Archive for the 'two body problem' category

I wrote a piece for the POSTDOCket

Jul 23 2018 Published by under Academia, advice, postdoc, science, travel, two body problem

I wrote something for the POSTDOCket about , the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) newsletter:

Spending time abroad as a postdoctoral scholar is widely considered to be a beneficial to an academic career– at least it is seen that way in Europe. At the same time, it can provide useful experience when transitioning to a career outside academia. Labs in the United States are generally seen as the most desired destinations for a foreign postdoc position. However, when you want a job in your home country afterwards, being abroad may seem like a disadvantage because it is harder to maintain your network and you may feel overlooked for an available position compared to somebody who stayed nearby. You may feel like you’re stuck abroad.

You can read the rest here!

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Reader question: conference, baby and looking for jobs

Last month, I received the following question from someone who found my blog and has the following question:

My wife and I will both be attending SfN 2018 in San Diego with a ~3 month old.

I found your blog post and was intrigued by your insights.

I was wondering if I could ask you for some further advice given your
experience.

To give you a brief idea, neither my wife and I nor I have any idea
how to be parents yet. Furthermore, we will both ideally make contacts
at SfN that lead to ideally both of us having employment. (My wife is
looking for tenure track positions, whereas I would take a postdoc or
industry position, depending on a variety of complicated factors.)

Personally, I grossly underestimated how much work a baby is before I had a baby. Taking a baby to a conference means that whenever you're not working and would otherwise be relaxing and/or networking (I know, for some people networking is not at all like relaxing), you're now taking care of a baby. However, there are so many people who make this work, so why couldn't you?

In a subsequent email he's even more specific in his questions:

Related to your original post wherein folks assume that mom with baby
wants non-serious baby-gush fun time instead of serious science, have
you ever heard/seen a new father going to posters/talks with baby in
arms? If so, does the same effect hold?

I'm still not sure if this was my own insecurity at the time or that more people share the feeling that once you're holding a baby, everyone assumes you want to talk about the baby and not science (please comment if you have experienced either one!). I think that many conferences, including SfN get more and more welcoming to babies and children and that it will hopefully be more and more normal to be a parent AND a scientist at the same time.

I happen to be a tall-ish white American man, whereas my wife is a
non-white female from not the USA. I am totally willing to carry
around new baby in an attempt to help her avoid having people assume
it's just a baby-gush social fun time event because she is interested
in learning everything she can about a new direction for her research.
On the other hand, I wouldn't want folks to think my wife was somehow
a "bad mom" for leaving infant baby with dad for a while. (I do not
trust that even well-educated, most probably liberal, most probably
wealthier academics to perceive a woman fairly. As an example, at SfN
one year, I witnessed a prominent PI explicitly ask one of his
postdocs why she wasn't drinking alcohol at a social event as 'there
could be some problematic reasons for that'. I can only assume this PI
meant that it would be a problem if this postdoc was pregnant, which
is completely inappropriate.)

Great that you're willing to step in to take more than your fair share of parenting to give your wife the chance to network. I would certainly hope that people don't assume that she is a bad mom for doing that, and at the same time I wonder if a place that has an attitude like that is somewhere you would want to work...

We are also curious to know how you approached social events after
hours, such as the Presidential Gala and other dinner/drinks events,
as these have yielded leads to jobs and other important social
connections before. Most of these events appear even less
infant-friendly than the main floor.

I have brought a baby to a social at SfN and that did not go very well. My baby was kind of overwhelmed and fussy, so less than ideal. If I would want to be sure I would be able to go there and have the opportunity to network, I would go without baby. If you can't manage to get childcare (bring a third adult?), I would decide to split the nights and each go to separate events while the other watches the baby, but perhaps other people (and other babies) feel very differently about this.

Do you know if SfN have anyone designated to serve as a point of
contact for parents who bring their kids? (Maybe they should?)

What are the statistics on doing SfN with kids? Maybe there should be
a social event just for parents who brought their kids?

I'm personally not going to SfN this year and as far as I'm aware there are no SfN-sponsored events for parents with kids, but I'm sure many more parents are bringing their kids and will walk around the posterhall with them. And then there's the lactation/baby care room where you will likely find many fellow parents. So perhaps all the sciparents out there who read my blog can practice a secret handshake to get in touch with each other?

Also, please add your wisdom and experience in the comments!

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The mixed success of 2016's new year's resolutions

I was looking through old blog posts that I wrote and nearly forgot I had written a post with resolutions for 2016. Or actually, tweeted resolutions for 2016. My resolutions were:

  1. Change my face moisturizer
  2. Figure out my career path and next steps
  3. Organize home like I organize work

I did number 1: found out Nivea also makes anti-wrinkle face moisturizer with SPF15. Not sure the anti-wrinkle part actually does something, because I did not use a scientific approach of using it only on one half of my face. (I'm also not sure if I would want to get rid of my wrinkle over my eyebrow that says:"what?! 10 t-tests without correcting for multiple comparison?" or:"did you just cut your brother's drawing in a million pieces?").

I kind of did number 2. At least I blogged a ton about it. Here, here and here for example. But just before the end of the year I found out that however much you think about what you would want, sometimes an unexpected opportunity comes up that may be just what I wanted.

I nearly forgot about number 3, even though at the beginning of the year I made a white board in our kitchen with the coming two weeks so everyone can see what events we'll have, who will take which kid to school and what other things are coming up. It's very useful and because I try to draw some of the things that are relevant for the kids, BlueEyes uses it as well to see when events are coming up. But other than that, I'm still a bit overwhelmed from time to time about all these adult-things, like special events at school, presents that need to be given to daycare teachers, mortgage stuff and choices for our new house that is being built, etc. I feel that the hard part is that because my husband and I try to be equal partners, sometimes nobody is actually the 'owner' of a thing that needs to be done, which usually results in me doing it in the end. And my husband tends to feels less guilty when we don't send Christmas cards or are late in buying treats for school. And then of course there's the fact that we probably both feel we do 50%, but you may need to feel like doing 75% to meet in the middle. Resolution for next year may need to be to outsource more things when both our work is going to be busy + moving to a new house... Stuff to think about.

 

 

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Doing a post-doc abroad just for paid parental leave?

In yesterday's Science, there's an article about how nice it is to do a post-doc in Europe when you're a US citizen. The reason: because in Europe the rules for parental leave around birth are better than in the US. As you know, I did it the other way around: I'm from Europe but I did a post-doc in the US, where I had 2 kids. The conclusion of the Science article:
In the United States, the pool of qualified postdocs has grown and postdocs have gotten longer. There's now a greater likelihood than ever that training will overlap with starting a family. The decision when and where to have children is personal and depends on many factors; there's something to be said, for example, for having your mother nearby. But in deciding where to train, postdocs should consider the whole experience of working and living, not just time spent in the lab. Add to the mix Europe's ample opportunities for professional enrichment, and the parental-leave advantages that Europe can offer postdocs are worth considering.
However, what this article doesn't mention at all: how do you go back to the US after your post-doc and how do you get a faculty position or other job back in the US? Can European PIs mentor you well enough on how to get a TT position in the US? Do they know what is important in that respect? Can you apply for the funding you will need in order to get a job? Do you have to pay your flights when going to interviews if it's a trans-Atlantic flight? Or does doing a post-doc in Europe mean you will have to do an additional post-doc in the US upon return in order to find a job? Or is it nice to have babies in Europe but does it put you at a disadvantage to your colleagues who stayed in the US? And is it better to find a PI who will give you paid maternity leave in the US (like my PI did!) than to go abroad for this reason? In the current competitive environment, these seem very important questions to consider, and this Science article fails to ask a single one.

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"It's not a competition"

In retrospect, I think this was the best advice that my graduate advisor gave me. I had just told him that my boyfriend - who was a graduate student in the same lab - and I were having a serious relationship, and one of the first things he said was: "Always remember that it isn't a competition". For years I have wondered how something that is so measurable in terms of papers, impact factors, grant money, etc can NOT be a competition, but now I think I understand. If you're constantly focused on competing, especially with your spouse, it will take away the fun and the joy of science. If you see it as a competition, you won't help your spouse with things, like thinking about experiments, or proofreading their grant. And if you see it as a competition, quitting academia means losing the competition, instead of gaining a new job. The fact that academia is so competitive makes the "two body problem" even more of a problem, because how can you be happy for someone if they are also your competition?

So I'm very glad my graduate advisor gave me this advise, even though it took me nearly seven years to understand its importance.

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