Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Proposal Deadlines

Life always gets hectic for Astronomers around proposal deadline time. Somehow many major facilities have their deadlines all at similar times... Oh well. I grew up the kind of person who likes to do things well in advance of deadlines. I was one of those annoying kids at school who always finished their homework ahead of time. However my collaborators are not all like this, and since becoming a postdoc I have had to adjust to a more last minute, up to the wire kind of approach to deadlines. Yesterday this all seemed to go very wrong. My working day is now set by a very real deadline of when I have to pick little one up from daycare. Sure I could get my husband to do it (normally he drops off, and I pick up so I can nurse little one and have so quality time), but that would require advance notice too. All afternoon yesterday I waited for some updates from a collaborator to include in our proposal. Actually this was already after the proposal deadline, but I had asked for an extension. Of course the updates came just as I needed to leave! After a quick minutes soul searching I figured it wouldn't make much difference so I would let it slide this time - and I needed to leave. Do you have any idea what daycare's charge if you pick up late. Ours changes $1 a minute. More to the point little one was expecting me (and the milk bar). This morning I updated the proposal out of interest and looked at how small the changes would be anyway. So that cheered me up. Then I got an email saying I could still submit the updated version if I needed to. So no crisis afterall.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I have a toddler

Well I got one wish - little one walked for the first time at home on Friday night. Now I can enjoy her walking, and how good they are at getting her to do it at daycare. When I picked her up yesterday she happily walked back and forth a few steps between me and her favourite teacher. To top it all off her first tooth finally broke through. It was a big weekend.

I finally cracked and got in touch with some people about the job searches. Unfortunately none of it is good news. I've known for a while now that "big state school" had offered the position to someone else. I wasn't really sure that was where I wanted to be anyway so I'm sure that's for the best. Unfortunately "small liberal arts school" has now also made an offer, although they are saying my application is still active so if #1 turns them down I might be in with a chance. I think it's fairly unlikely though.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Dog in the Manger

Job seasons is stressful and wearing for everyone involved. I'm starting to get really stressed, despite my resolution to not let it bother me, and what's more lately it's making me feel mean too. While we're still waiting to figure out what we'll be doing next year, lots of people I know are getting themselves all sorted out. I feel mean because I know I should be happy for them (and really I am), but all I can think about is why can't we have some good news too - how come they get to be sorted out while we just wait.

It's such a roller coaster. Any minute now (literally) I could get a phone call either offering me a job, or moving me one step closer to leaving research. Or maybe they won't get in touch until next week! Pretty rough.

All this stress isn't good for my work productivity - example in point - I could be writing what I think is a pretty interesting proposal to get some new optical images of some galaxies. This proposal would be due early next week. However bringing myself to do that when I might be leaving the field is really difficult. If one of the faculty jobs comes through though it would be really nice to have some observing time in the works... I really don't know what to do... What I could use here is some great advice from a postdoc advisor - but that's another story!

And through this little one is oh so close to walking. She now likes to walk around holding our hands - and after a few goes figured out she doesn't have to go sideways (like a crab - or a baby cruising along the furniture). She also likes to push stuff around - little stools, and boxes etc. I really don't want to miss those first independent steps though. I want to see the wonder on her face when she figures out she can branch out on her own through the middle of the room. I want to be the person she first walks towards. But maybe she'll walk today at daycare. I know it shouldn't matter, and I dealt fine with her pulling up to standing for the first time at daycare, but this one really bothers me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Conference Time

Since little one was born I've been to 3 conferences and one meeting at my home institution. For each of the 3 conferences I travelled to my husband and the baby came along. The most recent conference we were able to get the university to pay for my husbands travel expenses as part of a program they have to help postdocs and young faculty with travel if they have small children. This was fantastic.

However I'm starting to think that there is almost no point in going to a conference if I bring little one along. I say almost no point, because of course I got the exposure of giving a talk each time which is a good thing. The other point of conferences though it is socialize with your peers at coffee and dinner. With little one along for the ride I have to dash around to feed her in the breaks, and at dinner. I could pump instead - which I did at the meeting at my home institution - but even then I'm dashing around in the breaks to have enough time to pump, and have no time to socialize. The solution - longer breaks to accomodate nursing mothers, and others who need more time for whatever reason - but of course meetings are almost always scheduled to bursting point, so I don't see that happening.

The most recent meeting was particularly bad as every session ran at least a few minutes over - to a maximum of 1 1/2 hours (no kidding) one morning. This time was made up by shortening the breaks, which most people seemed just fine with, but then all they had to do was grab a coffee/lunch and head back into the room. With little one around I really needed more time than that. I felt like I spent the whole meeting catching up with myself. It was not conducive to socializing, or really taking much in of all the really interesting talks. This was supposed to be a family friendly meeting too - and there was more than one "Astronomom" present (although I was the only one still nursing I think). In other respects the organizers were very accomodating to little one's needs, but I suspect that all I will remember from that meeting in years to come will be the terrible run overs in each session.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Interview Experiences

Well as I mentioned I had two interviews for faculty jobs this past month. I thought I would spend a little time describing how they went in terms of the logistics. FYI little one is now 11 months old, and I had not spent a single night away from her until the second of these trips.

Interview 1: big state school. My husband and little one came along for the ride.
Interview 2: small liberal arts college. I went alone - leaving little one at home with her dad for 48 hours.

Overall I would say (and I'm surprised about this) but leaving little one at home was the better idea. I nearly threw in the towel the day before leaving for the first interview. Packing for little one and myself while also wanting to work on my talk was almost too much for me. The travel was of course a lot more stressful, and while at the interview I had no time to relax or work at all in the evening as I was just having to deal with baby stuff (or in a dark hotel room, since little one was sleeping). I pretty much fell asleep as soon as she did every night. Going by myself I obviously missed little one, and I had to pump much more, and deal with traveling with breast milk (see my previous post), but I actually could work on my talk in the
evening and decompress from the interviews a little. The only real downside of this was the extra work before the trip to make sure there was enough stocked up breast milk to last 48 hours. I pumped an extra once or twice a day for a couple of weeks which really got old quick. Of course now we have a ton of extra milk in the freezer, so I will be able to wind down pumping a little earlier than I planned before.

So surprisingly my advice is to go alone even if it feels impossible to leave your baby. I really didn't feel ready to leave my little one - getting on the plane was a pretty hard, and I was very happy to come back. In the end it worked out for the best though, and I'm happy as I do not have to travel away from her again for a couple of months.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mommy Brain

I was dubious about the "Mommy Brain" phenomena - that supposedly pregnancy and childcare dulls your intellectual capacity. In fact there's an entire book "The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes us Smarter" which apparently shows the opposite. Perhaps I should read it (if I had the time!). Whether or not they exist, I often feel lately that I have a case of the "Mommy brains". Maybe it's the combined effect of almost a year of not enough sleep, and the many more things I have to remember now, but I seem to keep forgetting both minor and important things. I have left my purse behind when it contained pretty important stuff (like passports when we were abroad) on two occasions recently. Both times I was lucky and was able to retrieve it. I forget my breast milk pumping equipment fairly regularly - in fact to the point that I'm collecting back-up supplies at work for when it happens next. Remembering my lunch is very hit and miss, although sometimes thats more to do with lack of time in the morning. I do a little better with little ones stuff, and at least I haven't left her behind anywhere yet. This sounds like a low aim, but my mother would often tell the story of leaving my brother behind at an amusement park ride, and how her mother - in another era - once left her parked in the pram outside the local store and went home without her! Mind you given little one's recent separation anxiety I can't leave her in the next room without hearing about it, so I suppose that's reassuring!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

New Policies for Lighters, Electronics and Breast Milk

A recent addition to the TSA's now famous limitations on liquids you can bring through security is that nursing mother's can bring "reasonable" amounts of breast milk through security "whether or not their baby is travelling with them". This is obviously important to working mothers who wish to pump while on business travel and bring the milk back with them for their baby. All nursing mothers agree that breast milk is pretty much the equivalent of liquid gold, so the thought of checking it, or sending it through the mail is not a happy one... so kudos to those "lactavists" who managed to get the rule changed.

Now this TSA rule is pretty new - infact all the signs I ever see in airports state that "you must be travelling with your baby" to bring "baby milk" through security. Oddly this new rule was also published August 4th 2007 under the title "New Policies for Lighters, Electronics and Breast Milk". So I think you might agree that I was understandably nervous about trying out this new policy on my recent trip away from little one. I was away for almost exactly 48 hours so not including the pumping session in the airport (standing in a dubiously clean, stale smoke smelling familly bathroom - but that's another issue), I had about 40 ounces of breast milk to travel back with. I came prepared with a print-out of the new rule, and with plenty of time to "argue with the supervisor" if it came to that. I think you'll forgive me for assuming that the average TSA employee might not have taken the time to become familiar with this rule, and may not have come across this situation before.

Well I have to say that I vastly underestimated the TSA (or maybe I overestimated them). My cooler of breast milk passed through the X-ray with not a single comment. As instructed in the rules I declared that I was "travelling with expressed breast milk", but I'm not entirely convinced they heard me in the noisy airport. Perhaps this has to do with the two gentlemen ahead of me in the line with arabic writing on their passports and who clearly were not familiar with the usual TSA procedure (taking out their laptops, removing their shoes and jackets etc). The TSA employees at that security line gave me not a second glance.

I feel a little guilty, but I have to say that travel without little one was a real treat! Obviously I missed her, but I had time to myself on the plane to read and no "bouncing baby with a death wish" to hold onto. I got two uninterrupted night's sleep (well apart from worry about my interview) and changed no diapers. I guess I was ready for a break (well as much of a break as can be provided by a faculty interview trip).

PS. I'll post more about my two faculty interviews when I get the chance.