I’ve officially been away from my scientific career for 10 years this month. I’m not as devastated about that thought as I thought I would be. I wrote this blog post in 2009 on my blog Raising Smart Girls, and I thought I would reprint it here:
I have to give my appreciation to Jenny from A Natural Scientist for having a button on her blog that linked me to other science mama blogs. Through a quick jump through a few other hyperlinks, I stumbled upon this gem of a blog called Motherhood, The Elephant in the Laboratory.
I am a lurker on a few “women in science” blogs, read some of the discussions facing women in science generated by the Scientiae Carnivals. I feel like a complete outsider, a bit of a charlatan, now that I’m no longer on the bench. In addition, most of the women in science hold academic positions and higher level educations than mine, and as for me, I just hold a B.S. and 12 years of clinical laboratory experience. Although, I do have something under my belt: the biology department director that hired me at Presitigious Private U told me that having the 9 years of experience in clinical laboratory work was the “equivalent” of having a master’s degree in their eyes, and they hired me for my technical strengths and my quality assurance experience. And no matter where I go next, I do have the Prestigious U’s experience to document on my CV, and no one can take that away from me.
As I contemplate the future, I find how I feel about re-entering a science career varies from day to day. Most days I’m thrilled to be at home, teaching my girls science and math (lately my first grader wants to know multiplication, so I’m teaching her at home). Some days I’m wistful for what I’m missing. Very rarely do I have a heartbreaking ache like I used to have.
I’m also extremely grateful I’ve been able to leave be an advocate for my middle daughter. As the acting supervisor for my small laboratory at the last position I had, I would not have been able to take off to take my daughter to her 6 neuropsychological appointments last year to determine if she truly had selective mutism and rule out more worrisome concerns like autism. I’d also wouldn’t be able to spend the time to go observe her in her schools, monitor her progress, and put the special needs teacher in her place when she disregarded a significant portion of my daughter’s IEP.
My former lab director, a mother of two herself, while understanding, would only have been able tolerate so much absence. Because our laboratory was so small (we were testing for rare genetic diseases), each of us was critical for the moving of samples through to completion (I wore a dual hat of acting supervisor and senior bench analyst). With the growing influx of new samples, working part time was not even an option.
Unlike her, who lived close on the campus and could take off a couple of hours if she needed to attend to her children, I lived 45 minutes by car, 1.5 hours by train away in the suburbs (no the train ride didn’t take that long, the walk to the train, the wait for the train, then the ride home in the car took that long) . There would be no “oh, I’ll be gone for 2 hours and I’ll be back” for me.
I appreciated this story from Nan Padzernik on Full-Time Scientist VS. Full Time Mom. I understand that feeling very out of place. I am a content for the moment to live vicariously through other scientific mamas and read their trials and tribulations of finding work/life balance as I sip my coffee and consider whether I should get started on making a doll blanket for my girls like I made for my niece over the weekend, and how I should stop blogging/reading blogs and go make the zucchini nut bread I’ve been wanting to make the past two days with my 3.5 year old to help me and seriously considering running to the dollar store to pick up some workbooks on multiplication (my oldest daughter loves workbooks) before we have to pick up my 5 year old and 7 year old from school.
I am in the thick of parenting right now, and have no screaming desire to go back to the bench, just yet, but perhaps I will. I like reading about other mothers in science who face some of the same decisions I faced and see how they are dealing with the complexity of feelings that are placed upon their hearts and minds.
I feel some day I will get to the place I want to be, and I feel I will know it when I get there which is why I haven’t had a strong commitment to returning to work or school at the moment. Until then I am enjoying my time at home with my girls. I’m at a point where I crave quantity time with them, not just quality time. They are teaching me a lot about what I value at this point in my life.
A lot has happened in the 5 years since I wrote that post.
Ego-wise, I’m not clutching onto my career as a measure of my personal worth as a human being. I’ve had a series of ‘attitude adjustments’ over the years that have humbled me enough to lose the arrogance I once had.
Career-wise, I’m still floundering. I do have part-time work as a substitute teacher. I get called less and less to substitute teach, mostly because the days I don’t want to or can’t work, I get called, and the days I want to and can work, I don’t get called. I actually like teaching in small doses…but it’s incredibly draining to be in a classroom of 23-28 kids and keep them on task, not to mention needing to help them resolve conflicts or soothe them when they cry. I’m not sure where to go from here, yet. I hope I can resolve this pretty soon. I am thinking taking a few classes might be in order for me. I might even take a biology class this time.
Relationship-wise, I’d been extremely close to divorce. I quit my job, in part, to have more time with family, which included my husband. But 2 years after I quit my job, he lost his well-paid engineering job. It was two years before he regained employment as a massage therapist. Our income has been reduced drastically and our self-paid insurance takes a huge bite we didn’t have to worry about before. Between his depression and his drinking, and my stress levels skyrocketing, we’d gone through a very hellish period. We have been steadily, quietly improving.
Family-wise – I can say that my selectively mute daughter has been doing very well. She has been able to give presentation and even perform on stage with speaking or singing roles. Both she and my oldest are blossoming in their high ability classes in school and after school programs. My youngest now is the one who I’m taking to the pediatric neuropsychologist – because she’s had anxiety that’s been impacting her during tests, and while one test qualified her for the high ability program, another one excluded her.
Creativity-wise, I’m very happy with what I’m doing – my writing, my photography, and my art-making fills a need. I might even start getting serious about selling some of my photography or mixed media pieces (when I make some more). We’ll see about that.
PTSD-and-depression-wise, I think I’m improving. I don’t feel as bad as I did once upon a time. My marriage is on more stable ground. I’m glad for that. I still have emotional bumps, just not as severe as they once were. The biggest problem I have is in the friend-making department. I really want and need some friendship, but when I think about how much I want to make new friends and how pretty much impossible it’s been to meet wholesome kindred spirits, I am very anxious. I know I’m feeling desperate for friendship at times, and I feel that intensely when I meet new people. Especially new people I really like.
I did manage to speak to the storyteller from last weekend, and we are conversing via email. I’m feeling scared, quite honestly. Yes, even though he’s a storyteller and actor, and he probably knows all about emotional intensity and has a whole posse of quirky, creative, intense friends, I’m thinking of all the other attempts I made at finding friends, only to have it not work out. I hope not, but it’s on my mind way too much and it’s leaving me very tense. I tend to overshare on my blog. I know this. I am trying to be cautious in my real life friendships. I don’t want to people to know how very much I want and need friendship, lest that neediness scare them away. I feel like I’m that extremely shy 6th grader I was all over again.
Especially since he said something very perceptive to me:
A storytime – whether on our own, or with another – is food for the soul. It sounds like your soul has been hungry lately, if you know what I mean.
Um, heck ya, I know what he means. I’ve been famished. I don’t mean for the written word, I’ve had plenty of that. But for the spoken word. When I’m not working at school, I spend 6 hours all by myself – either at home, or going for a walk, or going to the library, the craft store, or making art at the local coffee house.
I’ve lost confidence in myself…but I’m slowly trying to regain a sense of self-assurance. On the one hand, I know I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and gosh darn it, some people in the blog world like me. I just wish I could have that ease and peace I want when I’m trying to go beyond the acquaintance stage in my real world.