had a fraction of female postdocs that was 1/3 of the national average in my field (which is not large to begin with), I *did* stand out as the “suffragette” type.  That’s not hard to do when you’re routinely the only woman in a room with a dozen men.  And while the grad students, male and female, were all surreptitiously asking me how they could get a job like mine, their supervisors openly mocked my career path.  Awe.  Some.

So, the interviewer and I explored this issue a little bit more, including some of the comments I’ve received since then from collaborators and faculty at other institutions.  Everything from backhanded compliments like “You know, everyone thinks you’re too good for your job” to clueless questions like “How come you’re at [institution]?  Did you not get any other faculty jobs?”  It’s a climate issue that I’d never really articulated as such, and I thought about it a lot after my interview with the sociologist ended.

Second: Departmental support (or lack thereof) after my daughter’s death

First, let me just say this: I love my department.  It was an oasis of sanity after my crappy postdoctoral experience at the top R1 institution.  My colleagues are generally wonderful human beings.  We talk to each other.  We know about each other’s research, teaching, and advising challenges and successes, and we have a basic working knowledge of each other’s personal lives as well.  We work hard to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.  We are functional and make decisions sanely and with a minimum of politics.  We like each other.  I am proud to be a member of my department and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

That said, my interviewer’s antennae pricked up at an offhand comment I made during the interview, about how it was sometimes lonely being the only women in my department, and how female faculty in other departments had been important sources of support when I was going through difficult personal and professional challenges.  She asked me to expand on this thought, and eventually asked me to be specific about the challenges I was referring to, as long as I was comfortable talking about them.

And that was when we got started on the subject of my daughter’s death.

I told her about how I found out my baby was dead on a Thursday, got out of the hospital on Saturday morning, and went back to work Tuesday.  How nobody told me I might be able to take a medical leave or suggested that I cancel my classes for that first week.  How I’d had multiple surgeries since then, most recently in February, and even though I’ve told my department chair that I had to leave for surgery (including one week when I had a procedure on Monday and depending on the outcome might have had to have another surgery on a Friday), nobody has followed up to ask about how I’m doing health-wise.  Other than that brief logistical conversation with the chair, nobody in my department has any idea of what I’ve been through since my daughter died.  I’ve mentioned my surgeries to one or two department members once or twice, and have even made offhand comments about my baby when it comes up, but they very obviously shy away from the subject and so I’ve stopped talking about it.  As a result, they know that I lost a pregnancy in the middle of the second trimester, but they know nothing else about my life since then, including all the challenges I’ve been through in the past 8 months, and the fact that I’m facing the prospect of high-risk future pregnancies.

By contrast, there are three female faculty in other science departments who have been life- and sanity-savers.  One of them offered to take over my lectures the week after I delivered my daughter, and has been a literal and figurative shoulder to cry on throughout the whole experience.  Another routinely checked in every few months at the end of work-related meetings to find out how we were doing and how the medical stuff was progressing.  A third was the only person (in my whole life) who wrote to acknowledge my loss on Mother’s Day.  What would I do without these amazing women?  But on the flip side… it turned out that my otherwise all-male department is not really equipped to help me deal with a loss that none of my colleagues have experienced and really can’t even imagine.  As a result, I think in retrospect that they bungled it.  I feel a lack of administrative support because I was not made aware of my options in the wake of this medical crisis.  I feel a lack of personal support because nobody in the department has offered any emotional support or even inquiry into my wellbeing during the months of intense medical attention that followed my loss.  Yes, these are my coworkers, and as such they’re certainly not required to be my confidantes, but as I mentioned in the first paragraph, the culture of my department is such that we tend to have strong personal connections as well — in every area other than this enormously significant part of my life.  I can tell you the theme of my coworker’s daughter’s fourth birthday party and all about my other coworker’s kids’ Saturday morning swimming lessons on campus, but they have no idea that I’ve missed a cumulative week or more of work over the past 8 months for surgeries, doctors appointments, therapy, etc.

The interviewer also asked about ways in which this experience affected my ability to function professionally.  I had a list ready, from three declined invited talk invitations (and therefore three conferences that I couldn’t bring myself to travel to, resulting in a loss of professional visibility), to comments I received on teaching evaluations about some sloppiness with preparation in the middle of the semester, to reduction in publication output, to jeopardizing relationships with collaborators with whom I wasn’t comfortable sharing this very personal news to explain delays in my research output.  Frankly, I suspect I don’t even know the extent to which this experience has affected my professional life yet.  And yet my department is not even acknowledging that this significant professional impact might have taken place.  It’s not really their fault — I suspect it wouldn’t have been better anywhere else.  But my experience does shine a light on how the climate in my field occasionally fails female scientists — or anybody with out-of-the-box medical and family issues.  I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that a more gender-neutral but similarly intense health issue would have been dealt with very differently by the other members of the department.

Well.  This post is getting awfully long, so I’d better wrap it up!  In summary, I was surprised at the extent to which the interviewer pulled climate issues from my interview that I had never really articulated to myself as such before this experience.  It was incredibly emotionally intense, and I was in tears throughout most of the section in which I was talking about the loss of our daughter.  I felt shaky and distracted for a couple of hours afterwards.  But I’m glad I participated in the interview.  I think that these issues of academic hierarchy and the flexibility to deal with medical issues that arise during childbearing years that aren’t *exactly* normal pregnancy and birth, but are very closely related, are issues that our field should address.  Perhaps the broader-context way of articulating the latter issue is that our field needs to be, in general, more accepting of the impact of life, health, and family, particularly when our needs fall outside the standard script and at non-ideal places on the academic calendar.  I’ll be really interested to read the report when it comes out.

One Small Step Towards Tenure

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That’s me in the middle.

Today I went through my second-year review, which is the first step on the path to tenure.  (I’m actually half a semester into my third year, but details…)

I’d been stressed out about it, because it was supposed to happen last semester and didn’t, and I’d been bugging my department chair at progressively shorter intervals because as time went on I started to fear that something was going terribly, terribly wrong.  He kept reassuring me that it wasn’t, and that everything was fine and he was just busy, but as my colleague / carpool buddy quipped, “Great, but can I have that in writing?”

Well, after two failed attempts at scheduling my review, it finally happened today.  And as my department chair had told me, there was nothing to worry about.  He had nothing but positive things to say, including the interesting statistic that apparently I have the highest teaching evaluations in the department (I had no idea!).  Really the only constructive criticism I got was that I could lighten up on my students a little, since they all rate my classes as “strenuous” even though they also rate my teaching as “outstanding.”  That, I can do. 🙂

It was really nice to hear from my department chair how well things are going from their perspective, and how much they appreciate having me in the department.  My brain had been coming up with all sorts of possible criticisms they might make, but they didn’t make any of them (and when I asked about some of them at various points during the review, he reassured me that they were not important or even relevant).  I still have worries about the tenure process (that’s my personality, and it would probably be a bad thing if I didn’t), but now I’m much more able to put them in perspective.  It helps to have a nice official glowing letter, written by my department chair and signed off by the administration.

The loss of our daughter came up once, obliquely, during our conversation.  The three pillars of tenure are research, teaching, and service.  I was a little bit worried about the service category, since I haven’t yet served on any major university committees — I was elected to one last year, but after I requested parental leave for this semester they decided to remove me from the committee… but only a few weeks later, our daughter died and the point became moot.  I could probably have asked to be reinstated, but I didn’t (I had other things on my mind…).  I was worried that it might look bad for me to have been elected and then not to serve, but he reassured me that it wasn’t a problem (a bit too emphatically — obviously he knows the reason, but I know not everyone looking at my case will).

I was also worried about it in a different way that I didn’t bring up during the review, namely the gap in my CV that I can see even if nobody else can.  I not only turned down three invited talks, but I avoided those conferences entirely, just because I couldn’t bear the thought of the conversation that might result if I put in a contributed abstract after I’d turned down an invited talk because I was supposed to be on parental leave.  So I missed out on some serious professional visibility.  I also did approximately no research last semester, while I was picking up the pieces of my life and dealing with the medical fallout (tests, treatments, surgeries), which will show up in a couple of delayed publications and some proposals I didn’t find the time to write.  And I completely flaked out on a couple of professional service activities I’d agreed to do — also not good for my professional reputation.  The impact is real, if most likely insignificant in the long run.  My chair reassured me (in a general way) that I am exceeding the departmental expectations in the research category, so hopefully it won’t be an issue in the end (because wouldn’t that be an awkward annotation to my tenure package…).

But it made me think about how many people probably have similar issues that aren’t accommodated in academia: a prolonged or serious health issue, for themselves or a spouse or parent, a divorce, a death of a sibling or parent… we’ve all got issues.  I guess it mostly evens out in the end.  But it would be nice if there were some official way to annotate significant gaps in a CV that happen for some reason other than a parental leave to care for a living baby.

Anyway, I’m very happy that my review went so well, and relieved that it’s finally over, and that I finally have in writing what my department chair has been casually alluding to every time I’ve mustered up the nerve to badger him about my review.  It was also nice just to have a formal opportunity to ask questions about the tenure process that have been nagging at the back of my mind for a long time — everything from “Does it matter if my PhD advisor is a minor coauthor on most of my papers?” (we’re in a very small and team-oriented field so it’s hard to avoid him even if I wanted to; the answer was no, as long as there’s evidence that I’m responsible for driving my own science and being recognized as a scholar in my own right) to “Are there other materials I should be assembling for my reappointment review [now only five months away], and can you please go over that process with me?”  I left it feeling pretty good about how things are going, and a little more relaxed about some of the things that had been stressing me out.  All in all, a win.

And then I left work a little early for my second volunteer shift at the barn, my first as a horse leader instead of a sidewalker.  Tacking up a horse for the first time in over a decade, leading her around the arena, giving high fives to her grinning rider, and coming home dirty and covered in horse smell was a great way to end a beautiful spring break day.

I hope spring has sprung where you are!