Tuesday, November 29, 2005

BUFF lunch

We had another BUFF lunch today and it went really well. We had 6 women there, including myself and the woman I invited, Dawn, who recently got tenure here. That's a great turnout by my standards. Dawn says the magic number is 8. That's 8 peer-reviewed publications that do not include your PhD or post-doc advisor. Right now I have zero, since my post-doc advisor is on everything I write. But I have three dissertation chapters that are supposed to be finished soon. Problem is that the timetable for them is at the mercy of the students who are writing them. And they are moving slowly. So very slowly. Ugh.

Well, they ain't gonna write themselves. I'd better get back to work.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Back from Balmer

Well, I survived Baltimore. I used to live there, so it was actually nice in some ways to go back. I got to go to some of my favorite restaurants, including Egyptian Pizza and Bill Bateman's. Bateman's has great wings, if ever you are in "Balmer". I miss Baltimore. The city has a character all it's own. Not always a good character, but always interesting. The conference was good for me. I schmoozed like crazy. I was there from the first talk to the last minutes of the poster sessions every evening, which is very unusual for me. In the past I have felt out of place at these conferences because I didn't know very many people, but at this conference I seemed to be constantly running in to people I knew or people I wanted to meet. I guess that means I am becoming integrated into the vast scientific machine. This would appear to be a good thing.

When I got back on Thursday I was totally baked, so I was glad that I had decided to bag the NYC meeting. I participated by conference call, which is kind of useless, but it did assuage my conscience. Then I had to run to my son's parent-teacher conference (he's at the top of his class!), then I ran to the faculty meeting, driving 30 minutes each way to catch the last 10 minutes of the meeting. Oh well. Such is (my) life.

My technician also survived the cruise. He says the gale they got caught in was pretty bad, and it knocked the power out on the boat for 45 minutes. You can imagine how terrified he was, lubber that he is.

Saturday I bought almost $200 worth of groceries to get ready for Thanksgiving. Spent most of the weekend cleaning the parts of the house that I usually ignore. I'm staying home Wednesday to bake pies and brine the turkey. Just one more lab exersize to go, and a proposal due 12/7, and this accursed semester will be over!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Survival

I think my head is going to explode. I have only ever had one semester worse than this one. That was Fall 2001, when we had the 9/11 attacks, anthrax, I was pregnant, and I was teaching the lab class for the first time. It helps me to reflect on that awful semester, because it makes this one seems not so bad by comparison. But it has been bad, mostly because of all the travel. I was supposed to go on that cruise in the Atlantic. Well it left on Sunday, and since it conflicted with (a) three days when public schools were closed, (b) my husband's three day business trip, and (c) my leaving for my week-long meeting in Baltimore, I did not go. I sent my technician instead. The boat was supposed to return on Saturday, but my tech called yesterday and told me that bad weather had driven them back to port and they were going to extend the cruise through Tuesday to make up for the lost time. I could hear the seasickness in his voice. I still wish I could have gone, it would have been exciting. But there is only so much one human can stand.

So now I am preparing to leave for my big trip to Baltimore. This is the one big conference that I hit every year, and for some godawful reason they have to schedule it the week before Thanksgiving. I was asked to be on the planning committee for this year's meeting, and I niavely said yes, not realizing the effort involved. No one explained to me what my duties would be at the meeting itself. They have been having conference calls to plan it all, but this Fall they have all been on Fridays, when I have my lab class. So last Friday I actually listened in on the conference call while I was watching my students do their lab. I missed a couple of conference calls, so I obviously missed some important information, but the communication is so bad within the Program Committee that I did not know until Monday that I was expected to be in Baltimore by Friday at 2. Hah! I guess they assume no one on the program committee has a life. So I told them I couldn't be there, and politely informed them that they need to give people a little more notice on these things. I am leaving Saturday at noon, which is bad enough since it means my husband has to spend pretty much the whole weekend alone with the kids. He is very frustrated with me right now. I am also leaving the meeting a little early so that I can get home on Thursday in time to pick up the kids from school. That should really endear me to the program committee. I was supposed to turn right around and go to NYC on that Friday, but I have made an executive decision that I'm going to bag it. I just can't handle it. I will participate in that meeting by phone. I'm not going to commute 2 hours each way for a 3-hour meeting.

Today I have to once again bluff my way through lab class with no data, since the HPLC is not working. Last night I went to the grocery store, and I am working on the laundry so that I can lay out the boys' outfits for all the days I am gone. I already made out menus.

If I can just survive the next week things will start to get better. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reflections on Halloween

I've been so busy lately I haven't even had time to watch streams of the Daily Show. I've had a lot of things on my mind that I wanted to write about but I just haven't had time, so I am wasting the last 30 minutes of my day to post.

Friday night was a Halloween party at my son's elementary school. He also had karate graduation that night, making it a festival of fun for the whole family running from place to place, switching out of school clothes to karate uniforms to Halloween costumes, but that's another story. I was a little shocked at the party at some of the costumes the girls were wearing. His school only goes up to the 3rd grade, so these were 6-9 year old girls wearing sexy kitten costumes and gyrating to the pop songs that the DJ was playing. I'm so out of date that I didn't recognize most of the music. Was it Britney Spears or what? But the girls already knew all the moves and were swinging their hips around in alarming fashion. All I can say is, I'm glad I don't have any daughters, because I would dress them as nuns and not let them leave the house. When my boys watch Cartoon Network they see adds for those Bratz Babies. I find those totally offensive. They are sexualizing little girls. It is so wrong. I am as blue state as they come, but even I feel that pop culture is undermining my attempts to raise my children with healthy attitudes about sex and the role of women in our society. My roommate in college was sexually abused as a child, and I've seen what it did to her psyche. She will never lead a "normal" life. I'm not saying that eliminating sexual images on TV would have prevented her abuse, but I also can't believe it is a good idea to advertise dolls of babies with pouty lips and revealing clothing on TV, either.

Whew. It feels good to get THAT off my chest.

I also had my mentoring committee meeting on Halloween. I was stupid to schedule it at 1 pm on Halloween. That was my fault entirely. So the whole time I was in the meeting I was looking at my watch wondering if I was going to make it to my son's Halloween pageant. Generally the feedback on my CV was good. They told me a lot of things I already knew--I need to publish some papers without my post-doc mentor (so far he is co-author on virtually everything). I need to court my potential letter writers, which means more travel to conferences and to give invited seminars and stuff. I immediately pointed out that travel is very hard for me. And we talked about my need to get some bigger funding fish. All the grants I have come from state or local agencies. I have nothing from NSF or EPA. And although we did just get that huge grant from a federal agency, I am #5 out of 5 PIs on it. So hey, I'm working on it. What else can I say? I have no control over when NSF decides to fund.

When I first walked into the meeting, my dept chair (who is on my mentoring committee) asked me how I was, and I said I was a little stressed out because I have a lab class with 15 students, and my TA just had her baby over the weekend, so she's out of commission for the rest of the semester and the HPLC isn't working. After about an hour, the one male on my committee of 3 mentors had to leave for class. Then my two female mentors and I continued to talk, and dept chair asked what else the dept could be doing for me. I said, "you can pick up my kids when I have to go out of town." I was joking, of course, but then, damn it, tears started to leak out of my eyes. Where did they come from? I blame my hormones, which were crazy because my period just started that morning. I never really cried, I just dripped a little, but that was bad enough. I told my mentors that I'm having a hard semester and I worry that things are only going to get more intense in the next few years. I can handle things right now, but if they get worse, I'm not sure I am going to be able to balance everything. My dept chair says I need to get more help with childcare. That would be in addition to full time day care for child #2 and after school care for child #1. I need help for when I go out of town and I need a baby sitter so that my husband and I can occasionaly spend time alone together. It just seems ridiculous that the $13,000 per year I am already spending on childcare is not enough (and remember that figure is half of what I paid last year, when both boys were in full-time daycare). Plus I cannot muster the time and energy it would take to find someone reliable to care for my children. And I know that my husband would give me greif about not spending enough time with the kids.

Oh sh*t, I just realized that I missed my childcare committee meeting, which started 50 minutes ago. Oops. F***ing irony!

Well anyway, too late to go to the meeting now. On with the show. Maybe it was a good thing that I showed some emotion in my mentoring meeting. Recall that one young female professor in our dept just quit to spend more time with her family. So it's not such a bad thing for me to show my dept chair that I am under a lot of strain, too. This balancing work and family thing is hard. I buzzed out of the meeting to go to son #2's Halloween pageant. I missed the pageant but arrived in time for cupcakes. Then we went home, ordered Domino's, took the boys trick or treating, and managed to get them into bed, with scrubbed teeth, by their usual bedtime and with no major meltdowns. All in all, a good Halloween.

And during all this, it occurred to me: I am giving my boys a happy childhood.

So screw tenure. My life is pretty good.