Monthly Archives: July 2011

Guest posting on The Mother Geek today

A friend and fellow science mom invited me to guest post on her blog today as part of her Momday series:  The Mother Geek

I’m posting about the recent discussion I’ve seen on parenting blogs and in the news about pediatric pratices refusing to treat children whose parents refuse to vaccinate.  Should docs be able to turn away families that don’t vaccinate?  It’s not a simple question, and in this case my scientific views may be in opposition to my maternal views.

Join the discussion on The Mother Geek here:  Momday:  Momma, PhD on vaccinations

Or weigh in on Twitter #Momday #SciMom @JeanneGarb @mazafratz

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iPhone (Droid) Photo Friday!

This week was a series of FAILs.

Weather: FAIL

Miserable heatwave

Potty training: FAIL

(Thankfully, for the doll's sake, this potty has yet to be christened)

Healthy toddler: FAIL

Mabel was having her own corporeal heatwave.

Non-FAILS:

Alison Krauss and Union Station concert at the Ives Concert Pavilion!

She does windows too!

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My best parenting advice: keep your expectations low

This post is inspired by the “Show Us Your Life” (SUYL) blog hop hosted by Kelly’s Korner.  This week’s SYUL topic is:  Share your best parenting advice.

 

My daughter (almost 5 weeks old) and I (with makeup on)- on her first Valentine's Day.

The parenting advice I always give to new parents:  Keep your expectations low- what you expect of yourself, your partner, and your baby.

Those first weeks with an infant are tough.  Your baby doesn’t know how to exist in the world.  You don’t know how to [insert new parenting skill here].  Your partner doesn’t know anything at all (how to help you, what not to say to you, etc.)!  In those early days, accomplishments will include:  getting out of your pajamas, brushing your teeth, getting a couple hours of sleep, eating something, not getting poop on yourself, etc.   Set the bar REALLY low.

There’s a lot for new moms to learn and new babies have to learn everything!  Try to remember that the learning curve is steep- for both of you.  Your partner wants to help, but is as clueless (maybe even more so?) than you.  Cut yourself, your baby, and your partner lots of slack.

You wear the same pajamas 48 hours straight, sleeping and waking- so what?!  There’s an enormous pile of laundry (some of it with baby poop on it) sitting in the hamper- get over it!  You take a nap rather than do chores- good for you!  You remember to take that stool softener- cheers!  You only put on makeup so there exists a picture of your child’s infancy in which you don’t look like death- who doesnt?!  (See mine above!)

The first weeks are hard.  It does get better.  Until it gets better, keep your expectations low, muddle through, forgive yourself, and try your best to enjoy the little moments along the way.

 

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Alison Krauss and Union Station!

Last night was awesome!  I went with my mother and sister to see Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Ives Concert Park.

I had seen AKUS (Alison Krauss and Union Station for the un-indoctrinated) once before, several years ago in New York at The Beacon and couldn’t wait to see them again.

All the group members sing and play instruments so whether it was a traditional blue grass instrumental, an a cappella spiritual, or a bluesy ballad, all were amazing.

I’m not sure how well known they are outside of bluegrass/country music fans, but some of you may recognize Dan Timmons as the voice of George Clooney’s character in O’ Brother Where Art Thou.  I must say that after being a fan of his for many years, it was bizarre to immediately recognize his voice coming out of George Clooney!

Alison Krauss has performed with James Taylor, Robert Plant, Yo Yo Ma, and so many other talented musicians I couldn’t list them all here.  However, possibly her most popular song is this one- which I think might just be the most perfect wedding song ever written.

The opening act, Dawes was fabulous.  I love their voices, their harmonies, wonderful.  I will definitely be tracking down their music and anticipate hearing them on the radio in the future.  Several of their songs really struck me, perhaps none as much as this one…

The downside for people thinking about attending a concert at The Ives Concert Park-  I wasn’t thrilled with the Ives, the traffic flow was bad (meaning it took my mom and sister about 40min from the entrance of the campus to their seats), the parking was terribly far from the venue, the shuttle mentioned on the website didn’t actually exist, the reserved seating area only had one tiny gate to enter/exit, the sound wasn’t very good, and the only toilets were porta-potties.  Also, perhaps because it was outside, there were lots of rude people.  I’m not really sure why the group behind us paid $75 for reserved seats just to sit and talk loudly all through the concert (despite lots of dirty looks from everyone in the vicinity and being politely asked to stop talking).  I’m not sure I’d see another concert there.

That said, the night was great.  Hearing such wonderful music, and hearing it with my mom and my sister was great.

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Wordless Wednesday: like mother, like daughter

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The Maritime Aquarium

Last Wednesday I played hooky from work.  Took a day off in the middle of the week.  The original plan was to go to The Bronx Zoo, but because Wednesday is ‘free day’ and very crowded, and there was a major heatwave going on, we opted for something a little more climate controlled.

The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT.

We met Mabel’s godfather and his son there- they are Aquarium regulars and showed us the ropes.

The place was swarming with camp groups of all ages, so we spent the morning trying to dodge them (it was much more relaxed and empty after lunch).

Mabel is only 18 months old, but there were lots of exhibits she was able to enjoy.  The highlights were…

The touch tank-  Docents were there to help the kids touch the animals and to teach about each of them.  A different aquarium we’d visited in the past didn’t allow the animals to be lifted out of the water, and since Mabel was too small to reach down into the water, that meant she couldn’t touch anything.  Having the docents there to facilitate the interactions really added a lot to the experience.  She was able to touch a horseshoe crab, starfish, another species of crab I don’t remember the name of, and a hermit crab.  At first, Mabel was a little tentative, but once she saw me touching the creatures and oohing and ahhing, she got into it as well.

Checking out the horseshoe crab

The seals-  I’m pretty certain Mabel could have spent the entire day watching the seals.  The Aquarium has a walkway on the second floor that allows you to look down on the seal exhibit.  For the pint-sized set, this is a great way for them to get unobstructed views of the animals.  We were able to watch as the seals got their vitamins (hidden in fish) and were put through their paces, learning behaviors that facilitated their care.  The seal habitat extended outside as well, so Mabel was able to watch the seals sun themselves on the rocks.

Watching the seals outside.

Watching the seals from above.

There’s a special exhibit at the Aquarium right now called “Dinosaur Summer” with animatronic dinosaurs.  Mabel definitely got a kick out of them and their roaring, roaring right back.  However, what she really had fun doing was digging for dinosaur bones!  Outside the Aquarium, under a tent was basically a sand-box filled with rubber granules, under which were plaster dinosaur skeletons for the kids to excavate.  They grabbed a brush, climbed in, and cleared the ‘dirt’ from the buried bones to expose the ‘fossils.’  Getting Mabel away from this activity involved lots of protesting and some tears.

Fossil hunting.

There were several more worthwhile activities for toddlers.  There was a kid-sized fishing boat for them to play in/on/around.  There was a play area full of rubber mats for crawling/climbing/tumbling (for kids under 5yo).  There was a meerkat exhibit, complete with tunnel and plexiglass bubble so kids could be in the middle of the exhibit.  Additionally, most of the exhibits have step stools or built-in steps for little kids to climb up and get a better view of things.

Given Mabel’s age and size, I feel like a lot of kids’ activities aren’t worth the expense because she can’t fully participate.  The Maritime Aquarium was definitely worth the price- only $12.95 per adult, and free for kids under two.  We didn’t pay for the IMAX film or the ride film because Mabel was too young/small for those.  Parking was an additional $7 right across the street.  The aquarium was small enough that we could do it all in a few hours, but big enough that there was plenty to do.

We definitely enjoyed the day and will certainly be back!

Tips for families who want to visit The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk

If you are close enough, consider going in the afternoon.  The place cleared out when the IMAX movies started and the camps left after lunch.

Bring wipes and hand sanitizer- there were lots of things to touch, but not many places to wash hands.

Some of the activities cost extra- like the current build a sailboat activity which is $5 (and then you have to carry a sailboat around all day!  We skipped it after watching other parents struggle to juggle kids and sailboats).

Don’t bother eating in the Aquarium Cafe- there are loads of yummy cafes and restaurants within walking distance, so you don’t even have to move the car.  As long as you keep your receipt and ticket stub, you can go back after lunch.  We took a lunch break at the the SoNo Baking Company & Cafe.  It didn’t have a lot of seating, but there were high chairs, kid-friendly menu items (the yummiest looking PB&J I’ve ever seen as well as grilled cheese), and delicious lunch items for the grown-ups (hello ham and cheese croissant), not to mention the large assortment of baked goods (macaroons!).

For those who want to bring lunch, there’s a picnic area along the waterfront right outside the museum- complete with picnic tables and toys for the kids to climb on.

The Aquarium says it’s stroller friendly, and that’s true for the most part.  Since Mac was with me, one of us took Mabel and the other took the stroller.  If I had been there by myself, it definitely wouldn’t have worked.  So if you’re going solo, opt for a baby-carrier and leave the stroller in the car.

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Putting my mentoring where my mouth is

I’ve been blessed with several effective mentors in my life- most of them women.  Now that I’ve got a ‘real job’ in my chosen field, it’s my turn to mentor.  Well, actually, I’ve been mentoring in some form or another since college helping high school students, summer interns, rotation students, etc. in the lab.  However, now that I’ve got this ‘real job’ I’ve also got a bona fide direct report.  I’m somebody’s boss!

Knowing how crucial a mentor is, and how horrible it can be when your advisor/boss is a bad one, I’ve invested time and effort in developing my managerial and mentorship skills.  Thankfully my company offers lots of training for new managers (and all managers) and encourages employees to invest in their own career development and the skills to help their direct reports develop their careers.  Aside from that formal training, I’ve had decades of experience with mentors ranging from awesome to tiresome to awesomely bad.  I know what approaches worked well for me (approachability, practical support, fair and thoughtful feeback, etc.) and what didn’t work at all (neglect, yelling, impatience, lip-service, etc.).

So, in an effort to be the kind of mentor I would like to have, back in the early Spring, I sat down with my direct report to ask her about her future plans.  She’s currently a talented technician, has an impressive resume (prestigious scholarships, etc), a budding scientist, and a like-able person in general.  I wanted to know, did she have a 5 year plan?  What did it include?  What was she hoping to learn in her current position?  What were things she wanted my help to work on?

Her answers kind of disappointed me, in a sort of conflicted way.  She wanted to stay on here at the company for the long-term (yay for me not losing a talented technician!) and she wanted to pursue a part-time Master’s Degree to take advantage of the company’s tuition re-imbursement policy (yay for her getting more training! boo for her, kind of, wasting her talents pursuing a non-scientist career track).  She’s also thinking that down the road she might take advantage of the company’s alternative track to a scientist position (kind of like an in-house doctoral program complete with executives on the ‘thesis committee’ and a public, company-wide defense).

So, I had a dilemma.  I think she has the potential to be a really great scientist.  I think she would flourish and excel in a doctoral program.  I think she could have my job in 10 years (Good God- writing it out, it’s a flipping decade!  6+ years grad school, 3+ years post-doc=my job).  However, her pursuing a doctorate would mean her leaving the company- since there are no part-time doctoral programs in bio-related fields (I’m guessing because that would take FOREVER!) and me losing her skills in the lab and starting over from scratch training a new person.  All of that aside, it’s not what she wants.  She likes it here, she wants to keep her job, she wants to advance on her current track, she wants to keep her life how it is in a general sense.

I told her the pros of a doctoral program (rigorous training, earning potential, no tuition!) but agreed to support whatever choice she made.

Last week she came to me and said she was applying to a part-time Master’s program that would earn her a degree in a couple of years.  We spoke about subject areas, who to approach for recommendations, etc.  My only real concern about the Master’s program is the rigorousness.  The missing pieces to her scientific career (in my humble opinion- which is the only one that matters since I do her performance review!) are time, experience, and depth/breadth of scientific knowledge.  The time and experience she’s working on.  We’re also working on the scientific knowledge part- having little one-on-one journal clubs and such.  My real question- Will the course work of a part-time Master’s program really get her the depth and breadth of knowledge that a grad student acquires in a doctoral program?  I have my doubts.

I’m glad I can support her in her career goals and nurture a young (female) scientist.  I don’t want to be like a terrible mentor I once had that chastised, berated, and harangued advisees that didn’t do exactly as they were advised.  However, if the stakes were different, if she wasn’t my technician, would I push her harder to pursue the PhD?  Would pushing her be wrong?  Is wrong not to push her?

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