Monday, December 3, 2007

The Academic Job Process

Right now I'm deep in the middle of job application season. Deadlines for jobs I'm interested in have stretched (so far) from the first one due on October 10th, to ones due on New Years Eve. I have 4 more applications to send in this year which I plan to do soon (before the Christmas break). All in all by the end of the year I will have applied for a relatively modest 19 jobs (3 postdocs, 15 junior faculty positions and 1 very cool sounding public outreach job). So far I've been doing OK at not getting too stressed out by all this. I'll admit to my moments, but in general I've been doing OK. I decided earlier in the year that my daughter was more important than any job, so that while I would like to continue in astronomy I wasn't going to kill myself over job applications to the detriment of my short term sanity. We'll see how this all pans out! I sometimes wonder how many applications I would have put in if I had not had a baby this year - I think definitely there would have been more postdoc jobs in there. I also sometimes muse on the "urban legends" I hear about every job in astronomy (or at least the faculty postings) getting one or two hundred applications! Does that mean I need to apply to one to two hundred jobs to be sure of getting one. And where do all these hundreds of applications come from anyway?

This all makes me wonder too how much of a big waste of time this is for the field as a whole. Most of the time references are asked for up front, so for most of these jobs my recommenders have to send in a letter even if my application will never be seriously considered. I'm sure it's not that much effort once they've written the first letter, but it still has to be addressed correctly and sent in - so it must take some time. And the conventional wisdom seems to be to apply for more jobs - even ones which you don't think you have much chance of getting - on a sort of "just try it and see" basis. Now I don't have any brilliant ideas for reform, but it just seems to me that this isn't an efficient use of time either for the applicants, or their referees. Must be a lot of work for the job search committees too...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pumping Life

Sometimes pumping (expressing breast milk for my baby using a Medela Pump in Style electric breast milk pump) is not a big deal. Sometime I feel I'm not so much working, as marking time between pumping sessions! I pump every 3 hours that I am away from my baby which in practice means than on a full day at work I pump at 11am and 2pm (feeding her at 8am and 5pm -- right when I pick her up), and when I work half days from home I pump just once at work. Each session takes 10-20 mins of actual pumping time, plus set up and clean up at the end. All in all I think it takes 30-40 mins.

Sometimes (like today) pumping goes very well. Today I brought my laptop to work and was able to watch movies of my baby being cute while I pumped. That really helps - I pumped much more milk than I usually do! Other times (like the rest of this week so far) it's a real struggle. The computer system at the lab has seen fit to block sites. I usually look at pictures we post on our "Baby Blog" while pumping - but when that is blocked I cannot do that (and get reminded how annoyed I am that the site is blocked in the first place). For whatever reason we have a full house at work this week too - so while I am usually able to pump either in my office or the office of a work colleague who is also a nursing mother this week both of our (male) office mates are in town, so yesterday I had to resort to pumping in the bathroom for the first time. It takes extra time to set up and find somewhere to pump - and I'm also not as comfortable so I get less milk. Also at the beginning of the week I attended a short meeting. This was held at my usual work place, but I had to fit pumping into the 30 minute coffee breaks - which caused me to spend much more time watching the clock (and of course I produced less milk). I also had no time to network during the breaks - which in some ways is the most important part of these meetings, so I wonder if there was actually any point in going in the first place! I suppose the solution is to pump during the talks - but they all just looked so interesting.

When I first started pumping at work I joined an online dicussion of working/pumping mothers with babies about the age of mine. This seemed like a great idea - until it totally stressed me out to read yet another post about how the mother pumped X ounces and baby drinks X + Y ounces at daycare so they're so worried about this and how can they improve their production. Stressing out about this - for me - causes me to produce less and less milk, so I stopped reading. Somehow I seem to pump almost exactly the right amount if I don't worry about it.

I suppose pumping is a short duration problem in the life of a working mother. At 8 months my baby still really benefits from the breast milk I produce for her - in fact the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk be the primary source of nutrition for the first year of a childs life, and that breast feeding continue for "as long as mutually desirable for the mother and child". So I don't regret the time it takes to pump milk for my baby - often it's the most useful thing I do all day. I just wish it was a bit easier sometimes!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Junior Faculty

We had a "family outing" this week to a discussion on how to go about getting that elusive faculty job. Little one was a hit and made her opinions (mostly babababa and gu-ahh) well known. She ate mashed carrots and peas while I got tips on how to write my teaching philosophy and the room debated what fraction of the audience you should aim to loose in the last 10 minutes of your interview seminar! I even risked breast feeding a little (discretely in the corner). The audience was young of course, since it was all postdoc and graduate students, but I was encouraged at how comfortable I felt with bringing my daughter. The decision to include her was helped by the session being advertised as "informal", and being scheduled late in the day when I had little other option anyway.

Still it was a bit discouraging that the number of people in the room was probably equal to, if not greater than the number of faculty openings we can expect this year in the whole of Astronomy....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Job Prospects and Imposter Syndrome

My friend at the Visible Universe just posted this interesting article about a story on the problems of finding a job in Astronomy. Who knew anyone in the "real world" cared about the plight of newly trained Astronomers.

Lately I seem to find myself having a lot of lunchtime conversations about this very topic. I seem to flip-flop between two opinions. On the one hand I say to myself, studying Astronomy is cool - really cool - and relatively speaking (say compared to finding the cure for cancer, or helping starving children in Africa) fairly pointless. It has no real economic value, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that finding a job is hard - it's sort of like trying to be a full time artist, or actor, or professional sports-player. Some people can be very successful, but their paths are naturally littered by those who failed on the way. But then I say... hang on! I've spent the last 10 years of my life training to be an Astronomer. I calculated at the start of graduate school that someone was investing 1/4 million dollars in me getting my PhD alone...! I've used telescopes that cost 10s of thousands of dollars a night to run - and I've had many nights on those telescopes. Surely it would be a huge waste to the field if I just disappear from Astronomy. I'm pretty sure that I'm good at this or at least just as good as others (see below for more comments), and I've seen friends who I *know* are good at Astronomy leave the field. So why do I feel that (generally speaking - with a few notable and mainly female exceptions) no-one really cares if young Astronomers are able to get permanent jobs...? It seems like a big waste of time and effort for the field,a nd can't be healthy in the long run...

Another interesting blog I recently came across is Mother of all Scientists. Earlier this month ScienceMama posted some really thought provoking comments there about Imposter Syndrome (the feeling that you don't really deserve to be where you are - that your successes are the result of a string of lucky accidents). A lot of those comments really hit home for me. I remember justifying getting into my fancy undergrad college by saying "they need to up their numbers of women in Physics" (my BA is in Physics), and I still feel a bit like my thesis committee went easy on my by passing my PhD. I can't even say "I'm good at Astronomy", without adding a qualifier (see above). I talked the other day with another young female Astronomer who by outside standards is doing much better than me. She has a fancy postdoc fellowship in a sub-field of Astronomy that everyone is excited about - she was even interviewed last job season for faculty jobs at R1 universities. But she too is worried that she'll never find a "proper" job and that she doesn't belong! Why do we do this to ourselves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Proposals and biting

I was interupted at work today 1 hour from the deadline for an important proposal to find out that little one was bitten at daycare! Probably old news to experienced parents, but a new one for me (my daughter is 7 months). Kind of put the proposal in perspective, but since little one was pretty much fine and had gone to sleep I finished it up before going to "rescue" her. Indeed she has bite marks on her arm. And a lesson to me - I can't leave anything to the last minute anymore.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Why Blog?

I'm an Astronomer (or at least I think I am) and a new Mum. Can this be done at the same time...? Well yes, I know of a lot of examples. Can I do it...? I'm not so sure... So I thought I would start a blog to keep a record of how things go this year with my new baby at the same time as I'm on the job market.

I was talking with a friend this weekend about how so many Moms in science have blogs. She was commenting how much of their blogs seems to be about not having enough time to do everything - so then the natural question comes up -- why blog?

For me, I don't want to be a statistic. If I'm going to be part of the leaky pipeline in science because of having had a baby as a postdoc then I want that recorded, and maybe my experience will help others. If I do manage some kind of balance, then I'd like that recorded too.