Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two thumbs up

I was looking at the job postings on the AAS website, and this one caught my eye, because after the job description and the usual blurb about women and minorities being encouraged to apply, there was this little sentence: "The University is supportive of dual-career couples". Everybody knows that most women in academia have partners that are in the same situation (see this recent report for example), and universities know that they have to do something about it, but it's the first time I see something officially stated like this. Two thumbs up to U.Michigan on this!

Friday, October 24, 2008


I have a confession to make. Something that has been on my conscience for a while now. Since it has all to do with my astronomom situation, I though I would shamelessly use this blog as an outlet for the tad of guilt I'm carrying.

Here it goes. The story goes back to the hectic last few weeks of my PhD. Boyfriend and I were defending our theses within a couple of weeks and were working like crazy to meet the deadlines, we had an enthusiastic 2 year old to entertain in the meanwhile, and we had to plan and pack for a transatlantic move a few weeks later. Did I forget to mention that we were also desperately trying to potty train Chatton - a requirement of his new kindergarden where we were about to move? The scene was set for a disaster.

But surprisingly, trouble didn't come from where we expected it. We both managed to finished writing our theses and defended them succesfully, Chatton actually enjoyed helping us pack, and one day as if by magic he started going to the potty and never had an accident ever since (and it was not looking good at all until that day, so it truly was a small miracle!).

The problem in this case came from an actor I haven't introduced so far, the fourth member of the family at that time: the Cat. We lived in a house well in the countryside, and with his fancy home-made cat-door (the kind of things we had the time to do before having a kid!), he had really gone back to his roots of a wild hunting beast. For that (and many other reasons), we couldn't face bringing him to a small 4th floor city apartment. So we had decided to find him a new home before moving. But with all the thesis/moving/potty nightmare, looking for this new home sadly fell down our list of priority, until close to the last minute.

After advertising (and receiving a lot of hate mail in the process - "how can you think of leaving you cat behind? why don't you give up your kid as well?" - don't get me started on that!), we finally found a new home for him at the very last minute. He would move to another house in a similar rural setting, with a family that already had another cat, so we felt good about this ( yet mostly relieved to have found something).

So we finished packing and the next day left town for our new adventure. A couple of weeks later, we learned through the branches that the new family had kept Cat inside a few days to get him adjusted, but the first chance he got, he ran out, never to be seen again. And here comes the guilt. Had we not been so overwhelmed with other things, perhaps we would have been more careful in finding Cat a new home? a better one perhaps he wouldn't have escaped from? He was such a wild beast that I trust that he could make a good living in the wild, or perhaps he has found a new home of his own. We will never know, and it's been bothering me.

Overall I think we were pretty successful at handling this challenging time in our family and professional lives. It's really sad that Cat was the one having to pay for this... In his name and for all the other times when I or other parents in similar situations have dropped the ball like this, I hope you all forgive me! (don't hesitate to share stories that could make me feel better about all this in the comments!)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Minor Annoyance

OK, so this blog is supposed to be about the challenges of mixing motherhood and life as a research Astronomer, but I hope you'll forgive me for a short rant about the media depiction of motherhood, especially relating to breast feeding. It's probably pretty clear from all my posts on issues relating to breast feeding and working that I'm a strong supporter of breast feeding. I'm proud that I exclusively breast fed for 6 months, continued to make breast milk be the main part of my daughter's diet until she was 1, and in fact continued to breast feed until she was ready to wean at about 16 months (although I stopped pumping at work around her birthday). Breast feeding was relatively easy for me. Apart from some fun adventures pumping in aeroplanes and other unusual places, and general annoyance with airport security policies I had very little trouble. I was determined to breast feed, and luckily didn't know that 35 weekers usually have trouble until after my 35 weeker was a pro! Sometimes being too busy to read the baby books is a good thing!

Anyway the reason for posting was the completely gratuitous scene of bottle feeding I saw in a recent episode of Heroes. In the scene the working (superhero) Mom comes home and is talking to a great (superhero) Dad who has been home looking after baby. This all seems great and very modern. And then they pull out the bottle. I'm not saying they should have shown the Mom breast feeding, but was showing bottle feeding necessary. Surely a super fast super hero could find time to pump at work, and when she got home she would be ready to breast feed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


It's my pleasure to join Astronomum in contributing to this blog - and I thank her for the kind introduction she wrote! Over the years I have been involved in many outreach programs, especially some dedicated to encourage girls to consider scientific careers, but lately if you ask me how the status of women in science will be improved, my view has changed slightly. I still believe that these education programs are important and can make a difference, but more and more I think that the best thing I can do "for the cause" is work hard, and be a succesfull astronomom. In all modesty, I hope that I can be a positive role model and show by the way I manage to both be a decent mother and scientist that this is a path that every woman could consider for herself, if she chooses to. If my stories here can help or encourage anyone, or even just entertain, then this would be a small step in the right direction (and for my own benefit, this will give me the chance to vent some of the frustrations encountered along this road, because let's be honest, it's not always a smooth ride!)

So you already know the basics about me. I'm a postdoc in astronomy with a 3.5 year old son (let's call him Chatton - i.e. "Kitten" in french, one of my many nicknames for him). Boyfriend is also a scientist, so as so many other women out there I'm juggling career and family life, with the infamous "two-body" academic problem looming over me. I will write again soon - I have four years worth of "astronomom" stories to share, after all! But now it's time to get back to work. I'm trying to catch up after a week that reminded me of the challenges of wearing both the mom and the scientist hat: as Boyfriend was at a conference and Chatton on "fall break" from kindergarden, I experienced both being a single mother and a stay-at-home mom, with a couple of papers to write and the application deadlines of this year's job hunting season on the horizon... but more on all of that soon!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Welcome "AstroMaman"!

My good friend "AstroMaman" has agreed to help out and post on her life as another astronomom. AstroMaman is a postdoc in Astronomy and has a little boy who is now 3 1/2 who was born while she was in graduate school. Incredibly, despite having a child halfway through, AstroMaman finished her PhD in the same amount of time as me (not including any maternity leave). This still impresses me! I hope you will join me in welcoming "AstroMaman"!

We're still interested in getting more "astronomoms" involved - especially those at different career stages or with younger or older kids.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Well that went well!

We made it across the atlantic and I'm currently sitting in my new office with a view. Last week however was a great reminder of the perils of trying to juggle motherhood and work. Little one (now 19 months!) started her new daycare on Monday even though my new job didn't start until Wed (October 1st). I had end of September deadlines to meet, and we thought we could also use the extra time to get sorted. It seemed like a great plan.

On Monday I met all my deadlines. On Tuesday we got a lot done towards sorting out the new house. On Wednesday morning about 1am little one vomited everywhere, presumably having picked up a new strain of tummy bug at her new daycare. Her new daycare has a 48 hour rule (no attendance for 48 hours since the last vomit), so this ruled out daycare on Wednesday and Thursday (our first two days at work). To be honest she really was too ill for daycare anyway. We juggled staying home and work for two days, by which time my husband also had the bug. Friday I tried to take her to daycare so husband could stay home sick and I could have just a little time at work, but they sent her home - my husband managed to make it out to pick her up, but by lunchtime on Friday I gave up, and returned home to find them both asleep on the living room floor (we haven't got a couch yet).

What a week. We had the weekend to recover, and now everyone is at work/daycare. Thank goodness I didn't get sick too. And thank goodness for supportive bosses. No-one batted an eyelid at me taking off so much time in my first few days at work. This assumption that I will get the work done at some point - that it doesn't necessarily have to be in office hours really is useful sometimes.