Tag Archives: tenure

Life is Good

I’ve got two important anniversaries coming up: The 5-year anniversary of our daughter’s death, and the 2-year anniversary of my father’s death.  Early September just doesn’t have a great track record for me.

But even though I’m very aware of the anniversaries… life is good.  Not only good.  Life is amazing right now.  I think I’m now removed enough from having lost my three pregnancies that their main impact on my everyday life is to make me grateful for the two amazing sons I do have.  I’m sure everyone is grateful for their children.  But the last five years have taught me so viscerally about how fragile life is that I do think I soak up the moments with my two babies in a way that I would not have otherwise.  My relationship with my father was so fraught and complicated, but now that he’s gone, its main impact is to make me appreciate what an amazing father my husband is — he is the father to my children that I never had, and his father, my father-in-law, is the grandfather that my father could never have been to my children.  Having them as part of my family heals me in a way that I didn’t know I needed.

Yesterday was a perfectly ordinary — but somehow remarkably perfect — day.  When I woke up my older son, I snuggled with him in bed and told him “I love you more than chocolate,” and as he was waking up he said, “I love you more than chocolate AND frosting AND sprinkles!”  Then I went to work, where there was an internet outage, so I spent the morning playing with a new digital planetarium that my department acquired last year — this fall I’m teaching a course that involves teaching students to use the planetarium to give presentations to elementary school children.  And I was just thinking, “How cool is my job?!  My work for the day is to play with this amazing planetarium!”  Then I picked up the baby from daycare — it was hotter than heck, so when we got home I drew a cool bath and just let him splash around.  Let me tell you, there is no better way to appreciate a deliciously chubby 8-month-old than to watch him play naked in a little baby tub and splash and giggle.  I read to him for a while, put him down for his nap, folded laundry, loaded and started the dishwasher, whipped up some banana bread to bake, and sat down to do some writing to help my masters student turn his thesis into a published paper.  When the baby woke up after a 2-hour nap, I nursed him and we went to pick up the big kid from preschool.  After preschool, I played with both kids on the floor, building with Duplos, and there wasn’t even any squabbling over pieces.  Then we headed over to a friend’s house for dinner, banana bread in hand, and the kids were mostly well behaved and I even got to have a somewhat uninterrupted conversation with my friend, the math professor.  Home, snuggles, bedtime, packing lunches for the next day, and doing a crossword puzzle in bed with my husband, and we turned out the lights.  Perfect.

I am so aware of how temporary all of this is.  The baby is growing at an alarming rate.  Soon he won’t be a baby anymore.  Someday, my kids will be out of the house.  Someday, life will be over.  I just feel so fortunate every day to have the family that we have.  To have the job that I have.  To be the parent and professor that I wanted to be.  I think the last time I felt this content and happy and excited for the future was the summer before I left for college. I remember that beautiful glow, appreciating everything I had and eagerly anticipating everything to come, and it’s the same as the feeling I’ve had this summer as the baby has been turning into a little person and as the reality of tenure has sunk in.  I know this won’t last — nothing this perfect ever does — but for now, I’m soaking it up.

The one thing that makes me sad and wistful is that… I want another baby, and my husband doesn’t.  I think I’m OK with that.  I recognize that more children means more divided attention and time, and I want to spend as much time as I can with my two existing children.  I think I’m more at home with the chaos of dealing with small children than my husband is — it stresses him out more than it stresses me out, and I don’t want to risk his mental health or our relationship by adding more stress than he can handle.  At the same time, when we talk about why he doesn’t want another baby, for him it mostly boils down to immediate things.  He says maybe if his parents lived closer and could help, and maybe if we didn’t have a dog, but he’s just feeling like he’s starting to get enough time back for work and exercise and he’s not ready to give that up again.  Which I get, but I’m also thinking 10 and 20 years down the road, when the kids will be in school and what our family will look like in the long run.  We both come from small families, and I worry that my kids will feel alone with no cousins and only one aunt — they’re basically it for their generation.  Plus, I admit that my current baby is so wonderful and perfect that it’s hard for me to accept that this is the last baby.  And I still haven’t quite given up on my dream of having a daughter, although I’d also be happy with another son.  And when I consider my husband’s reasons, what I hear underneath it is that he could use more support.  And I think… I could take on more of his responsibilities around the house (we split things pretty much 50/50 now), and we are also fortunate enough to be able to hire out some of the work, like dog-walking or cleaning or cooking (we tried hiring someone to clean and cook a few months before L was born, but it didn’t work out particularly well so we stopped when my husband’s parents came for the month of December).  I think this decision is a “two yeses, one no” case, so I will ultimately defer to my husband’s wishes — I just can’t imagine pressing such an important life change onto someone else.  When I asked him how sure he was recently — like, should I start giving away the baby clothes, or should we revisit in 6 months — he said he’s pretty sure, but we can revisit in 6 months.  We obviously can’t wait forever — I’m 36 now, and given our history it seems unlikely that the process would be smooth, and biology might just decide “no” for us.  So I’m waiting to bring it up again until our little one is a little bigger, and not holding out much hope, but there is a little spark of hope there.

And that’s the full update.  I don’t know if I’ll keep updating the blog very much beyond this point, especially if we don’t have another baby.  But maybe I’ll check in every once in a while — I do still read all the blogs that I’ve followed over the years and love to read the occasional updates there.  But the immediacy of needing a place to write out my experiences has mostly passed, I think, and more recently it’s been a way to maintain the wonderful relationships that have sustained me through some of the worst experiences of my life.  So thank you to anyone still reading.  I’m sending my love to you all.

Tenure

Well, it’s official! I somehow managed to miss not one but TWO calls from the university president to my cell phone this weekend, though as a result I now have the call recorded on voicemail and can listen to it on repeat.  I got the call in front of my husband and kids and did a wild happy dance while I was listening to it, so of course my three-year-old asked for it over and over again that night: “Mama, I want to listen to when you got tenure again.” (My heart, it melts!)

We celebrated at a local Italian bakery.  S had cannolis for the first time at his friend I’s birthday party at daycare this week, and apparently cried when he couldn’t have seconds.  I gave him the choice between ice cream and cannolis, and he chose cannolis, but then once we got there wound up more interested in the fruit cake and chocolate mousse.  What could I say… eat your heart out, kiddo!  Maybe we’ll do this again if I ever get promoted to full professor. 🙂 Here’s the photographic evidence:

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Friends, SO MUCH LIFE has happened on the tenure track. In case you’ve missed the tally along the line, here’s the cliffs notes version of what didn’t go into my tenure packet…

Year 1: Adopt a dog! Get married!
Year 2: Start infertility testing. Last grandparent dies. Get pregnant! Buy a house! Baby girl dies in the middle of the second trimester.
Year 3: Lots of infertility/loss testing/treatment. Get pregnant again! 
Year 4: Baby boy S is born!
Year 5: Start trying for #2. Miscarriage. Father dies suddenly. Miscarriage. Mother has major surgery #1. Start recurrent loss testing.
Year 6: Pregnancy #5. Mother has major surgery #2. Baby boy L is born!
Year 7: Somehow… tenure!!!

It’s been quite a ride, and since I’ve been busy thanking everyone who helped me along the way this week, I wanted to make sure to give you all a big, giant THANK YOU.  As I look back down that list, I would definitely not have made it through years 3-6 without this outlet.  I am so grateful to those of you who have been with me, cheering me on, for part or all of this journey.  It’s been a wild ride, but I couldn’t be more grateful to be where I am now, and to have met such amazing people along the way.

Tenure/Baby Update

This is a big month for tenure and baby!

Tenure first: the university-level committee has now had two meetings about my tenure case, one on its own and one where they brought in my department to discuss any questions they have with them.  That latter meeting took place on Friday.  Afterwards, my chair sent me a formal, uninformative email basically telling me that the meeting had taken place but that they couldn’t officially vote because one of the committee members couldn’t be at the meeting, but that everything was recorded for the absent committee member and we should find out the outcome after March break.  However, after that I got an email from my awesome faculty mentor — she was actually elected to the university-level committee (for the third time) this year, and while she has had to recuse herself from voting on my case because of her role as mentor, she is present for all the meetings.  In her email, she congratulated me for making it past the university-level committee!  I replied to her and was basically like, “Um, thanks… but did I?” and then she was all like, “Oh, oops, I guess they won’t officially tell you the vote until they can record the absent member’s vote, but um, basically, yeah.”  So, thanks to my faculty mentor spilling the beans, I now know that the vote from the present members was very positive (which my chair confirmed when I mentioned it to him today).  So, unofficial yay!!!  As I mentioned in my last post, this is basically the last major hurdle — if both my department and the university-level committee vote favorably, then the odds of my case getting overturned by the university president or board of trustees are astronomically low.  I still won’t get the final, official, irrevocable decision until sometime around Memorial Day, but I’m breathing a sight of relief to know that nothing weird is happening at the level of the university committee.

Baby: He is four months old!  The transformation from three months to four months is just phenomenal.  He’s like a different baby — so interactive, so giggly, so much more aware, and just clearly soaking up so much about the world.  I remember this phase from when S was little — it’s the phase where they still can’t do much, but they are so curious and get bored so easily that we basically hop around the house to different “stations” to keep him from getting fussy: the play mat in his room, the bouncy chair while I cook in the kitchen, a blanket on the living room floor, sitting up in the boppy while I fold laundry in our bedroom, etc.  He is also starting to tolerate the car better, and loves to go on outings (especially now that he can stay awake for longer, and now that I can wear him facing out).  We go to the university for various baby-friendly events, we’ve gone to the grocery store, and shopping for clothes for me and the kids (two of my old pairs of pants gave out spectacularly in the same week, which left me with exactly one pair of non-dress pants that sort of fit and didn’t have holes in it).  We haven’t been able to do much walking outdoors because it’s been cold and snowy, but the forecast is nice for this week so I’m hopeful.  I’ve also mostly mastered handling both kids after picking up S from daycare (not really any trick to it — honestly it’s just easier as L gets bigger).  It’s so much fun to take the kids to the local children’s museum or the library together at the end of the day, and mostly S has been really well behaved when he knows I have to take care of L too.

That said, everything changes next week, when L starts daycare!  It’s such a bittersweet transition.  On the one hand, I’m very, very ready to get back to using my brain to think about physics again and to have multiple-hour stretches in which to concentrate on a task.  On the other hand, I will miss the special time with my sweet and amazing little baby, and I find it so hard to think of him getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the busy daycare environment.  Fortunately, we’ve worked out a plan to keep him in half-day daycare until the fall semester.  For the six weeks that I am teaching this spring, we’ll shuffle our schedules so that I’ll pick him up M/W/F afternoons, and my husband will pick him up T/Th afternoons (which is when I teach).  Then in the summer, I’ll just work half days. I worked half-days all summer when S was a baby, and I LOVED it.  I was super-productive in my 4.5-hours of daycare time, and then I still got to spend most of the day with S.  I am really looking forward to doing the same with L this summer.  I feel so fortunate to have the flexibility to arrange my schedule this way — I’m basically getting a Canadian or Nordic-style parental leave despite being in the US.  My babies are only babies once, and the closeness with them at this age is so intense and so important, and I am grateful that I’m able to devote so much time and energy to my baby while also keeping up with the career that I love (and that I know will sustain me as they grow and need less and less of my time).

Basically, I’m on cloud nine these days.  Even though there are difficult moments during the days (and nights!!!), overall I am just so appreciative of everything that I have in my life right now: a wonderful husband who shares all the good and bad parts of parenting, a great job to come back to very soon, and above all these two wonderful tiny humans with whom I am sharing the most remarkable relationships of my life.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I am just enjoying L’s babyhood so much more than I did with S, mostly because my anxiety level is so much lower.  When little old ladies at the grocery store tell me to savor every moment, I can honestly smile back at them and tell them that I do.  (I mean, clearly not every moment, but most of them!)  It’s been a long road to get here, and I mourn the little lives that I never got to know, especially the daughter that I didn’t get to raise, but I am above all grateful for everything that I have — particularly S and L.  What amazing little humans, and what a wonderful family we have.

One big step closer to tenure

Guess what?  My department unanimously voted in favor of my tenure case today.  Hooray!!!

To back up a bit, there are four steps to tenure at my university: the department recommendation, an “advisory” committee of faculty from across the university, the university president, and the board of trustees.  In practice, the department and the university committee are the two major hurdles: if you have positive recommendations at both of those levels, it is extremely unlikely (though not impossible) that you’d be denied at the president/board level.  It makes sense — after all, your department presumably contains the people on campus who know the most about your research and how to evaluate it, while the other faculty are the ones who can look at the big picture of your research, teaching, and service within the broader context of how the university functions, and keep an eye on any shenanigans that your department might be undergoing.

I knew that my department had to make its decision and give its recommendation to the university-level committee by February 15, but I didn’t know when they were going to make the actual vote until this morning.  Since I’m still on parental leave, I haven’t been around the department much (I’m currently making trips to campus about twice a week for a couple hours at a time to meet with my thesis students, and that’s about it).  This morning I drove to campus to walk our dog while pushing baby L in the stroller (campus is only 3 mi from our house, and it’s a nice place to walk with actual sidewalks, unlike the area around our house which is on a busy road).  As I was loading baby, dog, and stroller back into the car at the end of our walk, my department chair walked out to the parking lot, offered to hold the dog’s leash while I juggled baby and stroller, and nonchalantly told me, “Oh, by the way, the department will be meeting to discuss and vote on your tenure case this afternoon.  Is it OK if I send you an email about it afterwards?”  I was like, “Um, yes, please don’t keep me in suspense!”  Then he cooed at the baby and the baby gave him a chubby-cheeked grin that was totally adorable (good job buttering up the chair, baby!).

I mostly managed to keep my mind off of it for the rest of the day — childcare is a great distraction.  I picked up S from daycare at 4, and took both kids to our local children’s museum, which was lovely (L fell asleep in the baby carrier on my chest, leaving me free to engage with S).  But as soon as my husband finished working and my kid-juggling responsibilities eased up, I was glued to my phone waiting for the email, which came in around 6:30pm.  It was short, just informing me that the department had voted 3-0-0 in favor of my case, saying congratulations, and reminding me that the university committee was the next step.  Phew!!!  I immediately decided to take the big kid out for ice cream to celebrate while my husband put the baby down for his last nap of the day (and yes, we brought ice cream home for my husband).  I texted my mom and three friends to let them know the news, and enjoyed the congratulations rolling in.  It sounds like the celebration will drag out a bit, since one friend offered to bring dessert by this weekend to help celebrate, and another wants to celebrate next weekend — since my birthday falls in the middle of the two weekends, I find this a most desirable state of affairs!

So, that’s the news!  As I’ve mentioned before, tenure has been this big heavy weight hanging over my head, and it’s such a relief to have successfully cleared the first hurdle.  Please send good vibes to the university tenure committee, which will meet to evaluate my case sometime in the next couple of months!

Tenure/Pregnancy update: End-of-summer edition

30 weeks pregnant and all was well at our monthly ultrasound this week.  Little guy is bopping around in there, currently lying sideways across my belly.  My husband and I have settled on a default name (unless we come up with something we like better by the time he is born) and are setting up the nursery.  I don’t remember at what point we did all this with S, but I think it was later.  I do remember that this was the point in my pregnancy with S at which our dear friends offered to throw us a shower, and I broke down in tears and just couldn’t handle the idea of planning for a living baby (the upshot was that we agreed on a “sip-and-see” a few months after S was born, which was a lovely compromise).  Some days I still can’t handle the idea of planning for another living baby (how lucky can we possibly hope to be???), and some days that’s all I can think about.  I still feel plenty of pregnancy impostor syndrome — like, this pregnancy isn’t actually going to last, there’s not actually going to be a new baby, it could all come crashing down at any moment.  But I’m at least able to act more normal this time around, mostly not responding weirdly to people’s innocent inquiries about whether this is our first (standard answer: “No.  We have a 2.5-year-old at home”) or jibes about how we’ll have our hands full with two boys (standard answer: “I sure hope so!”).

On the tenure side, I submitted my materials to my department today!  Hooray!  Now comes a long, long wait.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have a final answer by May 2019, and if I’m not lucky, I’ll have a final answer by December 2019.  The big steps in the process are:

  • This fall the department solicits letters from experts in my field around the country/world who can comment on my research portfolio.  This process typically takes a couple of months, as I understand — it happens in two stages, the first of which involves sending letters asking people if they will agree to write letters, and the second of which involves sending letters asking them to actually write the letters and then waiting for the responses.
  • Hopefully by the end of fall, but possibly later if there are delays, my department will have collected all of the external letters and will meet to go over all of my materials and vote on my case.
  • After my department has made its recommendation, presumably sometime in the spring, my case will go to a university-wide faculty committee for evaluation.  This committee currently includes members from the departments of English, Music, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Economics, Sociology, Chemistry, and Biology — there’s also one from Earth and Environmental Sciences, but she can’t vote on my case (unfortunately, since she’s the most qualified to evaluate it) because she’s officially my faculty mentor.  I go to the end of the line for the university-wide committee this year, since most faculty start at the university in the fall, but I started in the spring, so I’m on a one-semester-late review schedule.  This is the main reason for uncertainty in when I’ll get an answer about my tenure case — they will review my case in the spring if they have time, but if they are overwhelmed with fall cases they aren’t obligated to review it until next fall semester.
  • After the university-wide committee votes on my case (if the vote is positive), it goes to the Board of Trustees, and then the university president.  If I’ve gotten positive reviews at each stage up until this point, it’s usually a rubber stamp at the upper levels, but there was a case in recent memory that was positive at the department and university level but was overturned by the president, so there’s always the possibility that something weird will happen.  Since the Board of Trustees meets only a few times per year, this is another potential source of delay, depending on when the university-wide committee reviews my case.

After all of this, I’ll get a yes or no answer: either yes, I can keep my job essentially forever (barring unlikely circumstances like a major failure to meet my duties or major reorganization of the academic structure like eliminating my department), or no, I’m fired and I have to go look for another job.

It’s a long time to be in limbo, and many faculty find the uncertainty torturous.  My goal is just to try to relax and let the process play itself out, and allow myself to be distracted by the hopeful new addition to our family in November.  It’s the sort of setup that could either be really great (because I’ll be so busy with a new baby that I won’t have time to fret about tenure) or really awful (because being home with a new baby is psychologically challenging and so is waiting for news about your tenure case).

But either way, both of these big projects are looking like they’re in good shape at the moment, so I have to focus on that.  And now that I’ve turned in my materials, they have something else in common too: there’s essentially nothing I can do to change the outcome of either at this point.  The work I’m submitting for tenure has been done and documented, and this baby is baking away and the only thing I can do is to take care of myself and wait to see what happens.  I should avoid doing stupid things, like starting a feud in my department or suddenly becoming a binge drinker, but otherwise I have to accept that I have little to no control over the outcomes of either my pregnancy or my tenure case at this point.  And that’s hard for someone who likes to plan and act!  But if nothing else, my experience with pregnancy loss and infertility have given me plenty of practice at waiting, accepting lack of control, and dealing with difficult outcomes.  So, I’m pretty sure that whatever happens, we’ll make it through.

Academic post

I know most people who read my blog connect most to the pregnancy posts, but every once in a while I just need to write an unabashedly academic post — so feel free to skip, or just enjoy this insight into the wilds of life as a physical science professor.

This week, my first postdoc is leaving my university.  It is so very bittersweet.  He has been in my group for five years — I hired him on a two-year grant, and then when another 3-year NSF grant came through, I kept him on.  He had to switch fields to join my group, so had a steep learning curve, and at the time wasn’t really competitive for another job and wanted to stay, and since he was doing good work, I let him.  Let me say, for the record, I am SO glad I did.

The ways in which he has contributed to my research group and my department are countless.  There’s been the simple fact of having someone in my group thinking full-time about research and working on the tools and infrastructure that we’ve needed to push the whole group’s research forward into this decade.  He’s wonderful with the students, more approachable and less intimidating than I am, and yet still pushing them towards independence rather than coddling them.  And as a member of our department, he has been the sort of team player who is comfortable both leading and following — he has led some of our department’s most important equity and inclusion initiatives, including starting a journal club to discuss recent papers on STEM equity.  He has been an enthusiastic and reliable contributor to our department’s outreach program, including saving our bacon by filling in last-minute on more than one occasion.  He taught a class to gain experience and did a wonderful job.  He’s hosted an annual tamale-making party for the students (no faculty allowed).  When something needs to be done around the department, even if it’s not glamorous, he steps up — all while getting his work done and having a life outside of work.  He is exactly the sort of person I would hope for as a long-term colleague, and I am going to miss him so, so much.

His departure is bittersweet — as sad as I am that he is leaving, I am delighted for him because he got exactly the kind of job he wanted, and exactly the kind of job I think he’s going to kick butt at.  He will manage a facility and be a lab instructor at a tippy-top-ranked liberal arts college, which is just the sort of job he wanted.  He’ll be only 2.5 hours away from us by car, and I’ll see him at least ~twice a year since our department is part of a consortium with this department and a handful of others, so I won’t truly be losing him as a colleague.  It’s the best possible way his time with me could have ended.

His departure brings up so many thoughts and questions for me.  I know I might not get as lucky with every postdoc I ever hire, but having him has been so delightful and so symbiotically wonderful for his career and mine that it makes me want to do it again.  It also makes me think a bit wistfully about my choice to join a department with no PhD program.  I suspect that my experience with this postdoc is akin to the experience of a typical R1 faculty member with their best PhD students.  And it has been beautiful, and I suspect will form the basis of a very productive long-term collaboration between us (at any rate, he’ll be on all my group’s papers for the foreseeable future thanks to his work on our software capabilities).  I also have to recognize that he has made a significant contribution to my competitiveness for tenure.  I mean, I know some of that is thanks to my hard work — I wrote the grants that paid for him to be here, I wrote the proposals that got the initial data for his projects, I trained him to enter my field and I supervised and mentored his research and other work all the way along.  But man, has he paid me back, in spades.  He has been such a productive collaborator, generating papers, coming up with his own ideas, taking my group’s research in new directions, and bringing our code base back into cutting-edge territory, which I haven’t had time to work on with all the teaching and supervising I do. I mention a cool idea I thought of or heard about at a conference, and he makes it happen and improves it in ways I never would have thought of — and he also finds new tools and tries them out, which enriches all the research my group does.  It’s awesome.

I’m grateful to be in a department that welcomes and supports postdocs — not all liberal arts colleges have this culture.  But it does make me question, to some extent, whether the choice to take the liberal arts college route was really the right one for me.  On balance, I think so.  I am very, very happy with my balance of responsibilities here (especially teaching vs. research), and while I’d love to have more postdocs like this one, part of what has made having him here so special is that he is the only one I’ve had — I haven’t had to juggle mentoring five grad students and a postdoc, which means I’ve naturally been more involved with him, which I think has worked out well for both of us.

We just had our last research meeting EVER.  It was so sad, and so sweet.  We’d each gotten each other little gifts.  He got me a book about recent research on women in science and a cooperative board game for ages 2+ that I can play with my son and husband (um, he might have gotten to know me a little bit while he’s been here!).  I had commissioned a former art major / gen-ed student of mine to make an artsy sketch of the beautiful historic building that we work in, which I then framed — our building is a really special place to work (it’s featured on all of the publicity photos of our college, for example, but it’s also a functional part of the type of work that we do), and I figured that it might be nice for him to have a tangible reminder of the happy (I think) times he spent here, even as he moves on to new places and new adventures.  I didn’t want to give him something too personal, but did want to give him something that I thought might be meaningful to remind him of his time here — and help him decorate his new office.

So, with nothing but fondness and gratitude, I’m bidding him farewell this week.  His last day is Friday, and I’m taking the whole group out to lunch and then organizing an informal gathering for the whole department in the afternoon to send him off.  We will miss him, and I will always be very grateful for his many contributions and for the chance to know him and have him as a colleague.

Academic Pregnancy Timing

First, an update: we had our 10w ultrasound with MFM yesterday, and things are still looking great!  Little bean is growing right on schedule, nice strong heartbeat, and lots of movement.  It is just amazing how quickly this nugget is turning into something resembling a recognizable human — this week we could see arms, legs, head, profile, and even fingers.  Tomorrow I go for my first trimester bloodwork, including an NIPT screen.  I admit it: I’m falling in love with this bean in spite of myself, so I really hope I don’t get blindsided in the coming weeks.

I didn’t mention it in my last update, but one reason I was particularly relieved by this week’s ultrasound results is that the results last week showed a very small bleed around the gestational sac — the ultrasound tech downplayed it, and the midwife didn’t even mention it, but it was there.  Of course, it freaked me out.  So this week I grilled the ultrasound tech about whether he could see any sign of the bleed remaining, and he assured me that there was absolutely nothing to see.  So, it didn’t exist two weeks ago, was super-tiny last week (I had no vaginal bleeding at all), and this week it was gone.  I’m chalking this up to the down-side of all these extra ultrasounds, which is that this sort of thing probably happens all the time (which the first ultrasound tech and my mom have both sworn is true), but we would never have known if I wasn’t being monitored up the wazoo.  At any rate, it seems to have resolved on its own.

Now, the real point of the post.  It still seems early for me to be worrying about due date timing, but as I’m gearing up to start talking to my chair about this whole pregnancy thing in a couple of weeks, I want to prepare by writing down my thoughts.  I mentioned in my last post that a November due date is pretty much the worst possible pregnancy timing for a university professor — at least in the US, where maternity leave sucks.  My university offers a full semester of paid leave, which is actually pretty good by US standards.  But with a November due date, neither semester is a good time to take the leave.  If I take it in the fall semester, I’ll be sitting around twiddling my thumbs until November, and then I’d have to go back to teaching at the end of January when the baby would be only about 10 weeks old.  If I have a c-section, I won’t be medically cleared to go back to work at that point, I’d still be covered by FMLA, and I just really don’t want to put a 10-week-old in daycare (not to mention that our university daycare, where my son is enrolled, doesn’t accept infants until they are four months old!).  In a civilized country my husband might be able to take leave, but he gets literally no parental leave from his company (it is not covered by FMLA since they have less than 50 employees).  He can take vacation days, but that’s not enough to bridge the gap until the baby can start daycare in March.

Another possibility might be to try to power through the last few weeks of the fall semester with a newborn, and then take leave in the spring semester.  But there are a few problems with this one as well.  First, it’s technically not allowed by our university parental leave policy, which specifies that the semester of leave (which is only available to the “primary parent”) must be taken during the semester in which the baby is born or adopted.  Second, what if the baby comes early?  I can imagine powering through three weeks of the semester with a newborn… but not half the semester.  If (and that’s a big if) I could get around the university policy and convince them to let me take leave in the spring, I might be able to call in some favors and have other faculty cover my classes for a week or two, but it just so happens that in the fall I am scheduled to teach an upper-level (majors and masters students) course on my particular specialty, which literally nobody else at my university does, so it’s a bit ridiculous to expect my colleagues to teach a subject that they have no more clue about than the students.

Here I will point out that the “flexibility” of academia is in many ways a double-edged sword.  Yes, my daily schedule is pretty flexible, which is awesome, and it’s usually easy for me to leave early to pick up my son from daycare or arrive late after taking him to the doctor in the morning.  Except when it’s not.  If I’m scheduled to teach, I basically have to teach.  Maybe I can get someone to substitute for one of my intro-level courses, with a lot of advance notice, and maybe I can get away with canceling one class per semester, two at the maximum, but that’s about it.  The inflexibility of the start and end dates of the semester are another example.  In many other fields, it would be possible to move start/end dates of projects around, especially with as much advance notice as pregnancy provides.  But in academia, the semester is when it is, and you’re basically teaching for all of it or none of it.  Academics can’t schedule a random vacation week in the middle of April (seriously, it’s ridiculous for me to imagine just peace-ing out on my students to go to Jamaica for a week right now, much as I’d love to!).  Then there are long-term commitments that you can’t really back out on.  For example, I have been supervising a student for the past two years who is staying to write a masters thesis with me next year.  I can’t just tell him “nope, sorry, come back next year!” because academia doesn’t work that way.  And it would be super-unfair to him to try to get him to switch advisors at this point, since he has invested years into learning the methods and techniques and already has the bulk of his thesis work done.  So regardless of when I take parental leave next year, I will be supervising at least one and probably three theses in the spring semester, even if I’m also taking care of a newborn full-time.  And my main research facility’s annual proposal deadline is always in April, regardless of whether or not I am on parental leave, so either I suck it up and find a way to put in proposals or I just don’t get any new data for my research that year.

But, back to my teaching dilemma.  So, I think I have actually come up with the least awful solution — the problem is that I don’t know if my department/university will allow me to do it.  It turns out that the classes I’m scheduled to teach next year have a huge amount of overlap with the classes taught by the one research faculty member in my department.  He can’t teach my advanced class, but he taught a different advanced class that uses a lot of similar tools and techniques just last year — we could definitely put together a hybrid course where I taught the first half of the semester and he taught the second half.  Then, in the spring, we would swap and he’d teach the first half of the semester while I’d teach the second half, after the baby is old enough to go to daycare.  It works out perfectly in terms of his course load (which is lower than a normal faculty member’s), and also minimizes impact on the department curriculum since it would only involve canceling his gen-ed class that he’s scheduled to teach in the spring semester.  Gen-eds are the easiest to cancel, because they aren’t required for any major and we always offer several per year so students can just take a different one.  If they had to cancel my fall class, it would be a huge monkey wrench for curriculum planning, for various reasons that I won’t go into (planning the curriculum for the department seems to be a major logic puzzle that changes parameters every single year).  I don’t know for sure that this particular faculty member would be on board with my plan, but I definitely would if I were in his shoes — I think it’s a pretty good deal to teach for two half-semesters instead of a single full semester, and they’re both classes that he’s taught recently and wouldn’t have to do much prep work for.

So, that’s the proposal I’m hoping to float by my chair when I am finally up for discussing it with him.  I honestly don’t know what he’ll say.  One thing that gives me hope is that just a few days ago I had lunch with my most awesome female mentor from a closely related department (who is a full professor and just finished a stint as department chair, and has served on every university committee multiple times).  I did tell her about my pregnancy, and my worry about figuring out the course schedule, and before I even had a chance to tell her my idea she was just immediately all like “Well, you will teach two half-courses, one in the fall and one in the spring, and your department will deal,” like it was the most obvious thing in the world.  So, at least I know she’s in my corner, and my idea is not totally crazy.  And I really do think it is the best way to minimize the impact of this leave timing on our department’s curriculum, the baby, and me.

So, that’s the scoop.  I’ll continue to mull it over, and then the plan is to talk to my chair in about two weeks, once the NIPT results are back and I’ve had the NT ultrasound to make sure that everything is still looking good pregnancy-wise.  There’s not much urgency, so I could technically keep waiting, but for one thing my belly is already starting to pop (I guess being on pregnancy #5 will do that to you!), and for another thing I know that once I have a plan in place it will help me chill out and not stress quite as much, which I would really like to be able to do.  Then I can return to stressing about my tenure packet, which is due in exactly the same week as this baby!  Again, I fully recognize how lucky I am to have these sorts of problems: to be at the point where I have done enough high-quality work to be able to (mostly) confidently submit a tenure packet, and to be at the point where I can reasonably hope that I might be able to welcome another little one to our family in the near future.  It’s an exciting time of life, and I really don’t want to mess it up!

Still Looking Good

Since my last post, I’ve had two ultrasounds: my last with the RE, and my first as a new OB patient with the local OB.  Everything is still looking good — growing right on track, nice strong heartbeat, and I even got to see those first little twitchy movements on the ultrasound today.  My official due date is Nov 7, though I’m currently measuring two days ahead, which puts me somewhere around 9w right now (I was measuring 9w0d today, though according to LMP/EDD I’m 8w5d).

The weird thing is, I felt totally calm until after the ultrasound today, and then I got all shaky and weepy and was barely able to hold back tears while I was talking with the new midwife in the practice during my appointment.  She must think I’m nuts — everything looks perfect, and I was an emotional wreck anyway.  I should have been thrilled.  I’m honestly not sure I can explain why I was so weepy today.  Yeah, yeah, pregnancy hormones and all that… but I think it’s also just because with everything I’ve been through, pregnancy is so darn stressful, even when things look good.  In fact, especially when things look good, because I’m an expert at handling losses at this point, but I also know that the later I go, the harder it will be if this pregnancy ends.  There’s the fear of getting attached, the fear of getting hurt as much as I was hurt when my daughter died.  And, let me tell you, when that little nubbin was kicking its little arm and leg stumps on the ultrasound this afternoon, I was amazed and a little in love in spite of myself.  Just dreaming that this might work and we might get to add another baby to our family… it’s so big, and so incredible, and I’m just afraid to even start to believe that it might happen.  Hence the tears and shakiness.  This is wonderful, guys, but it’s also really intense.

I mean, the plus side of almost losing it in front of the midwife is that when I asked if I could come back in two weeks instead of five for a heartbeat check, she didn’t even hesitate — and she also offered to let me come back as often as I need to for reassurance.  I really don’t think I would have been able to stay sane waiting 5 weeks to know that everything was OK.  They might consider me a normal (if geriatric) OB patient, but I am pretty far from emotionally normal, clearly.

She did try to reassure me with the old line about how “a normal heartbeat at this gestational age means that you have a less than 5% chance of miscarriage,” but I put the kibosh on that.  I told her (gently, I think) that those numbers don’t really mean anything to me since losing a pregnancy at 18 weeks (and I didn’t even add that they almost certainly don’t apply to me, since 2nd and 3rd trimester losses are highly correlated and MFM told me I have a significant risk of placental issues in all my pregnancies).  I have long since stopped expecting doctors to have any idea about what it is like to lose pregnancy after pregnancy in the first and second trimesters.  I do appreciate it when they try, but I sort of feel like whenever I’m feeling up to it, it’s a service to the others who will come after me if I try to give them some insight into what it feels like and what is and is not reassuring, so I’m glad I spoke up a bit today.

Anyway, next week is my intake appointment with MFM, along with the bloodwork for NIPT and the other standard first-trimester testing, and then the following week I go back for a quick check-in with my OB, and then it’ll be time for the 12w ultrasound.  So, at least I have weekly opportunities for reassurance over the next few weeks to help me stay sane.

If I am lucky enough to make it through the first trimester, I have to start worrying about the fact that my pregnancy is pretty much at the worst possible timing for an academic, but that’s a subject for another post.  There’s nothing I can do about it now, other than trying (and failing) not to think about it, because it would really make me feel a lot better to have a plan but I can’t make one until I’m ready to tell my department chair that I’m pregnant.  I mean, after four perfectly-timed academic pregnancies in a row, it figures that the awfully timed one would be the one that sticks, amirite?  I’m also trying not to freak out about the fact that this baby and my tenure packet are due exactly the same week.  But hey, cross that bridge when I come to it, right?  These are really very good problems to have, in the grand scheme of things.

And that’s the update!  Hopefully, my updates will be similarly boring and normal from here on out.  Wish me luck!

I win!

Guys, I just won a pretty prestigious award for junior faculty in the physical sciences!  I got a phone call about it this morning, but I can’t tell anyone about it yet because they don’t officially announce the winners until February, so I’m telling you because this blog is anonymous enough that it’s still basically keeping the secret!  I was allowed to tell my department chair, and I also told my husband, who took S and me out for cupcakes at the local bakery after dinner tonight to celebrate.  Yay!

It’s really nice to get major recognition for your research and teaching, of course.  It also makes me a little bit wistful… would I be doing this well professionally if my childbearing had gone as planned and I already had the 2-3 kids we were hoping for by now?  But I also feel fortunate to have this amazing career that I love that can go well even when fertility isn’t going well, in addition to an amazing husband and son who fill my life with love even when the professional side is tough.

I also want to give an anonymous shout-out to the people who manage this award.  Applicants have exactly one year of eligibility, based on when they started their faculty job, and mine fell right at the end of my parental leave with my son.  During my year of eligibility, I tried to get a proposal together, but I was struggling with a non-sleeping little infant who had only just started childcare for a few hours a day.  When he came down with an ear infection and then had an allergic reaction to amoxycillin the week before the deadline, I knew it was basically hopeless to get a decent proposal together.  Fortunately, I have a friend who won the award a couple of years ago, and she clued me in that I could ask for a deferral of my eligibility to the following year because of my parental leave.  I asked for the deferral, they immediately said yes, I applied the next year, and I was selected!  Hooray for family-friendly policies!

So, I’m on a bit of a high right now.  It turns out that I’m the first person to ever win this award from my institution.  It’s making me feel pretty good about the whole tenure thing, which is also nice.  Persistence clearly pays off in science, so it’s got to pay off in fertility too… right?

Brief Tenure Update

As I wait for the endometrial biopsy Friday and the follow-up visit with the RE, I thought I’d give a (sorta) brief follow-up update on my tenure saga.

After all my angst, my 5th-year pre-tenure review happened promptly and smoothly.  At my university it involves an official letter summarizing the department’s evaluation and a one-on-one conversation with my department chair.  Both were glowingly positive.  The conversation with the chair may have made me blush a little bit.  It was basically my chair talking for maybe ten minutes about how great I am at my job.  Then, when he asked if I had questions, I was like, “Um, thank you, this is all wonderful.  But if I had to concentrate on one thing this year to make my tenure case stronger, what would it be?” and he said, “Really, there’s nothing.  Just don’t let your teaching evaluations slide, because the university-level committee gets hung up on trajectories, and yours started out so high that it’s hard to show an upward trajectory.”

So, yay!  But also, ack!  My department has never yet officially told me anything I can do to improve, and it constantly freaks me out — because everyone can improve in some way, of course, and having no direction is disconcerting.  And also because I watched a close friend go through a horrific tenure debacle last year in a closely related physical science department, during which she worked really hard on fixing the things they told her to fix (mostly related to teaching) and then after a whole long saga her department ultimately denied her tenure on the basis of something they hadn’t told her to fix (purely research).  There were many major WTF moments during her case, and it really soured me on my institution (particularly the offending department), and has made me far less trusting of the tenure process and some of the people at my institution.  I’m pretty sure that my department is a heck of a lot more functional than my friend’s former department, and that my case is a heck of a lot less borderline than hers was, but still, I worry (she and her husband are now happily employed at a small college back in the Midwest, closer to their families, so her story thankfully has a happy ending).

And, what about all my angst about thinking that my chair was going to recommend that I use my extra year before going up for tenure?  It didn’t amount to anything, or at least nothing that I could decode.  We talked about the timeline a little, and he said that the main thing was to make sure that everyone is on the same page about my timeline, but that he wanted to make sure I understood that I only get one chance to go up for tenure, which I assured him was very clear to me (for the non-academics: the tenure decision is up-or-out, in the sense that if you are awarded tenure then you are more or less guaranteed a job for life at your university, but if you are denied tenure then you are fired and you have one year to find a job before you are unemployed).  My impression was that he was basically covering his / the department’s butt, to make sure that I couldn’t come back later if my tenure case was denied and say that I didn’t understand that going up early meant I couldn’t also go up on time.  Which I get.  Everything else about the review pointed to the conclusion that my department thinks I’m doing great and doesn’t foresee an issue with letting me go up “early,” but they can’t officially say that because it would look like a promise that I will get tenure next year, which they can’t officially make.

One bizarre thing about this whole interaction is that we have a new chair this year, who also happens to be the second-youngest member of the department (after me) and also the person with whom I am most friendly.  So it’s been awfully weird interacting in this very official way with a friend, and we have both had to carefully monitor our verbal filters in a way that we do not normally do.  He’s usually the first person I go to for advice on sticky situations or to kvetch about some problem in the department, and I am usually really appreciative of his honest and thoughtful advice and perspective.  But as chair, there are things that he’s not allowed to say, and also things that he is obligated to say that he wouldn’t normally say.  And there are things that I would normally want to ask him that I am no longer allowed to ask him (for example, I am no longer allowed to discuss with him which scientists at other universities to solicit for external reviews of the research portion of my tenure case, which stinks because he is the person who works closest to my field and also the person in my department who has been through the tenure process most recently and I would really love his advice).  It even came up towards the end of the review when he gave me some official-sounding line about how we don’t have an official junior faculty mentoring arrangement in the department but that I should feel free to go to any of the faculty for advice (I think this is an awful way to “mentor” junior faculty, by the way, but that’s a subject for another post), and I said that I always appreciated his advice and then there was this moment where we both acknowledged that it stinks that he is now chair and can’t give me unfiltered advice when I really need it.  Ah, well… this is one of the down-sides to being in a tiny department.  The flip side, of course, is that my department chair is a friend who I am confident has my best interests at heart and genuinely wants to keep me as a long-term colleague.  He’s inexperienced, but capable and ethical.  It could definitely be worse.

And that’s the update!  I now have written evidence that my department thinks I am doing a great job, and verbal assurance that there are no obvious weak spots in my tenure portfolio that I should try to fix in the next year.  I definitely have an agenda of things I would like to get done before I submit my portfolio, which I briefly outlined with my chair.  I think it’s achievable and will represent a body of work that I feel proud of.  I’m feeling good about going up on my desired timeline.  And, honestly, I’m feeling much more positive about my job than I have for a while.  It’s amazing what a little bit of acknowledgement and appreciation can do for your motivation.  I’ve felt more creative and committed to my department.  During our meeting, my chair included a little pep talk about how the department loves the work I’ve been doing and how it seems like my interests and skills are really well aligned with the department mission so I should just keep doing what I want to do and try not to worry too much about external pressures (like tenure criteria, I guess).  And I do feel like I’ve grown into the position — I’ve gotten my sea legs with teaching, and I’ve reached some sort of equilibrium with finding a research advising style that is effective without being too draining.  I can almost feel the breath of fresh air that I felt when I got my first faculty job offer — suddenly, I felt freedom to define my own research program rather than worrying about working on projects that would get me letters from specific superstars in my field.  Tenure is also supposed to grant that sort of freedom, and I can almost feel the burst of creativity and self-direction that is supposed to come with tenure.  I have ideas for ways to experiment with teaching that I’ve been afraid to try because they’d introduce unpredictability into my student evaluations.  I have ideas for research directions that are a little wackier than I was comfortable with when I needed to show that I could get proposals funded consistently.  Now, if I can just keep my teaching evaluations from sliding this year, maybe I’ll be able to take advantage of that freedom and space for trying new things!