Internet random walk had me returning to this post for some reason recently. It wasn't Abel Pharmboy's excellent post on the women in his life, although that is clearly related. I did have the thought "I've only written one post tagged with methamphetamine? Really?" at one point along the stroll. Anyway.....
This was originally posted on January 28, 2008.
It is not news to observe that child issues cause women scientists some considerable career anxiety. When to tell the lab or the PI that you are pregnant? Should you wait to start "trying" until after the job interviews? Until after tenure so as to be taken as a "serious" scientist? How many children are "allowable"? How many pictures of the little darlin's can go over the bench? Should the "balance" of lab and child rearing be kept as opaque as possible from one's lab?
In contrast men have a much greater ability to conceal their "dad"-ness from their labs. They should not do so.
The father/PI who is seriously concerned about gender equity in science will go out of his way to exhibit his status. If you agree, there is no need to read below the fold.
The issue goes well beyond the confines of the day job, naturally. In fact the triggering motivation for this post was actually an entry from Blue Gal entitled "This is not a mommy blog, really". The point isn't only that there are such things as "mommy blogs", nor that they are so common. Think about the number of overtly "dad" blogs you read.
I will not pretend my blog reading is representative of much other than my various interests, biases and plain chance of searching. Still. One can rattle off the examples. From my internal daily blogroll alone there is the inestimable Dr. Free-Ride and her Sprogs, ScienceWoman and Minnow, even the curmudgeonly Female Science Professor occasionally has a mommy post.
On the "dad" side, there is, of course, the Dean of academic dad-blogging. If I'm not mistaken the good Professor Myers is inordinately proud of his chip off the old blog, but she is hardly a recurring feature. And there is the occasional reference from the Munger, Pere. There are quite a few blogs that I read from men, apparently of sufficient age and career stability that they might be dads...or might not. Certainly one cannot determine this save from a very close reading of their blogging, if at all.
You might ask yourself, DearReader, in your own professional interactions are you more casually aware of the parental status of men or women?
One of the more powerfully formative mentors in YHNs training history was someone who visibly rejected the "mentor" role. He seemed to have an aversion to the sort of responsibility for someone else's career that mentor implies and yet he still provided invaluable advice and perspective that I've used overtly in my own career. How so?
It is the power of the example. There were several areas in which I picked up either positive ("gee, that seems useful") or negative ("not gonna go there") PI patterns from this person. One of the former was this guy's role as father and scientist. Whenever one had to find this PI, if he wasn't around because of father duties his whole lab knew about it. "Oh, he's at Opening Day." or "He had a sick kid today, he'll be back later". or "He's taking his kid to [SportingActivityX]". This guy has a perfectly viable career with nice pubs, great NIH grant support, always seems to have at least 4-5 postdocs and a similar number of techs, serves study sections, organizes symposia, etc. In short, he's well respected and does not appear to have paid any obvious sort of career price to date. This had a great impact on YHN as I was transitioning both as PI and father.
The power of this example for me was basically "Screw it, if he doesn't worry about being known at work as a guy who takes his role as father seriously then I'm not going to worry about it either". And I basically never worried about this sort of thing again. Now, I'm not going to claim that this is necessarily the smart thing to do, career-wise. The whole point here is an acknowledgment that there are people sitting in judgment of your career who do see too much parental-ness as being an indicator that you are not "serious" about science. But it is worth taking this rather minor risk for the greater good. After all, many of you have (or will have) female spouses with aspiration to scientific careers, no?
So here are some thoughts on what you male PIs and Professors who also happen to be dads should be doing. It is your responsibility to sent a comfortable working environment, is it not? And a real leader leads from the front, no? So step up.
Let them know you are expecting. IME the whole "I'll tell them just barely before I can't pull off the loose-labcoat anymore" thing is a big consideration for pregnant women. Unless your wife habituates your office place, your co-workers might be in the dark until you email the announcement. (Tell me you at least do that much, right?). Go ahead and leak the info at your workplace whenever your wife tells her workplace.
Be frank and open about bailing for "dad stuff". When you have to leave at 1pm to pick up a sick kid from daycare it is OK to say so to your lab or admin. Setting meetings with colleagues? Go ahead and say the reason you can't meet past 4 some day is because that is your day to take the early shift.
Talk "mommy" shop. Guess what? You don't have to avert yourself from the conversation, yes even if it is about the trials of "pumping". I mean after all your wife deals with this crap at work right? Pass her tips along. Engage. Let 'em know you agree it is stupid that the new "postdoc" offices don't have doors, nevermind locking ones (TrueStory). Recommend daycares.
Leave your screen saver set to your archive of pictures of the munchkins. There was discussion on this a fair while ago somewhere which has fallen in my memory hole. Any readers recall? [Update 1/29/08: Found it. It was over on Female Science Professor]