Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Childbearing

Dr. Isis, a science blogger of total hotness, twittered the following the other day:

"I am watching a trainee woman in the cafe I'm in cry as she talks about when to have babies. Have babies when you want."

As someone who is having a wonderful time as an academic physician-scientist, along with enjoying a hot, 25-year marriage with two children (21 and 16 years old), I can understand this trainee's dilemma. The bottom line, though, is that there will be no good time to have children! Some will be less bad than others, but children always demand some sacrifice!

First, this trainee has obviously avoided the teenage years. In my mind, this is the bad time to have babies. Any time after that, when you are ready emotionally and in a stable relationship, will work out! My own dilemma began during my residency in pediatrics. We had been married 3 years and were beginning to think about reproducing. All of our friends had taken at least 6 months to get pregnant, so we stopped the pill in anticipation of having our firstborn at the end of my residency in June, just before I started fellowship. Jennifer, shown above, was born in September because we got pregnant IMMEDIATELY. It is a myth that any pregnancy is really completely planned. Even if we had conceived when we wanted, the outcome may not have been as we planned. As we learned with our next attempts, fetal loss still occurs, even with the amazing level of prenatal care that a physician receives.

Our second offspring was born about 1 year after I started my first faculty position. Tim (at left) delayed my lab start-up a bit. On the other hand, we had access to better daycare and bigger salaries that made dealing with him a bit easier. Of course, he didn't sleep through the night as soon as his sister, but he was just born to be trouble! I did eventually get my lab going, and I have enjoyed my career. Am I going to be one of those uberscientists who has 500+ publications on their CV when they die? Not unless they count my blog posts! Have I enjoyed my career, my kids, and my life? You betcha. I suspect the era of the uberscientist may be winding down since most young men don't seem to want to be absentee parents as their predecessors often were.

Dr. Isis has this one right (so what else is new): Have babies when you want to. You're already past the time when I would say absolutely don't!

Below: Current pictures of my offspring, neither of whom is planning a career in medicine.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Meeting Swag, Parent Style

One of the most challenging chores of any meeting I attend involves appeasing my children for the absence. When they are very small they are just glad to see you walk in the door again. After that, things get more difficult.

Lucky for us, most convention centers are surrounded by stores with stuff you can acquire for legal tender. Even exhibit halls can be sources of free stuff that will delight young children. An assortment of highlighters and stress balls was often more appreciated than carefully chosen gifts. Of course, I often scoured the stores for age-appropriate books with local flavor. Trip to Texas: Bluebell the Hill Country O'possum (she got mistaken for the football at the Texas-Oklahoma game during one adventure). Washington DC: All sorts of critters have written about the White House and other local sights. You get the idea.

Eventually, though, the children realize that your trips are valuable... to them. I remember the year APS had its first sex conference in October 2001. Unfortunately, I would be out of town until the day after my son's 9th birthday. I explained to him that I really, really, really needed to be in Pittsburgh for this meeting. Did he understand? And, by the way, would he like a special gift?

He really understood and immediately requested a Penguins hockey sweater. Hockey sweaters are pretty costly, even in youth sizes. I learned that day that my son can be bought, but he is expensive (like his mom).

As the kids have gotten older, they want different things. My 21 year old daughter likes jewelry, and I can usually find something to fit her taste. New Orleans has a store called Local Charm in the RiverCenter which features the work of regional artists. Her earrings were a simple choice.
My 16 year old son is usually satisfied with tees or hoodies for local sports teams, especially for college baseball and football. He can be a bit picky about color and the exact writing on it, but most convention areas can produce such an item. This time I did send a photo to him for pre-approval.
I found the video at right as I was browsing. Now, I know he would like it, but I really don't want to be known as the mom who brought her son soft porn. I will save that sort of swag for when some meeting hits something important, like his graduation or wedding.
Don't go ballistic.
I'm JOKING. I wouldn't miss his graduation or wedding!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Last Day of a Meeting

I have the privilege of attending a number of biomedical meetings throughout the year, and the misfortune to often be programmed on the final day.

Remember Charlotte's Web? The fair is ending and the magic of Wilbur's win is still fresh in his mind. He then finds out that Charlotte won't be returning to the farm with him.

I'm reminded of that bittersweet moment as I look around at abandoned brochures and notices. Most people look like I feel - a bit dazed and ready to leave. We will remember the people, the fun, and, of course, some science, but right now the party is over.

Of course, we don't get in a truck and drive to the farm. Most of us get to experience air travel, the final hurdle between a successful meeting and home. I'm wondering when we will get that Star Trek transporter physiology figured out, so we can just beam ourselves where we want.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hot Gossip in New Orleans

I had two completely uneventful flights (thank you, United Airlines) and arrived in New Orleans for Experimental Biology, too late for the Cannon lecture, but well in time for the opening reception. I had two drink tickets - not using them would be wasteful!

I hung out near the bars, figuring eventually I would catch up with everyone I know (rumors that we are raging alcoholics are patently untrue). We were a bit distressed when the pregnant grad student found out that they charged a drink ticket for a plastic cup of water - for a drink ticket we figured she should at least get the whole bottle! APS, take note and fix this for next year!

Eventually I was approached by the president of APS, Irv Zucker, who had a very important question for me: Who is Dr. Isis? I had to disappoint him; even though I have had frequent interactions with the goddess, all have been through her Dr. Isis email and the blogosphere.

We then proceeded to the president's reception (free bar, Makers Mark bourbon, and nice desserts) - did I mention that he is the chair of Cellular and Integrative Physiology at my institution and I have a courtesy appointment in his department? Well, EVERYONE is trying to figure out who Dr. Isis might be. Apparently this was a hot topic for the APS Council. Even colleagues with no interest in shoes or fashion porn are discussing this riddle.
As for me, I'm not certain I want to know. The mystery is part of the fun. For the rest of the meeting I will be looking at every female vascular physiologist with a runner's physique, pasty ankles, and hot shoes, and wondering if she could be the goddess.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I am sitting here in the Omaha airport, a hotbed of family travel on a Saturday morning, awaiting my flight to New Orleans and Experimental Biology. I'm going a day later than usual because the Nebraska Kidney Association's fundraiser, Kidney Cruise, was last night. We had a great time and raised money for a good cause.

I have been catching up on my blogs, and, once again, the goddess is providing spot-on advice for science travel. Head on over to Dr. Isis and heed her wisdom. She also knows shoes.

It's about time I head over to my gate (only about 10 feet from the snackbar where I'm writing this update), but I can't see if the aircraft has arrived yet. See you in Nawlins!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Science of Wardrobe Management II: Excel's Real Use

So you've decided to leave the belly shirts and bustiers at home during EB or other scientific endeavors. Is there a way to get 5 days of clothing in a carry-on bag?

If I said "No," this would be a really short blog, so there must be! The secret is Excel. Yup, packing is the ultimate spread-sheet chore.

First, create something like this for your meeting or event:

There is a column for each day you will travel, a field for notable events on that day, and areas for the outfit, including shoes. The most important way to conserve space is to pack items that work on multiple days. This statement is especially true for shoes which take up a lot of suitcase landscape! In general, a pair that you can sprint through airports in (on your feet) and one other (in the case) can be done in an overhead bin bag. If you need more than those two pair you will likely end up checking a bigger bag. Speaking of airport shoes, be sure you can get them on and off easily! While comfort and movement are important, elaborate shoes that stall the security line may earn you more enemies than a crying baby. Just imagine being behind someone who has to remove mid-thigh lace-up boots. You get the idea now, huh?

Clothing can also multitask. Unless you are a nobel laureate in neurosciences at a really casual meeting (see prior post, Basics), you probably need a suit or some similar wardrobe item. Pair the jacket with coordinating pants or skirt one day and wear the full suit another. It's like 2 different outfits, but only 1 jacket! Be sure all your outfits have a jacket or cardigan planned - no matter what the weather is like outside, the convention center rooms are usually freezing. If not, you can always remove it.

There are a number of strategies for getting stuff in the suitcase. I like to take longer items like trousers and dresses and lay them lengthwise in the case first. Other stuff then gets packed, and the longer items wrap around the other stuff. This prevents creases in things that are longer than the suitcase.

Don't forget to throw in an extra shirt and a pair of jeans. Even if disaster happens in the way of a bloody mary down the suit jacket on it's first wear, at least you will have something to schlep about in while the hotel cleaning service gets your suit done up. It's also our job to stimulate the local economy while we are at a meeting (that's why cities build convention centers). As long as I get there with my presentation and a credit card, I know I can survive!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Science of Wardrobe Management I: Basics

As noted in an earlier entry, meeting season is upon us. Weather is clearing, airports are crowding, and scientists are flocking to share data with their colleagues. One of the biggest get-togethers, Experimental Biology, will be in New Orleans in less than 2 weeks.

EB is not the most conservative meeting I attend; in general, gatherings with clinicians tend to be a bit more formal, unless they are in true summer months. However, I have noted some disturbing wardrobe trends at EB. Today I will review what should be common sense rules. Later this week the topic will range to planning and packing; you can get 5 days worth of clothes in a carry-on bag!

Rule 1: Be presentable

No matter what level of training or career you are at, you may meet someone who could influence your future. Does this mean a suit every day? Absolutely not! Jeans may even be acceptable in some venues. No matter what you have on, be sure it is neat, clean, and intact.

If you are presenting something, even a poster, you should be professional. The level of professional dress is inversely proportional to your position on the research food chain. Those lowest should err on the side of the suit, while those of us higher up can get away with less formal gear. Only those who have really made it can get away with very casual attire for a presentation. Invited neuroscientists often channel their inner lumberjack by wearing flannel shirts at the nephrology meetings. I would not recommend this strategy until you are certain that your name is on the Nobel committee's short list. Even then, why risk it?

Rule 2: Cover your midriff

I used to think this was a female problem, but others have told me that they have seen male students in cut-off tees. Even if your abs are in excellent shape and you have a cute belly-button piercing, THE WORLD DOES NOT NEED TO SEE IT. ESPECIALLY PEOPLE WHO MAY NEED TO THINK OF YOU IN A PROFESSIONAL WAY.

Now, if you are at the pool, you can show all flesh that is legal. If you are in the poster or exhibit hall, PLEASE DON'T. You never know when you will meet someone who will review your grant or manuscript next week. Do you really want them thinking about your tramp stamp while they are doing this? I thought not.

Another word about tattoos: they are forever, but your body is NOT. Now, I know you don't think you'll ever gain weight, but your skin will get saggy and lose tone as you age. Before you get that cute little heart on your butt, imagine what it will look like when cellulite attacks..... I'm a doctor, and you can trust me when I tell you that little heart won't be so cute when you're 60.

3. Watch the bling

Now, accessorizing is like candy for us fashionistas. Cool shoes, scarves, and jewelry are great and may allow us to stretch and vary a sensible travel wardrobe. The problem here is when one becomes inappropriately over-the-top. Sequined one-shoulder cocktail dresses may not be casual but are WAY too formal for a meeting. Unless you are on your way to a black-tie awards dinner, stick with business wear. Unless you're a beauty queen, the tiara can stay home.

Like I said earlier, most of this should be common sense, although I have seen these suggestions violated at almost every meeting I attend. I will be watching for fashion faux pas at EB and updating my "Wardrobe Science Don'ts." Will you be on my Hall of Shame?????