Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One Crazy Toddler Filled Morning

I'm sure I'm not alone among parents in sometimes having mornings which tax my energy to the limit and leave me wanting a nap by 9am. Today was one such morning.

Lately mornings are fringed with uncertainty about when little one will decide it's time to get up.... generally the range is about 6-7.30am which isn't too bad I suppose.... the beginning of the range is much sooner than I or my husband would like to get up - resulting in one of us getting a "lie in" while the other one gets up. But these morning do leave more time to get ready. If I get a lie in little one is usually dressed and has had breakfast by the time I am up and going leaving much more time for all the other details. Or if I get up I get an extra 1 1/2 hours to fit everything in. When little one gets up later we get more time in bed which I always appreciate, but we do tend to rush around a bit to get out the door by 8.25am (my goal to make it to nursery by 8.45am).

This morning little one got up late. At some point in the night she made her way into our bed and kicked my husband out - and waking up when I was ready next to a sleeping toddler was quite pleasant... The first hint of trouble was her not wanting breakfast. By the time I persuaded her to toast and jam my husband got up and was in the shower. I ate my breakfast with little one - while the cat proceeded to wee next to her litter box. Had to tidy that up, and make a mental note to clean the litter before leaving - presumably this was a "hint" from the cat that the litter was a bit smelly. Went to have my shower while husband took little one for a change of diaper and clothes. Next problem - as I get out of the shower I hear screams of "want red trousers.... want red trousers..." (little one's pyjamas).... get dressed and emerge as husband gives up the battle - little one dressed in only a T-shirt she says she "not like" and a clean diaper.... try to persuade her to the pink trousers husband picked out. No go. Offer alternatives (as husband has already done). Refuse "red trousers" on principle (even though they could be either play trouser for pyjamas). Try "new" purple trousers which seem like a go (so I go upstairs to retrieve them) but by the time I'm back they're no good either. Notice laundry basket of little one's clothes not yet put away and suggest she pick something while I make our lunches. Make lunches - little on comes into kitchen with purple dress which I'm allowed to put on her. Continue making lunch while little one comes into kitchen with AquaDraw mat and spreads on the floor. Demands I play with her. Now it's about 8.10am. Suggest little one help me by putting lunch by the door while I clear up - she prefers AquaDraw. Draw round her as she lies on the mat. Clean up. Put lunch by door. Husband puts laundry in washing machine and turns it on. Little one demands raisins I'm putting into container for her going home snack. I say no. She gets it off counter while I'm not looking and eats it anyway. Clean out cat litter. Now it's time to go. Suggest little one would like tights (it's not that warm). Find pink tights in laundry basket - no go. Find red tights - no go. Give up and put pink tights in little one's bag for nursery. Clear at this point this is all delaying tactics to avoid going to nursery for the day. Put on my coat, and try jumper and/or coat for little one. She lies on the sofa and demands she wants to be "cold". Put on my shoes and pick up bags. Little one gets hint - doesn't want to stay in the house alone, but wants to "walk" to nursery (instead of going in the pushchair). Won't put on shoes. I tell her shoes or pushchair. She allows us to put on her shoes (but still no tights). Finally get out of the door (about 8.30am). Have forgotten to clean teeth yet again. On street little one in sandals and bare legs - sunny but a chill in the air. Says goodbye to husband who drives to work. As usual little one (who is only 2 after all) does not walk in the right direction, or at any kind of speed. She wanders aimlessly as we all would like to sometimes. Tells me she doesn't want to go to nursery (as if I couldn't guess). Feel guilty as I would like to do a bunk and play with her too - but couldn't possibly give in after all this fuss. Give her a hug and tell her she has to - she likes nursery anyway. List all the fun things she will do and names of all staff and kids I can remember. No go. Give up and wrestle her into the pushchair - works if you can snap the snaps quick enough. Wondering if neighbours will come out to see who I'm torturing. Husband driving past pulls over to see if all is OK! Finally little one strapped in, so I push her (screaming) down the street. 10 minutes later (well after 8.45am) we get to nursery. Many stares along the way at toddler with bare legs and no coat on slightly chilly morning. Loadly and repeatedly ask her if she'd like tights and/or coat. She almost agrees at one point. She's fairly calm as we get to nursery, but as we go through gate again demands not to go. Ring doorbell and collect stuff together while holding little one who demands "cuddle". She clings to me in her "ladybird" room full of exciting new toys. I point them all out, and explain to staff why she has no tights on. She allows us to put her tights on. She screams and clings to me until we find her "baby" (favourite toy at nursery) then is all smiles and barely notices my exit... It's not yet 9am - but later than it should be and I still have to walk 25 mins to work....

I now this is all typical toddler "terrible twos", but wow it's exhausting sometimes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it All

I recently had my attention drawn to Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it All (pdf download) which is a Royal Society publication made up of one page career/family timelines and profiles of 64 different mothers in science.

The idea behind the book I think is a great one - that we spend a lot of time with depressing statistics about women in science, and often "blame" the disproportionate burden of childcare women often face for the lack of women at the higher levels of science. This has given young women the idea that if they want children they cannot have a science career, or that they must have children at only very specific times to succeed (I cannot count the number of times I have heard that having babies as a postdoc is a death sentence for your career). This book then presents a random selection of women with children who work in science as a move towards "dispelling these myths" and being more encouraging (it's all written a lot more fluently in the introduction to the book).

I encourage you to read these profiles, and if you're based in the UK you can request your department to be sent a hard copy (let me know and I'll send you the email address of the person to ask).

I'm always very uncomfortable to be put up as a role model for mothers in astronomy. I think this is because there seems to be so much uncertainty still over my continuing career in research (by the way I have funding until Sept 2010 - my post on my disappointing funding news was about a chance to stay here basically permanently.... I probably got a bit over dramatic - should remember not to post on days I get bad news!). I also feel that it's cheating a bit - I think I look a lot more together on the surface than I feel on any given day, when I'm quite often absolutely exhausted and working at the absolute capacity to get everything done. On the other hand it is clearly important for students and younger girls to see women in science who have "normal" family lives.... and only by having an increasing number of mothers and truly involved fathers will the culture of research change sufficiently to make it "easier to have it all". I think it'll never be easy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tables Turned

Today I had the mother/supervisor tables turned on me: at T-10 days (likely) from being a mother myself, one of my "highly qualified personnel" (HQPs; what our funding agency calls students, postdocs, staff hired through research grants) told me that she was having a baby in the fall. Fresh off figuring out maternity leave for myself, now I'm trying to work it out from the perspective of a supervisor...

I am fortunate to live in a country with very good maternity/parental leave laws, and am even luckier to have a permanent job that lets me take advantage of them without forgoing my salary. But HQPs don't have that luxury: so while I feel very strongly that my HQP should have a nice long leave like I will, I am also faced with the reality of my limited research budget. Could it be that she will be back to work before I will despite delivering 6 months later?

Surely I can work this out, or at least arrange it so that my HQP gets the most "bang for her buck" benefit-wise. I just hope that I can get the ball rolling before I need to take advantage of similar benefits myself!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Never Too Late?

This YouTube clip has been in the news a lot lately on my side of the Atlantic. It's worth a few minutes of your time. It's never too late to dream. I love the incredulous smile on Simon Cowell's face, and the moment she sings
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed

.... breathtaking.

Had some pretty bad news on the funding side this week. As a result I'll be on the job market for serious again this fall. :( On the other hand I've on strong pain killers this week for a mysterious and very painful neck pain (no idea what I did), which include the muscle relaxant diazepam - better known as valium. So I've been in a pretty carefree mood about everything to be honest. At least the bad news had good timing! And if I need a new career - well I'm only in my early 30s. It's certainly not too late for me. :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I hope that I am not breaking the rules by making my inaugural Astronomoms post before I am actually a mom, but with the university semester winding down here in Canada, the fact that motherhood is 3 weeks away is starting to sink in...

I have been an assistant professor at a small university for a little over a year now, and teaching still takes up all of my time during the semester: with Junior on the way to boot, I have been very focussed on just making it through. Now that it's winding down, I have some room to breathe... and stare at the huge list of things to do before the big day. I can't help but focus on the work-related list: there are those 4 projects that I figured I could finish (or at least get under control). There is my graduate student, who will need to function independently for the few weeks/months before his first conference appearances. There are the proposals to referee, the thesis to read, and that research money to spend, too...

But in the back of my mind I have this nagging, unnerving feeling that for the first time since entering graduate school, none of the things on my work-related list are going to matter for a long time after the baby is born. I can't fathom what that will be like. I also can't fathom how I'm going to make it all work in the busy, exhausting post-delivery world that I'm about to enter. My comfort at the moment is that women everywhere make careers and motherhood work somehow, and that hopefully I'm no different. In the meantime, I'll start slogging though my to-do list and enjoy uninterrupted nights of sleep...

Friday, April 10, 2009

A shocking picture

Wednesday, my son brought back home a folder full of drawings and art projects he did at kindergarden over the past few months. We had fun going through it together. One picture caught my attention, it was especially well drawn. I could recognize our living room, and three people in there, but I asked Chatton for extra explanations. At the middle was him, playing legos on the floor. Then I asked "And daddy and me are there playing with you?". His answer left me speechless for a few seconds: "No, you are both working on your computers".

How concerned should I be about this? I do think Chatton receives a lot of attention from the two of us, we really don't work that much around him. But we do spend some time with our laptops out, if only to catch up on email, read the news, or entertain ourselves a little bit after coming back from work. I don't think this is something he suffers from at all, when we are home there is usually one of us playing with him, and he has never made any comment to the fact that we were working too much on the computer, or expressed some frustration. So I don't really think we have a problem. But yet to see it on paper, it's a good reminder that we should be really careful not to let this become an issue.

With each our own work laptop and our "family" computer at home, there are a few times when I've caught the three of us all playing/working on a different computer at the same time. Is this the way of the future? If it is, I find this a little bit scary! And how soon after my second child is born in a couple months will we need to get a fourth computer??


We're about to welcome a new contributor to Astronomoms, "AstronomyMommy". She's not quite a Mommy yet, but will be soon, and I know she'll be a great one! She's going to be quite busy in the next few weeks and months, so I expect she'll be an infrequent contributor at first, but I hope she'll add a fresh perspective to the blog. Unlike AstroMaman and I, AstronomyMommy isn't a postdoc. She's a young faculty member at a small institution. Hopefully that will add a different twist to the challenges of juggling Motherhood and being an astronomer - less about the ongoing uncertainty and job search, and more about the unrelenting rounds of committee meetings, teaching, etc. that fill the days of a young faculty member.

I'll leave it up to AstronomyMommy to introduce herself further.


Much to my surprise I seem to have got too relaxed about deadlines lately, and it is starting to come back to bite me a little. I think it's a symptom of my being ever so slightly overwhelmed with everything, but that's not a good excuse, so I just need to suck it up and keep track a bit better.

It's interesting because I used to be super picky about deadlines. I was one of those kids who would *never* hand in homework late, and in fact would be completely confused why anyone else would either..... we had a week's notice, it wasn't that hard to do the work in that time. Even through graduate school I kept this attitude - deadlines were a fixed thing which must be met. My graduate adviser helped with this - she was also an early deadline maker.... then along came my first postdoc adviser. He wouldn't even look at anything until right before it was due, so I evolved into doing things closer and closer to the deadline. Then I missed a couple, and it was OK - rules were bent etc etc. So I came to learn than many deadlines are quite bendy.... often you can break them and it'll be OK. So in a situation where I either deal with things right away or forget them lately I have been missing some deadlines. And it turns out that they are still bendy, but this isn't always appreciated. Clearly I need to learn a middle ground. And I think I need a better to do list....!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Why "Lads"?

One of the science blogs I sometimes read is the Physics ArXiv blog (reviewing papers posted in the open access Physics ArXiv which is heavily used by the astronomy community). I like this blog as a way for me, at a low level, to keep up with major developments across physics, and to see what astronomy research catches the eye of a typical physicist.

I was interested to see today a nice review of one of the April Fools Day ArXiv papers about Galaxy Zoo discovering a new class of galaxy cluster. Check out the paper and don't miss the figures.

But why - why, did the author have to end the post reviewing this bit of scientific humour with:
"Keep up the good work lads."


The paper is "authored" by Marven Pedbost, Trillean Pomalgu and the Galaxy Zoo Team. Quite apart from the many (OK handful of) women on the Galaxy Zoo team itself, Trillian is quite clearly a woman's name.... Has "lads" morphed to be gender non-specific recently?

By the way I liked the Galaxy Zoo April Fools paper, but better still in my opinion was Time Variation of a Fundamental Dimensionless Constant. How come we never noticed that before! ;)

Now that's not so hard is it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Famous Astronomoms: Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin

I read about Ada Lovelace Day on Thesis with Children on March 25th. Ada Lovaelcae Day is March 24th. It's a day when bloggers are asked to blog about women in technology who have inspired them. So I missed it by over a week, but better late than never....

I decided anyway to take a different twist on it - so here is my first article in what might turn into a series on famous women astronomers who also happen to be mothers.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin (1900-1979)

Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin is famous for the work she did in the early 1920s at the Harvard College Observatory on the classification of stellar spectra. For her PhD research under Harlow Shapley she used ionization theory to re-order the then alphabetical (based on the strength of the Halpha line) stellar classifications into the famous OBAFGKM which orders star types by temperature. Incidentally she also proved that the Sun was mostly made of hydrogen.

She was born in the UK on May 10th 1900, the daughter of a London Barrister. However her father died when she was only 4 years old, so her mother raised her (and her two siblings) alone. She won a scholarship to attend Cambridge University (Newnam College) in 1919, reading Natural Sciences. During her time in Cambridge a lecture given by Eddington (on his 1919 expedition to Africa to test the gravitational deflection of light by observing stars near the Sun during a solar eclipse) inspired her to study Astronomy further. At the time Cambridge admitted women, but would not grant them degrees, so doctoral studies for her in England seemed out of the question. However things were opening up more in the US, and she had attended a lecture by Dr. Harlow Shapley (the Director of the Harvard College Observatory) in 1922. She wrote to Dr. Shapley asking if it would be possible to study under him at Harvard (under the advice of Eddington). The Harvard College Observatory had just started a graduate program in astronomy, and even had a special fellowship to encourage women to study. Then then Miss Payne became the second student to win this fellowship and travelled to the US in 1923. She was the first person to be granted a PhD. in astronomy from Harvard (in 1925) - although this was because the Physics department refused to grant a PhD to a woman so the Department of Astronomy was created to get around this!

She met her husband Sergei Gaposhkin while on holiday in Europe in 1932. He was a Russian Astronomer in Nazi Germany and having a very difficult time, so to help him out she found him a position at Harvard. They were married less than 2 years later in 1934. They had 3 children together, Edward, Katherine and Peter. Dr. Payne-Gaposhkin continued to study astronomy her whole life, remaining at Harvard. She was a technical assistant to Shapley from 1927-1938, and became frustrated at her low pay and status at the university. Shapley persuaded them to give her the title of "astronomer" in 1938, but it wasn't until 1956 (when Dr. Payne-Gaposhkin was 56 years old) that further intervention from the Observatory Director (then Donald Menzel) persuaded Harvard to make her a full-professor, and in fact the first female professor of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Payne-Gaposhkin was a trail blazer for women in astronomy, and only incidentally was also a mother (although presumably that's not how her children saw it!). I researched this article only online, but I'm now inspired to try to read her autobiography - The Dyer's Hand to learn more of the details, in particular about her life after having her children. Her career progression was incredibly slow and frustrating, even after her seminal early work - without which she clearly would not have been able to stay in Astronomy at all. She wrote in her auto-biography "I simply went on plodding, rewarded by the beauty of the scenery towards an unexpected goal."