On Being a Postdoc and a Parent

Let’s talk about some complicated dualities…

Postdoc stuff.

Earlier in the year, I graduated, was removed from the pressure of a dissertation and hired by another lab, based on merit, to dedicate my days solely to conducting research in the burgeoning field of genomics. Reptilian genomics, at that. It’s a dream job! Very few early-career scholars in biology can lay claim to being literally handed the job they always wanted. A postdoc, while not exactly raining in the Benjamins like some high-priced lawyer or marketing exec, is a proud position to have – a GENIUS FOR HIRE. Right?

Well, it is great. But not all roses. Even though my current appointment is long by most standards, almost by definition it’s a temporary position. An “in-betweener” state. By golly, I’ll make the most of the resources given to me here (I aways have – I’m a practical man), but there is the stark reality that I am not that far from “I need a job” – a professorship, what grown-ups in my field have. The tenure-track faculty position will be elusive quarry for even my most competitive peers, and even though I just started my postdoc, every day in the back of my mind lay the specter of the fact that I need to plan for the day I face a search committee. All well and good, I knew what I was getting into, but then there is the weekly perusing of the progress of other postdoctoral scholars in my field, those who got their Ph.Ds in the last two years or so like me, but have slightly better academic pedigrees, or maybe nailed good fellowships, or got published in the REALLY good journals… Oooooh, when envy kicks in, it’s a bad feeling. How will I provide for my family? Also, how can I reconcile these uncertainties with my spouse’s own career ambitions? What to do?

Parent stuff.

We have a 2.5 year old daughter, who we love with all our hearts and is a pure gift. When I’m with her, I find myself concentrating on the real, true things in life, such as fairness, equality, lovingness, and patience. She is the best learner I know, and getting wiser everyday. She is a musician, naturalist, an artist. And a chatter-box, mama mia! She makes every day a joyous journey. Right?

Well, yes and no. Toddler-hood is a messy state of affairs. Zero to sixty in ten seconds with emotions. Tear-the-house-down kind of tantrums. Total lack of ability to follow instructions or obey warnings. Trouble staying in bed in order to fall asleep, and then actually staying in bed all night is another story all together. And then there’s the kid (ba-bum ching). But seriously, the way I have described the feeling of parenthood to others is this: imagine you are a muscle, and you’re always being flexed and flexed, no relaxing. Just one long, never-ending onslaught of work, an eternal set at the gym. And that’s it, that’s what it is, so imagine that if you can (plus a lot of good parts). What to do?

You need to relax.

At this point, I am who I am. Any shortcomings of mine as far as being a scientist or a parent are part of the same continuum. I’m still early in my career post-grad school and post-daughter-being-born. But my postdoc won’t last forever, and neither will toddler-hood. And as time goes by, I’ll get the hang of things. I’ll get a fellowship or a grant and a big paper, because I’m good at a lot of things, and I’ll keep on. We are both talented and savvy, and I’ll find a job that fits the life that we want to have. And our daughter will grow out of her current developmental phase, and with our loving care and guidance, eventually grow into a teenager.



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