Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Random Walk Edition

After her one night of refusing to go to sleep, Petunia has been going down easily and quickly in her crib, sleeping through until approximately 3 a.m., joining us in our bed and sleeping peacefully until I get up at about 6:40.

So I officially do not understand baby sleep. (But I'm really happy with the new routine, so take note, O Sleep Gods- I am not complaining!)

Also, I left a cute Pumpkin story off the last post- the class above her at day care will be "graduating" at the end of the summer (i.e., going off to kindergarten). They have a little graduation ceremony planned, and, according to Pumpkin, are busy practicing their "gradulations".

Yes, I love kid-isms. I know that I am going to be sad when my kids learn how to say everything properly. We've already had to let go of some of our favorites- like "bobbin" instead of "bottom".

And speaking of cute kids growing up faster than their parents think possible, The Bean Mom had a beautiful post about milestones, the passage of time and all that.

And speaking of mothers, a couple of weeks ago, the  NY Times published an interview with four women scientists who are at the top of their fields. It is an interesting read. Here are a couple of quotes I liked. First, from Dr. Elena Aprile, a physics professor, on the importance of role models:

"It is by example that young women see that you can be both a successful scientist, the best, but also the best mother and the lover, and the wife. You can do everything, so I think you need to have more examples of those."

I agree whole-heartedly, and the desire to build a list of those examples is one of the things that led me to start my list of scientists who are mothers. Well, that and the fact that I was tired of being told that the life I was leading was "impossible" to have and that I was some sort of freak of nature. I may be a freak, but I have a lot of company! (And hey, I think I should add a link to this article to that post....)

I also liked this quote, from Dr. Tal Rabin, a cryptography researcher, talking about the development of self-confidence over time:

"But this is something that I feel has developed in me. I do not think that I was this warrior that I am today when I started out in the field. I am like that today, but I wasn’t like that when I was 20. "

I think this is an important point- I certainly wasn't as confident when I started college as I am today, and I like the idea that my confidence will grow as I age. I think that this is a powerful argument for providing more support for women early in their education and careers (actually, for everyone- but the lack of self-confidence issue does seem to be one that plagues women more than men, on average).

I also liked that they didn't all agree about everything, and that the interviewer (Gina Kolata, a well known science writer) let that show. It reminds us that they are just telling their own stories of how they made their lives work- there are other, equally valid ways to do it. I thought of that, in particular, while reading the comments on blue milk's post on this article- she highlighted a quote from Dr. Joy Hirsch, a neuroscience professor:

"The great discovery for me was the middle of the night. It’s all done, and everybody has gone to bed. You can go to your computer and sit down and work. The middle of the night has been what saved my life as a scientist."

Some of the commenters were dismayed at the idea of having to give up sleep to get ahead... but I don't think that is a universal truth. I think different people find different solutions to the problem of fitting all the things they want to do into the hours they have. Some people don't need as much sleep as others, so they work in the middle of the night. Other people might take their kids to lab with them on weekends. And still others might find ways to get more efficient and squeeze more productivity out of their regular work hours. We're all different, and have different constraints on our lives, and different things we're willing to compromise. Which, I guess, brings this back around to the first quote, and the need for more role models. If you are looking at one single role model, and that person's life doesn't look appealing to you, you might dismiss an entire profession, when in fact it could be that you could have found an entirely different solution to the problem, if you'd only tried.


  1. Anonymous6:05 AM

    But don't you understand that these women are horrible role models and destroying their fields for daring to do anything outside of their jobs? Where's their sense of responsibility? How dare they go into science? I bet some of them have hired women who clean for them too.
    *end rant


    Very cool.

  2. @nicoleandmaggie - LOL!

    Glad to see the NYT is actually putting out the occasional feminist piece these days in addition to their anti-female MD crap (Karen Siebert's "Don't Quit This Day Job"), and their elitist, divorcee-shaming bullshit (Pamela Paul's "How Divorce Lost Its Groove").

  3. the milliner2:20 PM

    "I certainly wasn't as confident when I started college as I am today, and I like the idea that my confidence will grow as I age. I think that this is a powerful argument for providing more support for women early in their education and careers (actually, for everyone- but the lack of self-confidence issue does seem to be one that plagues women more than men, on average)."

    ITA. I suspect that men and women equally lack in self-confidence, but most men have been raised to push forward regardless, where as most women (many women?) are raised to question more.

    This all cross-checks with the book I'm reading now about highly sensitive adults. Sensitive people 'pause to check' and non (less?) sensitive people go for it. It's not surprising that society as a whole has deemed women the more sensitive ones and men, not. Though in reality the sensitivity split is 20-80, with highly sensitive in the minority.

    And, oh, the middle of the night. How I wish I could be a 'middle of the night' person. I used to be a night owl. I'm just so damn tired now, I can't even fathom doing this. For the moment I'm more of an optimize the hours I can work person. I became amazingly efficient and effective when I came back to work after mat leave. But I think a large part of the reason I was able to do this was having a motivating, trusting and flexible boss. Now? Not so much. And I'm on stress leave from work because of it.

    For sure I'm not in a totally objective place right now. But I can't help but think that being able to 'have it all' (whatever that means to each of us) is linked to both your work environment, how much control you have over it and also your personality type.

    Even with the great boss, I found it hard not to be pulled in many directions. This is nothing new to most mothers and parents. Even though I tried to minimize the guilt (mostly for home and probably even more for personal time and hobbies/me guilt about not working enough) on bad days I definitely felt having it all - *to the degree I wanted it all* was not really possible. But, I suppose when you have a lot of things in your life that you love, it's this kind of embarrassment of riches that you have to sort out.

    OK, rambling now. But anyhow, ITA that people, and especially women, should not be selling themselves short before even trying. An old boss, who was insanely into her career, but also a devoted mother, told me before I had DS that I would find a way to work it all out. Ultimately, I think she's right.

    Just hoping I'll get my groove and passion for work back, which, ultimately will give me the energy and the courage to fit it all in and to let go of the non-essentials.

    Oh, and I went to read the comments/post at @nicoleandmaggie's blog. Perhaps I'm dense, but do we not all encounter enough stereotyping and inequity in our days, no matter what we do, that we can all actively be 'fighting for the sisterhood' in our own way? I'm no radical, but I've never considered myself not a feminist or not considered that there is still work to be done (as with most (all?) inequalities).

    ITA @cloud with your comment that it takes some radicals and some moderates to push everything forward. Let's just get on with it, each in our own way.

  4. the milliner2:25 PM

    Oh, and um, SAHM's (as the rest of us parents) are raising the next generation. If these mothers are raising their kids, the boys and the girls, with feminist ideals, is that not just effective (maybe more so?) as fighting for equal rights in the workforce?

    OK, if I have another comment, I'll move it over to @nicoleandmaggie's blog.

  5. Anonymous3:33 PM

    @the milliner
    oh no, not our blog... Historiann's.
    Somehow every post, no matter what the actual post topic, recently has been devolving into comments about how mothers are horrible people, especially if they hire cleaning women, double especially if they disagree.

  6. @nicoleandmaggie, I know! And one of them even said that it was OK to slow down a bit when the kids are little, so that you get to enjoy them. Heresy!

    @hush, yeah I had kind of written off the NY Times for coverage of both scientists and mothers, so this was a pleasant surprise.

    @the milliner, I will never be a "work in the middle of the night" person, either. I never have been. I've pulled two all nighters in my life: one to print my thesis (this shows my age- no way it would take so long now) and one to have my first baby. (The second baby was much faster and I was asleep by 2 a.m.)

    And yeah, the craziness that led to my rant awhile back was on Historiann's blog. I just found it via Nicoleandmaggie's blog. I totally agree- the comments there are getting so extreme they are funny. I always want to ask those sorts of people if they think their own mothers were sold out the sisterhood when they had kids.

  7. Ah, the Random Walk. I haven't had to think about that since 3rd year engineering math! It's an apt title for your piece.

  8. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Oh Jeez. So I'm terrified of posting this on Historiann's blog because she would totally give me a bitch slap-down (also why I didn't comment that I'd thought Bad Teacher was getting bad ratings as being a mediocre movie from the critics)... but really? You're sick of your comments devolving into arguments from mothers and you decide to post on whether or not breast is best? And how making the statement that breast is best is destroying the feminist sisterhood?

    Really? Not looking for controversial comments from mothers there, no sir.

    That's my passive-aggressive little complaint there. Hypocrisy: only ok when I'm the one doing it.

  9. @Zenmoo- the name would have been even more apt if I'd taken the next random step- which was to My Antonia (the Willa Cather book, which I just read). But oh well, I forgot to include that.

    @nicoleandmaggie- indeed, that sort of statement is almost guaranteed to get lots of comments from mothers. Although I think that I am personally done arguing with feminists about breastfeeding. Because I don't care what they think. I LIKE breastfeeding my baby.

  10. Anonymous2:19 PM

    Yeah, I'm also done. Well, not quite true... I queued up a post on feminist backlash more generally that will go up in a month or two while I'm out of town and away from computers for a few weeks. There's actually quite a lot of cranky controversial posts that will be going up while I'm out of town. #2 will deal with the fallout.

    This next week we're all silly happy posts! Because we need a break! Self-serving charitable donations, travel, cat hair, kindle, and interior decorating. Good stuff, but perhaps not particularly controversial, though who knows, we may get surprised.

  11. Anonymous2:23 PM

    p.s. Can you tell that I'm spending large portions of today at the computer making pretty spreadsheets?

  12. Thanks for the shout-out, Cloud!

    I read the NYtimes article when it first came out, and frankly found it depressing. Particularly the exchange where one woman says, "You have to be made of steel" to succeed in science, and one of the other women responds, "No, titanium." Because I'm not steel or titanium, so what hope is there for me?

    Yeah, some of my other female scientist friends found the article depressing as well. We're postdocs or junior scientists in a competitive field, and reading about the difficulties faced by these senior women, and reading that working in the middle of the night is what some have to do to get ahead.. well, it's just demoralizing...

  13. @nicoleandmaggie- I look forward to reading the post!

    @the bean-mom- just remember that these are only four women, and they are right at the top of their fields. (1) Other women might have very different things to say. (2) There is a lot of room to have a productive, satisfying career not at the very tippy top of your field.

    Also, on the steel/titanium thing- I do think it helps in general to develop a certain toughness about career things. But that is something that develops, in my experience- and is also something where the old "fake it until you can make it" adage really works well.

  14. Really well said. And good point about there being lots of room for a satisfying career that doesn't have to be at the top. I think that's true for many fields.

    Thank goodness for these women who strive to the top and prove that they can do it while finding a comfortable balance for them and their families (YMMV). IMO, if it wasn't for them, there would be less room for the multitude of experiences and levels of careers and work/life balance. Just because I don't want to be at the top or have to go through what they do or be made of titanium doesn't lessen my appreciation for how my career has been benefitted by them.

  15. Anonymous2:58 PM

    Just a note: Most men aren't at the top of their fields either, and the ones who are generally don't have much of a life outside of work either. Sure, they may have kids and housewives, or they may not, but they also don't have a lot of leisure while they're still moving and shaking.

  16. Cloud and others,

    Good points, and you're right of course that there are many different kinds of success. I don't aim to be at the top--I'd be quite happy chugging away as a staff scientist. I just get freaked out every now when I look at the NIH paylines and think that even keeping a toehold in my field is freaking competitive...

    "Fake it til you make it" is my motto =)


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