Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More time please?!?

Magnum, PI is very supportive and has no problems with his post-docs starting families. In fact, he was quite excited when I told him I was expecting and immediately told me not to worry about any decreased productivity that I might experience during the time before and after I gave birth. He went on to tell me about several other female post-docs that started families while in his lab that were able to balance work and life and move on to successful careers. This was wonderful news and it was a relief that he was fine with and understood that a decrease in productivity would to occur. Unfortunately, I was not fine with this then and I am still not fine with it now. It nags at me.

The fact that my project went to hell in a hand-basket this summer does not ease the constant nagging voice that tells me I am falling behind, that I am not producing enough data, that I am not getting as much done each day as I possibly can. I know that I just can’t work the hours that I used to, yet I refuse to except that this means that my productivity must also slow down. (I know, it's silly, but it's how I feel.) As a result, I’ve tried to make up for the lack of time in the lab by trying to utilize every single minute of time. I make plans, I organize accordingly and I multi-task like it’s going out of style. Unfortunately, I still find ways of not getting everything done and it drives me crazy and makes for a cranky MXX.

Take today for instance. I chose to stay home for a few hours this morning so that I could write and submit an abstract for ASM. I can’t seem to get a lot of writing done at work due to constant interruptions, but by staying at home, experiments are not getting done. I prefer to write the abstract at work during incubations, PCRs, etc. I tried this initially, but it didn't work out. On to plan B; work on the abstract at home during the evening. Unfortunately, my husband is working around the clock this week as a major deadline is approaching for him, so all child care falls 100% on my shoulders. Mini-xx goes to sleep at 7:30, but that’s when the never-ending chores start. After that I just want to go to pass out. So, on to plan C; take a few hours at home and push the abstract out the door while simultaneously NOT doing experiments. This is what I did, but I feel like it wasn't the best use of my time. I always think I can be doing something else while writing, especially something as lame as an abstract.

Anyway. The decreased productivity is constantly on my mind. I recently brought this up to Magnum, PI during a brief conversation. I stated to him that I was not pleased with how far behind I had fallen regarding my project. Specifically, I anticipated a paper being submitted at this point. He looked at me like he thought I was crazy and told me he was more than pleased with my work since joining his lab. He told me he thought I was too ambitious and that my expectations were slightly unrealistic. I’m glad that he is happy and it’s great that he is pleased with my progress, but somehow this doesn’t quiet the voice in my head and unfortunately, I still can’t see how my expectations are unreasonable.

To me the expectations aren’t the problem, I am. Cutting myself slack is not something I have ever been able to do. Instead, I’ve decided that I need to find a way to add another 5 hours to my time in the lab…at least until I get back on track. Putting in an extra hour or two everyday is not going to work. This would completely fuck up things at home and besides, I need a chunk of time. So, I’m thinking that if I can stay until 10pm two days a week (instead of just one), then maybe I can begin to get back on track. The downside is obvious, I will miss another night with mini-xx. On the plus side, it will keep me from putting in serious hours on the weekend, which I don’t want to do as these are the only two full days I get to spend with my family.

Oh I don't know. Now that I am reading what I've written, it does sound a bit crazy.


Anonymous said...

You don’t seem to get a lot of writing done at work. You have to stay few hours at home to write a lame abstract. Yet you have time to post at 3.24 pm (work hours!).

ScientistMother said...

Anon fuck off

I've been where you are, the fact of the matter is that you can't make time appear magically. You can not accomplish in 8 hours what you used to do in 12 and you need rest or your body will revolt and you will really fall behind. Your expectations are unrealistic. You need to realize that, accept it and figure out how to complete those reasonable expectations. You are not and do not want to be a Kern. Mini-xx will only be mini for so long. Your weekends need to be for you and your family. Multitask, yes. But don't multitask so much that you make silly mistakes that put you farther behind. Remember, slow and steady.

Having said all this, realize that I am 4 yrs later still struggling to heed my own advice

ScientistMother said...


EcoGeoFemme said...

Sounds totes crazy. But you know, do what you need to do to keep yourself sane. Sometimes when I'm stressed with work, a friend will say that I need to take a break, but really the only thing that will help is just getting the damn work done. If you're in that place and you can't relax and enjoy mini-xx anyway, then the best thing is to work the hours.

Sorry it's so hard to balance work and home. Sounds sucky.

chall said...

Sounds a bit much tbh. Even if you didn't have minimxx there are always things that don't work and (hopefully) a life where a person wants to spend time with you.

I understand the feelin of frustration though - even wo a child. I hope you can get through the feeling and realise that things take time, it is ok, and in the end you will get done what will get done.

Prio 1 would be abstract since that is a dead line... then the experiements hopefully will work at the same time as you can spend time with mini mxx and man... you do need to sleep though ^^ especially in order to be productive and effective.

Cut yourself some slack and try and see what is realistic - not only for having a life outside of lab but in general.

all the best!

/fellow unrealistic former post doc ;)

chall said...

oh and maybe we could meet up at ASM then?!! :) I'd love that, and I'm trying to make sure I will be there..

microbiologist xx said...

Anon - First of all, there are many days where being at home at 3:30 is not unreasonable considering I sometimes get to work at 5:30am (yeah, that would be a 10h day in case you're checking). You have no idea what my work hours are. Second, I don't blog directly into blogger. I write my blog elsewhere and upload it to the site when I get a spare few minutes, which may occur while I am at work. Not that I need to justify myself to an anonymous commenter, but I wrote the entire post, with the exception of the paragraph specific to yesterday, the night before at 11:00pm after I was done with work, my child and the fuck-ton of chores that I have to do. The one paragraph was written after my abstract submission...yes over a 5 minute span that occurred during work hours. Oh look, it's 9:10am and I'm responding to blog comments at work! Of course I also have a gel running, a PCR, a digestion and am making comp. cells (which are still growing).

SM - You're right, you're right. I think it's just going to take me a while to make the adjustment. Plus, I feel like it's a little easier said than done (which it seems like you would agree with). I am really doing everything i can to avoid working on the weekends. I really feel like that is family time (and sometimes adult time) now.
I totally don't want to be a Kern. blech

EGF - Thanks. I agree about your mind being elsewhere when you are stressed. I really feel like putting in an extra chunk of time during the week would help me relax (crazy as that sounds) and prevent me from going into the lab on the weekends. Also, once things get back under control I can ease up a bit...if that ever happens. :)

chall - Thanks. I totally agree that with or without the child things don't always work in the lab. One of the "problems" for me is that having a strict time to be home almost every day means that I can't always restart an experiment that goes wrong and just put in a super long day to make up for it.
I've was having serious experiment issues this summer and then again in December and learned that troubleshooting on a schedule totally. Now that I am finally past all that I just want to churn out the data - you know at the unreasonable pace that sounds totally reasonable in my head. :)

Yes, I really want to meet up at ASM!!! I hope you can attend.

microbiologist xx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm struggling with the same things (and the idea that we can't blog about our frustrations is stoopid @anon, so shut the f*** up). I agree with SM about trying to lower your very high expectations, but I also know how hard that is to do. After the past couple of months of almost going over the edge myself, I'm having to force myself to take some deep breaths. As hard as it is for me, I figure I better get used to it now rather than spend the rest of my career feeling guilty about not enough time at home/work.

Unknown said...

Hey MXX - I obviously don't have any helpful advice, seeing as I feel very much the same way (never *quite* good/productive enough) even without a child in the mix.

I think that you should listen to your PI though. Presumably, he's had the opportunity to see a lot more people through this career phase, and seeing as he's not totally unhinged, he's probably got a more realistic and objective perspective on this situation than you do.

I know that doesn't solve everything because those internal standards never really go away, but the fact that he is pleased with your work should mean *something*.

Hang in there lady.

Candid Engineer said...

Assuming your PI is a successful scientist, he knows far better than you do whether or not you are meeting expectations for your field. Kudos to you for making him happy.

I hate to see you making yourself miserable with these unrealistic expectations. All you can ask of yourself is to do your best, and it sounds like you are already doing that.

tideliar said...

Uh, yeah...No.

You gotta trim your expectation to normal human levels Sis. You'll burn out, I swear to you - you will burn out and that will be MUCH worse.

tideliar said...

Hmmm... assuming Anon and I are the only male commenters, I hope my comment doesn't come across as sexist or patriarchal. It isn't meant to be. It's a friendly expression of concern to a fellow blogmate.

microbiologist xx said...

Micro Dr. O - You are right.
I did cut myself some slack right after mini-xx was born, but I guess I just thought I would be more on top of things at this point. I am trying to be more realistic (trying is the key word here), but I am also going to add some hours to the work week. I think a compromise is a good place for me to start.

AA & CE- Thanks. That is nice to read.
It does mean something that the PI is pleased and you're right, he's got a little more knowledge than I do in this department. I'm totally going to hang in there!

TL - I do NOT want to burn out. After reading this post over, I do think I might sound a bit, oh, I don't know, insane. I am going to work on getting more reasonable expectations and if I can do that, maybe I can go easier on myself...just a little.
Your comment did not come off as sexist or patriarchal. No worries.

Unknown said...

I know how you feel; I had both of my kids during my postdoc. And even after 5 years, I still struggle on a daily basis balancing both sides of me. I found that it helps to spend more time pre-planning so you can make your day more efficient and to try not to compare yourself to the other people in the lab without children. Of course, easier said than done as I have so much mommy/work-guilt myself, but it is something that has gotten better. Good luck to you from one mommy microbiologist to another.

Anonymous said...

The bean-mom said...

MXX--I followed you here from Scientistmother's link. SHE IS EXACTLY RIGHT. Slow and steady wins the race. The old saying about it being a marathon and not a race. You have to take care of yourself, or you will burn out and be even less productive (both at work and at home).

Having said this... I'm the mother of two young children and know your feelings well. I just recently went back to the lab, and just this month have been hearing that relentless voice urging me on to greater feats of lab productivity. But guess what--none of us can conjure an extra ten hours out of thin air. (If I were to pick one superpower, that would be it). Your life changes irrevocably when you have kids--there is no way around it.

And having said this... yes, like Scientistmother, I'm still struggling with that change six years on. The good news is that it DOES get easier. And I DO hear rumors of mother-scientists who have made it all work, and even gotten jobs.

microbiologist xx said...

Freeheeler - Hi and sorry for the late reply. I think you are completely right about the pre-planning. I've really been trying to do this and I've noticed that when I do, things go much more smoothly.

Bean-mom - Hello and also, sorry for the late reply. You and SM are right. I knew this was not going to be easy, but somehow I just thought I would have my shit together by now or at least more together by now.
It is also comforting to know if does get easier! I try to remind myself of this whenever I start getting all crazy. I think I'll add "slow and steady wins the race."