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What a difference a year makes

Yesterday one of my grad school papers was finally published. Yes, I finished my PhD almost 3 years ago. Yes, it took submitting to a few journals before this paper was accepted. And no, as you have probably guessed by now, this was not ground-breaking work with exciting results. But still, it felt good to see the neatly formatted PDF with my name first among the list of authors. Even with my love-hate relationship with science, that feeling of seeing your work published has to be among the best feelings. Never mind that I look at the paper and can’t help but see the shortcomings of the study design and execution glare back at me.

I probably started planning this study five years ago, and seeing it published makes me think of how much has changed since then and how the time scales of different parts of my life are so different. I’m sort of trying to “retire” from science (at least bench work), but I definitely feel an obligation to finish what I have started and get things published. I also just submitted a paper from my postdoc last week, and my fingers are crossed that this one will be accepted and published soon. How long will it take for all of these loose ends to be tied up so that I don’t feel some guilt when I think of my record as a research scientist?

My baby girl is now 8.5 months old. In less time than it would take to even secure funding for a scientific study, she has grown from a tiny newborn who didn’t know night from day and preferred to spend every waking minute attached to my boob, to a crawling, cruising, babbling little person. Despite her many advances, each of which is exciting and bittersweet at the same time, she still needs me. We both still love breast-feeding and could never really get the bottle thing off the ground. Even though she shovels an impressive amount of solid foods into her mouth each day, I can’t or at least don’t want to leave her for more than about 4 hours at a time. This, and the way it makes me feel, has taken me a bit by surprise.

It doesn’t surprise me that I love being a mama. As I waited for this baby to arrive, I had a feeling that I would have a very hard time going back to work after 3 months of maternity leave. I did start working on papers from home about 6 weeks after the baby was born, but I never made it back to the lab. In a way, I feel like the love I have for this baby paralyzes me. She needs me, and I need her, and being so absolutely tied to another being leaves me feeling a little helpless. Of course every mother must feel this same way, but so many have to push through and return to their jobs. I feel blessed that I don’t have to go back to work right now, but part of me feels like I have failed because I’m not juggling motherhood and work. It is a weird feeling and hard to explain, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone here. And for all the highly-educated stay-at-home moms out there, there is probably another mom back at work and feeling guilty about that too. My predicament is not a new one, I know.

I’m working on it. I’m trying to find a way to reconcile my need to have some work that is my own – that I can be proud of – while I continue the work of raising my child. So for the two of you (if that!) that are reading this post – stay tuned. Today, I’m going to enjoy the feeling that I have made another contribution to science, however small.

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