Working from home

This semester I am not teaching. Not because I bought out my teaching load, but because a stork dropped of this baby and need to take care of it for a little. I haven’t been to campus since the semester started. My current plan is to go in once a week for the next month then see what we can do about scaling things up and/or if I can bring the little one in as an office-mate. S.O. can only take so much time off so they’re using their paternity leave to cover the home base during my weekly visit to ensure my students haven’t burned the lab down. So far, email, Google Hangout video (what will I do when Google gets rid of Hangouts?!?!), phone calls, and text messaging have filled in the gaps okay, but there’s nothing like being on the front line to really guide the research properly. Already in planning, I will miss the next big grant deadline I wanted to hit, but I’d rather wait a cycle and put in a better application since I only get three shots. I have enough funding, and the loss of recent industry funding is kind of a blessing because it’ll force me to focus and slow down a little, which is something I’ve been wanting to do.

What I’m most concerned about at work is that my less motivated students will drop in productivity a lot.  They don’t have the highest amount of motivation, and I’m already noticing their emails have dropped off, as have the quality of emails.  I don’t care if the students are there 40+ hours per week.  I just want to see results.  And from what I’m hearing they’re not even around enough to be getting results.  These were the students where I had to tell them everything from the direction of the project down to the minute details of setting up their experiments. I asked the senior students and my post-docs to check on them, and the only reports from them are that the unmotivated students aren’t around much. I know that it falls on me to have better set them up, but they’re green and I didn’t have as much time with them as I would have chosen. During my campus visits there will be stronger words for them.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s fall is going well. I hate being stuck at home, but this isn’t a bad reason to be here. There’s a lot of quiet for now with not a lot of excessive crying or demands. I think slowing down is going to be beautiful, I just hope that my lab productivity doesn’t take such a dip that I can’t ramp back up if I decide to pursue some new research interest. I do miss being on campus at the start of the semester. The leaves changes, the sound of students, and the energy on campus is great, but there will be future semesters. For now, I’ll be working from home in more than one way.

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5 thoughts on “Working from home

  1. Hey, congratulations on the kid! I hope new motherhood is treating you reasonably well and that you are getting some sleep once in a while (if you are blissfully enjoying getting sleep, on the other hand, I will gently warn you that it might not last… both of mine were hit hard by the 3-month sleep regression, but they do eventually sleep again). How old is the baby? How are you feeling?

    Oy, I hear you on feeling powerless to halt the slide of the less motivated students. I had that experience both times, and the only benefit of the second time was that my tenure packet was already in so I was more willing to just let it go. Weekly meetings is about all you can do (and more than you should feel obligated to do, in my opinion). This time around, I started heading into the department twice a week for an hour or two, when the baby was just shy of 3 months old, and that helped — being there in person is somehow different from Skype/G+. I brought the baby with me, and he was pretty much just an adorable lump at that age (which my first was not), so other than some massive spitup cleanup in a grad office now and then, it worked out pretty well. A couple of times I even got him to nap in a carrier (or his carseat… I know, not recommended, but I had my eye on him the whole time…) while I was talking to a student, and that was awesome and really let us focus on the science for a while. And it got me out of the house, which I desperately needed by then (ymmv).

    I have been pleasantly surprised by my ability to ride out the ups and downs of group productivity over two parental leaves, and frankly pretty shocked by how little my ability to travel seems to affect my career (though there’s research to back up my impression, apparently!). I do have to work a little harder on staying up-to-date, but my visibility has not tanked and I still get plenty of invitations to do stuff. As much as you can, try not to worry about having to down-shift for a while. The work will be there when you’re ready to ramp up again, and you might even have some new ideas percolating during all the mindless staring into space during endless newborn nursing sessions (if indeed you are nursing; absolutely no judgment if not, and I imagine bottle-feeding must be similarly soothing/stultifying, though I haven’t experienced it personally). Babies are also great travelers before they’re mobile, so if that amazing conference opportunity pops up and you can swing it with childcare (I’ve traveled with a grandparent a couple of times during the infant months), it’s probably the easiest travel you’ll do until they are interested in screens a couple of years down the line.

    Best wishes, and congratulations again!

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    • Thank you! He’s a couple weeks old and sleeps a crazy amount, which works well with my schedule. Though I’d prefer if he slept in longer stretches. Not looking forward to regression…..

      The visibility and keeping up to date is part of what I’m concerned about! I don’t want people lapping me when I have such good momentum going. And while the tenure packet is in, and I’ve told myself to slow down it’s much easier said than done. I also don’t want my funding sources and collaborators to think I’m not the same researcher they started collaborating with. More to worry about 🙂

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  2. First of all, congrats on your baby! Are you comfortable revealing if boy/girl? How are you feeling?

    Don’t worry about productivity. I’ve had three kids and there’s no way to tell from my CV when I did.

    As for less motivated students, that’s life. You can accept it and not count on them much (easier after tenure), or have a talk and explicit instructions on what you want them to do (instilling some fear in them) with checkpoints in time when further feedback will be given, or cut your losses. You’ll be back to oversee them soon enough.

    Enjoy your little one!

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    • He’s a very peaceful boy. Feeling great for the most part minus the feeling that I could mess everything up at any given point. Physically, I take pretty good care of myself, but mentally I was/am not prepared. Thank you for asking 🙂

      I just hope the little one has more motivation than my students.

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