Monday, January 25, 2010

Better marriages for working women

Interesting article today in the NYT on working women and female breadwinners....

It turns out that women who work and contribute to the family income (or are the sole breadwinners) are less likely to get divorced than women who do not work.   The assumption that these women have more flexibility in choosing their mates and are more likely to select someone supportive of their education, aspirations, etc.  Plausible....

It also pointed out that women have a hard time ceding control household/parenting tasks that their partners are doing.  Totally true for me.  I used to pick out outfits for kiddo #1 and prepack them in bags when I went out of town.  Partly to make sure he matched and partly to make sure required items like onesies were not forgotten or that nice dress clothes were not worn to daycare.  I've definitely loosened up here, partly due to the realization that those teachers know how things go when mom is out of town, and partly because kiddo #1 now picks out the clothes to be worn, so combinations I often would not pick go out the door on a regular basis.  I try to follow the rule that you can ask someone to do it but not tell them how to do it, although when bleach is used on colors or something similar I do feel like I have the right to interject.  I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a control freak at times.

 The other moderating factor for me is daycare.  I realize that they operate differently then at home.  Babies/kids fall asleep differently, eat differently and generally behave differently.  But that is OK as long as everyone's needs are met and things are done in a loving/appropriate way.  When you have 9 infants and 3 adults things are going to be different than 1 on 1. On the other hand, toddler learn to nap on cots and eat independently sooner.  They learn to climb stairs and start dressing skills earlier than I would teach them.  There is some positive peer pressure that encourages development.  With kiddo #2 I take this all in stride realizing the positive effects.  Anyway, I digress, but when someone else takes care of your kids, either dad or daycare or a nanny, it is different than what you would do, but that is usually OK.

So I guess one thing we can say is that women scientists/engineers are less likely to divorce than some women, at least based on this article.  And if they do divorce, at least they have a means to support themselves, right?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Just when you get your head above water

It's my fault... Yesterday I was blissfully thinking that things were moving in to a slightly less crazy phase of time.  My major service venture is 99% complete (and the remaining 1% is not on me).  I was moving at a leisurely pace on finishing my book chapter that was due 1 week ago.  I mean printing out the "final" references to read for my book chapter and re-tagging my notes.  I even took an evening to indulge in my favorite TV shows.  Then it hit, just as I was getting cocky, winter time illness (in kiddo #2).  He woke up happy, but those droopy eyes and flushed cheeks said "fever", and sure enough my instinct was right.  Morning meeting moved to a teleconference, trip to the ped (the dreaded "virus" diagnosis), etc.  By the way teleconferencing with two barking dogs and a toddler screaming "Mommy", whenever you put him down makes it hard to keep your train of thought (even with the mute button on), especially while your toddler is trying to edit important spreadsheets that you forgot to close and your collaborators didn't email you the meeting handouts (even though you specifically asked them to).  Ah, well, at least tomorrow is Saturday and hopefully the fever will be gone Monday, along with my jump on next week.  I did make it in during nap to interview a graduate school candidate (for another department) and only now am finding the remains of snack/lunch on my sweater.  (Mental note, change clothes first next time...)
Happy Friday and  hoping this is not the downward spiral of winter illness that kiddo #1 had around this age.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Female Scientists Do More Housework

Another very interesting article about the work/life balance challenge from the Chronicle.  Basically women spend more time doing house work than men, even when they spend the same number of hours per week working.  Interesting...  We always thought this was the case, so nice to have some numbers behind it.

At my house, we have fairly equitable division of labor.  There are a few things we quibble about from time to time but generally pretty equal in most regards.  However, I will say that the mental division of labor is another story.  Who worries about schools, activities, gifts for birthday parties, etc.  That would be me.  My spouse is great about doing things, taking the kids to the doctor (when sick), making dinner (notice I didn't say cooking), meeting a repair/delivery person, etc.  However, he doesn't schedule doctor's appointments, research the best pediatric dentists in the area, find out where to go for swimming lessons, birthday parties, etc.  So this is where I feel the inequity lies.  Time I could be spending thinking great scientific thoughts instead goes into, when will I remember to get all the forms together to register for school or where should we hold kiddo's birthday party.  I always thought I would avoid mommy brain, but the truth is that I do think about kid stuff at work and talk to people at work about it rather than science, not all the time be sometimes.

It's easy to hire people to do stuff for you, relatively speaking.  We have a house cleaner who comes every other week.  We've had one since we started faculty positions.  I hate scrubbing toilets and with 2 incomes, we can afford it.  It's a lot harder to hire someone to worry about all the little things and chit chat with other moms to get the details.

I'm grateful to have a job that is flexible so I can leave early to take the kids to the doctor or stay home when they are sick.  Our solutions is that one of us teaches Monday/Wednesday and the other Tuesday/Thursday. This was when things come up, it is usually the one who isn't teaching that has to cover that day (e.g. sick kids).  It's not perfect, but it works pretty well.  As one colleague told me, "just don't teach at the same or adjacent times" or you will be passing sick kids to each other in the hall between classes.  This was sage advice.  I'm not really sure what lawyers or physicians do with sick kids, since they often can't cancel court or patients.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Leaky pipeline

Here is another article in the Chronicle today about the pipeline at Penn.

The main point was that just putting women and minorities into the pipeline as starting assistant professors is not sufficient.  Without some changes in the way academia operates, we will continue to lose more than our fair share of women and minorities along the way and the impact on the full professorship and administrative roles will still remain far lower than those hired at junior levels.  Has some very interesting comments about the role of pay, time (read domestic responsibilities), emotional resources, and recognition on women and minorities.

The best line was "we need to model livable lives for our students".  This for me was the kicker when I though about going into academia.  I looked at the female faculty in the department where I did my undergraduate work (granted a major pressure cooker) and thought, I don't want their lives.  Many of them were single or divorced and childless.  I don't want to say that those things are bad for everyone, but for me they were deal breakers.  I didn't want a job that meant not being able to sustain a marriage or a family.  So modeling a life style that others might want (and actually having it too) is key to getting more women and minorities into STEM.  Making tenure and beyond a more "sustainable" process will make life better for everyone in academe.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Great article today about women breadwinners (in the Chronicle) and how they still don't make as much money as men (in the same field with the same education).   You can argue that women in some fields are younger (assistant prof versus full prof), but here's the rub:
"When compared with men's pay at the same level of educational attainment, women's pay is even more unequal: Women earn only 67 cents to their male counterparts' $1. That difference remains steady at every level of education.."
 Why is this?  Some of the arguments focus on how women are likely to be in lower paying specialties (primary care physicians versus surgeons), but I think it is more than that.  It may also be too that women are more interested in qualify of life (work/family balance) than money so they opt for situations that give them more flexibility rather than more pay.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  I think it is bad that women are underpaid and don't have opportunities to advance!  On the other hand, I think that if women are truly choosing family time over more money, that is OK if that is what they want.

There are certainly situations where I see very successful individuals (research superstars, administrators, etc.) and I think wow that person is amazing.  Then I think, but on the other hand I don't want their lifestyle (too much travel, working 24/7, etc.)  I don't want to do bad research or not have any opportunities for leadership/advancement, but I don't want to give up evenings with my kids or be gone all the time.  Travel is something that appeals to me less and less.  Whether it is missing the family, the prep work required for the house to run smoothly while I'm gone (not to mention childcare if spouse is gone too), missed work, and the joys of flying these day I would rather not travel too much.  I obviously go to some conferences, give some seminars, and serve on review panels but I try to work on saying no.  How will this impact my earnings long term, hard to say.  I've been a co-breadwinner my whole career.  Sometimes I have made more money and sometimes my husband has made more than me.  Really for us the big issues are affording a house in a good (close) school district and being able to pay for high quality childcare.  But, would I take a job for double the money that cut my kid time in half, probably not.

Ah well, back to making the most of my last 3 week days before the semester starts...

Tentative syllabus - check
First round of edits on two papers from former students - check  (need to do second round on 1 paper)
Grant reviews - started
Book chapter - lit review in progress
Regulatory protocol - submitted
Major service work - moving along nicely
Paper reviews - To be started (need to work on saying no!!!)
Annual review - almost done
Lab freezer - former students samples - sorted/removed

Fairly productive break all in all, but my to-do list seems to be growing rather than shrinking.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back in the office

I am back!!! I say that with joy and gladness in my voice.  I love the kiddos, but 11 uninterrupted days without house guests or travel was a long time in cold weather.  We successfully navigated the shopping/gift buying/wrapping (the UPS man now thinks I'm crazy with gifts from out of town and online shopping) and celebrating with family.  The kiddos loved their presents and Santa had cookies (albeit the kind you take out of a box and bake).  We enjoyed local venues for kid entertainment and played in the snow.   But, thankfully I now have sometime to focus on work and get something done (which did not happen over the holidays).  And, we have 2 blissful weeks until classes start on the 19th.

December was a month of extraordinary craziness (even for me) the perfect storm of travel, end of the semester holidays and unexpected service commitments.  I agreed to serve in a leadership role for an important committee and the amount of time spent behind the scenes to get all the ducks lined up was amazingly more than anticipated.  Things are moving in a very positive direction, so I am hopeful that it all paid off, but it was much harder than I anticipated when I said yes.  The lesson I have learned is that you have to get everyone informed on the same page before the meeting so that they can all feel good about the decision being made and get a chance to things through/process the situation before hand.  Not sure how I feel about leadership/administrative roles after all this but I have definitely learned a lot about herding cats.

My goals for the new year are:
1) to have a more organized office
2) work on saying no more often
3) work out at least 2 times per week
4) focus on the big picture and what really matters

And for the next two weeks (before classes start), I need to edit two papers from students who graduated already, write a book chapter that is due in mid-Jan, and review some grants.  Oh and come up with a syllabus for my class (last taught a few years ago).

What are your New Years Goals?