Archive for the 'Parenthood' category

Your kids' best friends

Dec 10 2018 Published by under Parenthood

Parent blogging alert.

There was a tweeter thing today on how kids that get straight As lack creativity that among other things dragged up an old NYT article on suicide on college campuses. The latter article attributed these to pressures and all sorts of stuff but one thing struck me hard.

...dean of freshmen at Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims...was also troubled by the growing number of parents who not only stayed in near-constant cellphone contact with their offspring but also showed up to help them enroll in classes, contacted professors and met with advisers (illustrating the progression from helicopter to lawn mower parents, who go beyond hovering to clear obstacles out of their child’s way). But what she found most disconcerting was that students, instead of being embarrassed, felt grateful. Penn researchers studying friendship have found that students’ best friends aren’t classmates or romantic partners, but parents.

emphasis added.

I can think of no more terrible fate. My parents were fine and all, and indeed were super focused on our nuclear family. They themselves did not seem to obsessively prioritize their alone time, their couple time, their own respective families or their friends at all, when I was in the house.

But I sure as shit didn't consider them my friends. They were my parents and my friends were my friends.

You've noticed I'm not the friendliest guy in the world and trust me I wasn't as a child. But for damn sure I had friends. Some of you that pay close enough attention to my antics on social media will be aware that I still interact with friends I made in high school, college and graduate. I am kinda tickled that my kids have been in school classes with the children of some of my closest graduate school friends.

I enjoyed the social experience of college and I think that a massive part of that was the interaction with friends from a much broader span of life than I had experienced to date. I had friends from all across this great Nation and I am the better for it. I met some ersatz sisters who taught me a whole lot of shit I didn't know. I am intensely grateful for the friends that I made, the experiences we had together

....and the fact that nobody had photographic and videographic equipment at their fingertips through all of these experiences.

It horrifies me to read that "researchers studying friendship" at a major institution of higher education like Penn could find that "student's best friends" are their parents.

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Mentoring and parenting

Like it or not, your mentoring behavior is intimately tied to the experiences you had as a scientific trainee. Let me rephrase that for emphasis. Tied to the way you experienced your training.

In the very general sense, if you thought something was good for you, you are going to tend to try to extend that to your trainees. And if something was bad for you, you are going to try to avoid that for your trainees.

Obviously, the ability that you have to emulate or avoid certain behaviors of your mentors-of-reference* is not going to be perfect. But let us assume for argument's sake that you can make a fair stab at mentoring the way that you would intend yourself to mentor.

This is not all that dissimilar to parenting, I find. There are obvious ways in which I think my parents did an absolutely bang up job of raising me. They set me on a path of life that is in many ways ideal. A career that is fulfilling, a political and social stance that I am proud of, a strength of will and freedom from many of the family-drama related pathologies that plague many adults. I would hope to provide this type of parenting to my own children. Absolutely.
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20 responses so far

Antivaccaloon learns lesson the hard-ish way; luckily kid survives

Via the New Zealand Herald:

A boy who almost died of tetanus before Christmas is home and on the mend, but his parents are desperate for others to vaccinate their children after they did not.

Auckland couple Ian and Linda Williams thought they had made an informed decision against immunising their three children because of concerns over adverse reactions.

But they regretted their decision when middle child Alijah contracted the potentially fatal disease just before Christmas, and was put in an induced coma on life support at Starship hospital.

They immediately immunised their other children and wrote to Alijah's school to warn parents who had not vaccinated against the disease and others such as whooping cough.

"It was me that put my son in this situation," Mr Williams said.

Yes, yes it was. Don't let it be you who does the same, people. Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.

h/t: bengoldacre

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Non-Paternity, or the Interloper Rate

Aug 07 2012 Published by under Biology, Parenthood

Over at the Salon, a Dear Prudie column discusses the issue of miss-attributed parentage.

My husband was estranged from his parents for many years. He reached out to them when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. They didn't have enough time to discuss and resolve their past, but they were at peace with each other when he died. Now my husband's parents wish to keep in touch with me and my toddler-age son, as he is the only link they have to their only child. The problem is that my son is not my husband's biological child. I had an affair

So the interesting part here is the growing trend for personal genetic services such as 23 and me. Among other things that you can do with 23 and me is to identify possible relatives in their database. As in, strangers who you don't know are related to you, perhaps as closely as a 2nd or even 1st cousin (yikes). You might also have known family who are also 23 and me users, of course.

See where we're going with this?

A simple search for nonpaternity on PubMed pulls up some interesting studies.

Wolf et al 2012 used human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing to estimate a nonpaternity rate of 0.94% in a sample of 971 German children.

Voracek et al, 2008 conducted a meta-analysis of 32 published samples from 1932-1993 and identified a decline in nonpaternity over time. The mean and median rate was 3.1%, btw.

Li and Lao, 2008 and Lucast 2007 discuss the ethics of discovering nonpaternity during medical screening and research studies. These types of works touch most directly on the Dear Prudie issue, I reckon. The 23 and me era presents interesting new possibilities. There is no longer any professional "genetic counselor" intermediary or paternalistic physician deciding whether to "tell". People might find each other more or less automatically and contact each other through the 23 and me website. But, and here's the rub, the information propagates. Let's assume there is a mother who knows she had an affair that produced the kid or a father who impregnated someone unknown to his current family. Along comes the 23 and me contact to their child? Grandchild? Niece or nephew? Brother or sister? And some stranger asks them, gee, do you have a relative with these approximate racial characteristics, of approximately such and such age, who was in City or State circa 19blahdeblah? And then this person blast emails their family about it? or posts it on Facebook?

Williams 2005 shows how paternity can affect major societal knowledge such as the infamous Jefferson/Hemings case.

Cerda-Flores et al 1999 found a 8.1% interloper rate but discuss the issue of being able to exclude fathers based on blood group systems. The very earliest literature on PubMed clearly focused on these issues, i.e., how to use the available imprecise markers to come up with statistical probabilities. The new era of personal genetic identification presumably improves substantially on these issues.

There are more articles and you can scan them for yourself. But I'll end on two key notes. First, clearly this is a nightmare issue for people who are looking into rare genetic variants that are related to disease because the familial patterning is so important. It is critical to know who the father really was to keep the dataset valid and clean. Second, there seems to be a rumor of 10% nonpaternity that floats about in the literature, perhaps as a lasting straw argument or from some early flawed dataset. What the more recent studies seem to conclude is that this is an overestimate.

Or, you know, you could just read Dear Prudie's response which includes:

But I don't think your late husband's parents need to hear this. ... And I don't see any reason to deprive your child of a potential inheritance.

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Mommy Warz: Spot the Illogic at, you guessed it, HuffPo

A recent HuffPo piece on that rather flagrant bit of cover trolling from TIME magazine irritates me.
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One of the things about being a parent is, IME, that it dissolves any lingering conceit that you are actually good at everything you choose to do or must do.

I think this helps you to run a research lab of any appreciable size.

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Then you have failed utterly my friend.

Aug 31 2011 Published by under Parenthood, Tribe of Science

From Nature News:

"The area in which I have failed the most is as a father," Quiñones-Hinojosa readily admits.

Then you have failed.

None of us are perfect. We have our successes and our failures in many parts of our lives. Lord knows I do.

I do know this though.

If parenthood is where you fail "the most", you are fucking up.

37 responses so far


Jul 18 2011 Published by under Day in the life of DrugMonkey, Parenthood

First, congrats to the Swedish World Cup team for coming in third and, in particular, for beating the French.

Second, congrats on the K9 corps dog thing. I would have expected no less, but still. You got it done.

The main point of the day, however, is much better. Here in the US we call the type of overattentive, smothering parent that makes you hurl* a "helicopter" parent. They are always hovering over their child, you see, just waiting to rescue little Maria from calamity. Or obsessing over the wonderousness of their average, normal behavior or something.

I have been informed that the Swedish call their version of this "curling" parents. As in the sport of curling. Now those of you who are not Canucklanders or Swedes may not immediately recognize this sublime reference. You may recall a half glimpsed interlude on the teevee during the Winter Olympics. When the coverage switches off that riveting bobsledding and you decide you have time to hit the loo. Perhaps when you return you are momentarily graced with some idiots madly sweeping the ice in front of a lumbering bit of rounded granite. Rendering an unobstructed path yet even more polished and smooth so as to further ease passage of the object of their devotion.

That's curling. And the folks who are madly sweeping an apparently smooth sheet of ice? Those would be your image of the "curling parents".

Evocative, isn't it?

*I keed, I keed. (Most of those I link-pickedon know via other online venues that I'm the worst sort of braggart about my awesome offspring....)

7 responses so far

Blogrolling: Rock Talk

Jan 21 2011 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics, Parenthood

Arlenna's post today alerted me to a brand new blog from the Office of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health. The OER is, of course, the office that handles, well, us. The NIH funded extramural research community. Anyone who works in a lab that is funded by the NIH is under the umbrella of the OER in one way or another. The fact that they have taken up blogging is of more than a passing interest to those of us in the extramural research community that read and write blogs.

Rock Talk is authored by Dr. Sally Rockey (pictured), who is:

NIH's Deputy Director for Extramural Research, serving as the principal scientific leader and advisor to the NIH Director on the NIH extramural research program.

This is fantastic. She's already jumping in to grapple with topics, such as Family Medical Leave and NIH policies in support thereof, that originally arose in the academic blogsphere.

That's a win for you, Dear Reader. It means that someone very high up at the NIH is listening to your issues, ideas and complaints that you blurt out in this particular forum. Fantastic.

My advice is to put this on your blogroll, your RSS or whatnot. Stop by and comment. Nothing like traffic and commentary to convince an entity like the NIH that this is a valuable activity in which to engage. And who knows? Maybe some brilliant observation of yours will influence NIH policy.

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A simple change would help the NIH grant process contribute less to the leaky pipeline

I was alerted to an article published in The New York Times on "Keeping Women in Science on a Tenure Track" by dr becca and drdrA. Don't worry, it was written by a man so you can take it seriously and all. Heh. Actually, this is just a distillation of an interesting report entitled “Keeping Women in the Science Pipeline,”. From the NYT bit:

women Ph.D.’s with young children are 27 percent less likely than men with children to receive tenure after entering a tenure-track job in the sciences. The report notes that single women without young children are roughly as successful as married men with children in attaining tenure-track jobs.

According to the report, plans to have children affect women postdoctoral scholars more than their male counterparts. Women who had children after becoming postdoctoral scholars in the University of California system were twice as likely as their male counterparts to shift their career goals away from being professors with a research emphasis — a 41 percent shift for women versus 20 percent for men.

Go read, there's more.

Anyway, I have a new favorite plan to help with this little problem, thanks to Cath of VWXYNot who commented:

The CIHR (Canadian equivalent of the NIH) and some of our other funding agencies have CV formats that include a dedicated “Interruptions and Delays” section.

This is brilliant! The NIH needs to adopt this right away as a required line on their Biosketch. Don't worry, they have several other line items that are supposed to be included even if the response is Not Applicable. The point is to make it default and a part of every application so that the applications of those who feel it necessary to use it will not stick out as unusual.

There are a number of upsides. First, it will be a subtle and insidious statement that it is expected that NIH applicants will have had delays in their career progress or scientific projects due to certain personal and family-related factors. The CIHR does specify a number of obvious scenarios beyond just childbearing, see Cath's comment. Expected and therefore accepted. From the point of view of the funding agency. And, as we've noted on occasion, the NIH reviewer is supposed to be working for the NIH to help with their priorities. Not the reviewer's personal and idiosyncratic viewpoints, but to help with the job that is expected of them by the NIH. They don't always do this, of course, but having expectations laid out relatively explicitly can't but help.

The second upside is a bit more specific. My usual advice for these types of delays is that it is dangerous to bring it up in your application before anyone has criticized you for it. Since in the old days you got two rounds of revision and at least one round of revision was pretty much necessary, no biggie. You submit your app, take your criticisms for apparent delays (if any, they are not inevitable) and come back with your response in the revised application. As always, the point is to explain, not to excuse. The advocating reviewer can then use your supplied reason to beat back criticism from anyone else. Yes I have seen this work very favorably on more than one occasion. Something along the lines of "My productivity was reduced in the past five years because I bore two children in that interval" or similar as a response to a criticism about productivity. Trouble is, now that we're down to a single revision and ICs are steepening the paylines for even the A1 revision, this isn't a great strategy anymore. I think you have to face it head on in the original application if you judge your "Delay" to be so obvious as to entail a good chance of drawing reviewer fire.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a nice custom made section (which didn't take away from your precious 12 pages) for this?

I think so.

And I would think that on a NIH-wide basis it would result in a few more meritorious grants being funded despite the apparent "Delay" introduced by a woman PI bearing children, a PI of either sex undergoing a health crisis or caring for a sick family member...or even a lab experiencing a natural disaster.
Erratum: the original version mistakenly referenced the Chronicle of Higher Ed as the source rather than the NYT.

12 responses so far

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