Monday, March 26, 2012

As if I needed an excuse to get another dog...

I know, I know, we don't have the time to train and take in a new shelter puppy, but someday we will. In the meantime, I'll imagine how awesome it will be to have the group dynamic:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do no harm

Here is a wonderful write-up by a physician, commenting on the barrage of political actions aiming to impede the ability of physicians to serve their patients.

I got sucked into reading the comments for a good 15 minutes. I wanted to point out one commenter who said, "I’m sure there are just as many doctors and nurses who feel uncomfortable dealing with abortion as those who feel uncomfortable doing these required ultrasounds.". My initial reaction (and several of the commenters' responses), is that one of these is legally required, and one is not. In fact, there have been several instances where medical practitioners refused to participate in abortions, even when the woman's life is at risk - such a case just occurred at my Dad's hospital a few weeks ago, and it was only by luck that another physician, willing to conduct the procedure, arrived in time to save her life.

It frustrates me to no end that a woman's death would have been legally allowed, but it is, in some states, illegal to NOT force an ultrasound want into her vagina (remembering, as the good doctor points out in her/his write-up, coercion negates consent).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gender equity helps everyone

An article just came out highlighting that - shock! - 39% of male scientists are unhappy with how their work affects their home-life. I've been saying this for a long time. I think "women's" issues in Science should really be parsed into two categories: 1. Family issues (child/elder care, etc); and, 2. Not following traditional male-stereotypes for personal interactions. Although these disproportionately affect women, both can affect male, female and transgender researchers. We should be working to address them, independent of the dominant group affected by them.

I do think having a baby is more tilted towards impacting a woman's research career during pregnancy (which may be more or less difficult case-by-case), and definitely more during the first 6-12 weeks during the physical recovery from labor/delivery. I would also argue that it is more challenging and time-consuming for breastfeeding moms, who have a double-whammy of having to take time to pump at work, as well as always (or nearly always) being the ones to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, resulting in a larger sleep deprivation. 

That said, it does start to even out after the first year-ish (or earlier for parents that bottle-feed exclusively or primarily). Many of the other responsibilities (e.g. leaving work early to pick up the child from daycare, deciding who will stay home when the child is sick, attending wellness check-ups, figuring what to do during daycare holidays, etc.) are, in a healthy relationship, shared between the parents. 

Yes, there's still a larger bias against child-bearing mothers, but as fathers start to pitch in more (and more LGBT couples choose to have children), I think the gender-specific biases start to disappear earlier and earlier.

Many other work-life balance issues, such as the two-body problem, elder care, and even searching for a job may also be traditionally more burdensome for women, but I think  are likely to become more and more independent of gender. 

Regarding the male-sterotypes issue, I've been thinking about this since I did a project on gender-baises with respect to mathematics in high school, and it is, finally, becoming more clear to me. Sure, some people still have out-dated biases specifically against having a woman, but most discrimination is more subtle today. 

I think, in many previously male-dominated fields the expectation that only a male can do the job are diminishing, but many people still expect the job to be done "a man's way". I'll try to elaborate. For example, traditionally (stereotypically?) men compartmentalize projects, focus on one task for extended periods of time, are aggressive, direct, and dominant in conversations. Alternatively, women traditionally (stereotypically) work better while multi-tasking, view projects holistically, are more likely to wait to speak, less likely to give into dominant/aggressive feelings, and carefully use language to compete in conversations. I think the default in many research fields is to expect a successful scientist to exhibit traditionally masculine qualities, while traditional feminine qualities are not valued equally. Most of the successful female scientist today do not have children, are outspoken, direct, blunt, aggressive, and dominant in conversations. This approach works, but I happen to think both approaches will result in the same, high-quality science. Unfortunately, I don't think the majority of people hiring and giving tenure agree. 

I think I'll do my best to change that mentality. I'll do it for myself, and for my peers (men and women) who work different from the norm, and for my sweet baby. In 20 years, I hope she feels empowered to do whatever her heart desires whether it be go to grad school, or do ballet, or be a roller-derby queen, or drive a space shuttle:

Friday, March 9, 2012

International Women's Day

Here's how I spent yesterday (March 8), International Women's Day.

Woke up around 6:00am with my daughter and husband. Together we got our 14 month old changed, fed, dressed and ready for the day. Before leaving the house, I nursed my daughter, then we all headed out (Scott to take her to daycare, and me to head into work).

I got into work by 7:40. I had a surprisingly productive day - getting some preliminary results on a project about testis-specific genes in worms and flies (yay!), finalizing some projects for GWIS (Graduate Women in Science), and helping a labmate decipher a dataset that I'm familiar with.

I left at 4pm to pick up my little girl from daycare. I met a mom new to our daycare: her daughter is two months older than mine and gave my baby big kisses before we left! Baby girl and I made rice pudding and played until Scott came home. We all ate leftover lasagna and broccoli for dinner.

Then, bathtime, pajamas, five books, and an unusual struggle to get baby girl to bed after Scott went back into work for some late night adjustments. I had an hour and a half of quiet time - catching up on emails, facebook, blog reading, stretching and abs, then went to bed.

Standard day. But, pretty incredible when I consider the plight of women around the world.

I have one child to care for. I love my husband. I have a safe, dry, clean (mostly) home. I can openly disagree with my husband. I have a job outside the home because I choose to. I can vote (and it counts as much as my husband's vote). I don't struggle to find food. I don't worry or expect that my children or myself will be raped or abused. I am not forced to censor my body or my language. I have choices about whether, and when, I will reproduce, which allow me to pursue a career and interests beyond child-rearing. Further, these choices allow me to space my children so as to not strain my emotional, financial, and physical capacities.

I am very lucky to live when, and where I do. But there is a lot of work to be done, both in the US, and around the world.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sometimes a little perspective helps.

I'm not a big fan of most politicians, but I worry about the source of this article, whose author is disgusted with a plan put forth by President Obama to raise healthcare premiums for military members, but not union members. I think the writer is being deliberately dishonest. The government (i.e. our tax dollars) currently pay military benefits, while the government does NOT pay union worker benefits. Thus any president would not be able to cut or raise union worker benefits. Further, any president cannot, without congresses approval cut or raise benefits for military members.

First, they are referring to premiums, and not actual benefits.

Second, the numbers they quote for a retired army colonel with a family (who presumably makes more than lower officers), is that this person is paying "$460 a year for health care (and) will pay $2,048" after the raise. While the increase is dramatic, yes, it is still an order of magnitude below what a civilian family pays, on average, in premiums. In 2009, the average amount paid in premiums for a civilian family was $13,375 (see the link below).

A year ago we were budgeting to pay our own health insurance (it wasn't included for Berkeley postdocs), to the tune of 1,200.00 per month (yes, two months of our insurance premiums would be more than double what the government is requesting RETIRED military members pay for one year). Then, after arriving, we discovered that Berkeley postdocs had become unionized, and we would only have to pay in a percentage (a low percentage of 7%). The government had no say in that. And, as a union members, we are still paying almost twice as much as the example retired military members + family currently pay.

Yes, our military service members did/do volunteer to protect our country, but I think it is not unreasonable to expect that they might contribute more, financially, to their own healthcare plan. The US is in a deep recession, and I am fully in support of measures, cuts and taxes, to reasonably bring us out of it. But we are 15 trillion dollars deep in debt. It isn't going to easy on any of us.


I'm writing from my iPad while my husband snoozes next to me and out little girl naps on my chest, okay she's big enough now to cover my whole torso. At 14 months she is a champ in her toddler bed, but today has a very stuffy nose, and the incline of the momma-couch helps her breathe easy enough to get some sleep.

A few weeks ago we went to a potluck and a colleague's spouse asked he Scott and I manage to get Any work done, with us both being postdocs and having a young child. Well, the obvious answer is daycare. We are both able to physically go into work because we found a daycare (a small family-run on) that all three of us are happy with. But the complete answer is much more than that.

I am more efficient while I am in the lab. I don't take long breaks to chit chat with my labmates, I eat lunch at my desk while working, and I am much more focused while working, not getting distracted by all the Internet has to offer. I still find that most days I wish I had a couple more hours in the office, but I am lucky that I can work from home after baby girl goes to bed.

I wonder sometimes if it is enough though, to be successful in academia. I don't have the hours to spend staying up days at a time to work round-the -clock on a manuscript. My weekends are full of walks, and museums, and pretend games, and making sure foods aren't choking hazards. It is a family effort for me to attend a conference, even for a day. The further I move in the direction of a research scientist, the more I think how unsuitable this path is for someone with young children. And, perhaps unfairly, how unsuitable it is especially for women with young children. It certainly isn't always the case, but many studies have found that women scientists who are parents generally perform more than 50% of the household chores, meal-planning and preparation, and child-rearing in addition to their professional responsibilities. This might be because we like doing these activities, or because we prioritize differently, or because some gender roles are hard to challenge.

Whatever the reason, I think there are some fundamental changes that need to occur in academia if the field hopes to retain scientists who also choose to be parents. I'll write more when I'm at a proper keyboard.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad