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2005-01-21 - 7:02 p.m.

career decisions...

I've spent the past few days in an interesting state of ebb and flow, in terms of work. I start when I wake up. I stop when I get bored. I resume later when I have a hankering to do it. It's just so wonderful to have no appointments - I feel terribly spoiled.

I had a somewhat disturbing encounter with one of my colleagues, however. We are three women working on a joint proposal that we will submit to the National Science Foundation in a couple of weeks. I originally agreed to take part in this proposal to help a friend of mine (Louisa) because she is coming up for tenure soon and her funding record is very poor. She just had a baby, and she needs to get several publications out immediately. As the project progressed we invited a third (spectacular) woman to join us who is extremely excited about the project.

It has been, shall we say, a frustrating experience. There have been so many instances where Louisa simply does not do her part of the work. As someone without a 1-year-old child, I try to be sympathetic. But it is really difficult. Because instead of getting input, I get a description of how busy she is, how much work the proposal is, how far behind she is, how the baby is sick, etc. I have finally reached the point where I am telling her exactly what she has to do. I want to tell her, that instead of wasting her time telling me all this, she should focus on doing the work.

It's clear that her charming (not sarcastic, he really is a charming gentleman) is not very much help, and the whole of the burden of childcare falls upon her. As an outsider it is clear to see that his career is more important than hers (whether they instituted this division or not). They go to *his* scientific meetings. She takes time off for the baby, and when is supposed to watch the baby, he calls with every little problem (therefore defeating the purpose of her having her mere four hours of concentrated science time...). She told me that she tried to work late nights, but he complained that she woke him up when she got into bed late at night and that he had "important work" to do the next day...

It is difficult for me not to judge this situation, and in fact the phrase, "if it were ME" pops into my head regularly when I deal with her...I have to keep reminding myself that their division of labor in the household is their personal agreement. I guess the difficulty comes because it affects our working relationship, and our project.
I counter this example with my colleague who lives down the street from me - a woman with two children who just spent the last three weeks working in Bangladesh, out of contact with her entire family. Her husband (and the grandparents) contribute significantly to the raising of the children.

There are clearly many different models for raising a family and as someone who has no children yet, it's hard for me to evaluate what is best for me. I am fortunate to have a partner who is terribly gungho about being a dad and wants to spend lots of time with his kids (so he says). But really, he does the dishes, he does the laundry, he does the vacuuming - he is vested in our home living, perhaps even more than I am, which makes me believe him.

But I keep thinking that Louisa needs to make some decisions about her life, and in fact if it were me, the situation would have to change somehow. This panicked "I have no time because of X, Y, and Z" gets you nowhere, and it has been happening for a whole year. This could mean a talk with her husband, or a modification of her goals as a scientist, at least for now.

I don't have the answer, except that I will try to keep helping her gently. Tomorrow I will suggest that she come spend the day working in my apartment, away from all distractions. Finally I will reach the point of telling her that she has to help herself...

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