My tells

I outwardly project competence and control. I lead, I manage, I get things done. If you look closely, though, you can see my tells for when things are not actually under control at all (which lately seems like a permanent setting).

  • I prefer to wear jeans daily, but only own one pair
  • I purchase groceries with lunch for both our nanny and myself in mind, but buy my lunch 90% of the time (or buy more food after eating my packed lunch at 10:30 am)
  • I have had a referral for a pelvic physiotherapist for several months but have not looked up where one is, or tried to make an appointment
  • Spud’s hair is in his eyes again and I haven’t called to make him a haircut appointment let this blog post guilt me into calling and leaving a message
  • I have dropped a few relatively large balls at work lately, all of which I have fixed by throwing money at problems. This is effective but not ideal in a world of dwindling grant amounts

I realize there is only so much I can do. I also realize a busy toddler and pre-tenure are difficult things to balance. But I think I’m more out of control and more often out of control than is reasonable. I came home on Wednesday after a long day of meetings and couldn’t face cooking. Pea felt the same, so we ordered burritos after feeding Spud some leftovers and a mishmash of available veg. I reflected on the services I have currently facilitating my life, and came up with this for Wednesday alone:

  • someone made the sandwich I bought for second lunch
  • our lawn guys came and mowed the lawn
  • our cleaning service came and cleaned the house top to bottom
  • our nanny washed, dried, and put away a load of Spud’s laundry
  • our nanny ran and emptied the dishwasher
  • our nanny took the initiative to vacuum Spud’s floor, as he’d been asleep when the cleaners were here
  • a restaurant made our dinner, and a driver delivered it to us

I did one load of laundry, and folded a different one. Pea and I watched some episodes of our new show and cuddled. I went to bed slightly later than planned after finishing my book.

I conclude that there is not really any good reason that I feel out of control, and that control could be achieved were it prioritized. I would rather cuddle with Pea than shop for jeans, we would both rather spend money than do certain chores, and I still don’t want to let work infiltrate into my home life unless absolutely necessary, so balls will likely continue to be dropped.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to check my privilege, as I am well aware many of my coping mechanisms for this period of life are not available to many.


Sunk costs

I am slowly emerging from a deeply frenetic time both at work and at home. Life looks quite a lot clearer at the moment, despite a grant deadline and a small crunch as my last visiting researcher wraps up.

I’m struggling with this collaboration, and am becoming more and more disgruntled. This researcher has generously given us access to her datasets, and found the funding opportunity that has allowed her to be here for the past three months or so. She came hoping to learn our techniques, and I’ve given her access and training, meeting weekly for the entirety of her stay. She has done some analyses, my grad student has done some analyses, and I have done some analyses. I’ve made two figures and written the introduction, my grad student has also made two figures. We are ready to interpret and write, and the visiting researcher has basically shut down on the project in favour of a second analysis from the datasets that is, admittedly, closer to her area of expertise.

If we don’t write this draft in the next two weeks, it’s going to be a struggle to complete it long-distance. I am really the only one who has the knowledge to get it done that quickly, and the only one focused on this. I do not really have time to write this paper and I definitely did not envision that as my role in this project.

I think I’m going to have to though. Otherwise the hours already spent will be lost.

Microblog Mondays: uh-bot!


Sunday night. Me: gathering the garbage from various receptacles to take it out to the curb. Pea: in bathroom, getting Spud’s bath ready. Spud: crankily stomping around crying. I pop into the bathroom to get that garbage.

Me: What’s going on? He loves bath time!
Pea: He’s upset because
Spud, seeing the open door, makes a determined break for it.  Uh-bot! Uh-bot!
Pea: he wants to read the Robot book
Spud wriggles between my leg and the door, and makes a beeline for our bedroom, buck naked
Spud: Uh-bot! Uh-bot! points up at Pea’s dresser where the robot book is.
Pea: gathering up Spud No, little Spud, it is bath time. We will have a bath, and then we can read the robot book.
Spud: wails.

Spud and Pea return to the kitchen, with Spud freshly washed and in a sleeper.

Me: Did the bath go ok in the end?
Pea: resignedly amused We had a nice moment in the middle where he forgot about the book, but then he remembered again.
Me: and have you read it?
Pea: yes!
Spud: tiny voice bye bye uh-bot

a pretty pickle

In science academia, there is a constant struggle for money – you put in many grant applications promising many things, and the vast vast majority of them are not funded. You then scrape what you do get into a pile and try make do, often largely ignoring whatever promises you originally made to the granting agency in favour of your best possible research.

Or at least, that’s how it is meant to go.

I am drowning in money.

I have had a ridiculous success rate with my grants. I have been the sole or lead PI on 14 grant application, and 10 of them have been successful. There is another I submitted today to take advantage of my visiting researcher surfeit, which I’m pretty sure is a rubber-stamp yes because the specific criteria are so insanely narrow that only a tiny number of people are eligible each round.

In the past two weeks, one of my grants has received an unexpected top-up of an additional $20K per year (perspective: my foundational “here’s how you run your lab” grant is $33K a year).

In the last week, TWO of the co-PI grants I joined last fall have been funded, representing entirely new directions and requiring me to recruit new personnel.

The problem, dear readers, and there is a problem to this humble-bragging post, is that each of these small-ish pots of money require independent research directions and additional personnel and I do not have SPACE and I do not have TIME for these people. I’m limited in the ways in which I could, for instance, pool a few piddly bits together to fund a post-doc instead of four M.Sc’s, to get some high-quality work from a single person – easier to manage, and more likely to be productive. I’m also limited in how I can pool pieces together to pay a technician, to take some of the operative burden off of my day to day.

When I can catch my breath, with visitors gone and a final important grant deadline dealt with*, on May 14th, I am going to sit down with my faculty finance person and figure out if I can fund a post-doc, technician, or both across two or even five of these grants. I cannot add another four M.Sc.s to my group, it’s not sustainable.


*wait, you say, MORE grant applications? You see, I have a piddly little pot from an industry source, and I can ask the government to essentially triple it because they love matching industry money. If successful, I could do the same project, one I’m really excited about, with a post-doc instead of an M.Sc., and everything would be better. So this one, yes, makes sense. Also, mo money mo tenure, even if it seems crazy.


A group of foxes is called a skulk, or, alternatively, a leash.

Foxes live in small family groups, are omnivores, and have litters of 3-5 kits at a time.

I have learned a lot about foxes in the past week, because there is a family of foxes living under our next-door neighbours’ back deck.

There was a fox skulking around the neighbourhood in February, with a circuit that included going between our two houses. We thought it was interested there was a fox so consistently in our area, which is solidly suburban, not rural by any stretch. The fox would sometimes nap in a hollow in our back garden, gazing at us and sauntering away if we watched it from our (raised, fenced) deck.

A week ago, Pea spotted a fox (the fox?) with two kits. Baby foxes as excellent pets and deserving houseguests has been a running theme with him since (in his usual ridiculous way).

Three days ago, our nanny, Pea, and Gus had all seen the kits multiple times, and I hadn’t spied a whisker. It seemed like they were purposefully Polkaroo-ing me*.

Pea: I think there are more than two babies. I saw at least four the other night.
Me: Four?! How many foxes are over there?!

Yesterday, with my newest visiting researcher over for dinner (there are three visiting now! Why do I do this to myself?!), we watched the kits tumble and play in our neighbours’ backyard for quite a while. There are two different litters, as one set is substantially larger than the other – cat size while the others are kittens. The older set plays tag, rough-houses, and runs all over the lawn and into our backyard, adventuring. The smaller set pounce on plants and each other, and stay quite close to the den/deck. We counted three in each litter.

Tonight, my mother was over for a birthday dinner, and the foxes came out to play in the evening. Pea and my mom counted at least eight babies, and two adults. We have now decided it must be two female fox adults with their litters – possibly a mother and daughter now co-raising their kits. We have also decided we probably shouldn’t allow ten foxes to mature two feet from our backyard. Somehow the idea of three foxes was somewhat ok, but ten is really too many, even if they don’t hunt in packs.

Our neighbours, for the record, appear to be away, as we’ve not seen them for any of this. We’re going to email them with some pictures of the little wild cuties to see if they have any opinion on our calling animal control to relocate them.

The original fox, post-snooze in our garden. Pea has pictures of the babies, but hasn’t gotten them off his camera yet. I’ll share when I have them, as they are decidedly adorable. Dangerous, but adorable.

* dear non-Canadians, please google the Polkaroo, and let me welcome you to a universal slice of Canadian childhoods.

Microblog Mondays: sunrise

microblog_mondays A night-weaned baby is a very nice thing, but only if your night-weaned baby sleeps past 6 am. We’re stuck in a pattern where Spud only sleeps for ~10.5 hours a night, which is not really enough sleep for him (or us), and means a very early start to the day. He’s grumbly upon waking, but if we leave him on his own to resettle, he eventually perks up into little chirps and burbles rather than grumble-subsiding back to sleep. If Pea goes in, Spud’s UP. If I go in, he’ll nurse sleepily, but I haven’t been able to get him back to sleep (and am not sure I want to – while the 5 am snooze-button feed is better for me, sleep-wise, it’s still a night feed and I really want to be done with those).

Right now, Spud often sleeps 7:30-5:50, and then naps 12:30-2:30. It doesn’t seem like quite enough sleep for him. He occasionally throws in a few three hour naps back to back mid-week to catch up. I’d like him to be on a 7:30 pm – (at LEAST) 6:30 am schedule, but think we might just have to give him time to get there.

I will say that the past two nights were the first that he didn’t wake up and require resettling by Pea around 2 am, so we’re still making progress (and with those prior nights, he was still waking up at 5:50 or earlier).

Any tips for night-weaning bringing early waking?

Home again, or home still?

Yesterday I tried to fly to Capitol City for a conference I was very excited about. It was to be the longest I had been away from Spud. It was going to require modest rationing and stretching of the milk stash. I would be gone for three glorious, uninterrupted nights of sleep. I would be off campus, escaping the travesty of my lab for a few days. A warmer climate, and an engaging, small, conversation-and-networking-heavy conference. Just the ticket for this exhausted labmonkey!

Today, now, I am back home after a 25 hour journey that got me precisely nowhere. A delayed and then cancelled flight. A suddenly sold-out train. Worsening roads. An emergency over-night at my sister’s apartment, despite her being in Two Dollar Island. A morning train, and voila! I am home.

I am rebooked on a screamingly early flight on Tuesday morning, which will see me to the conference with approximately 50 minutes to spare before my talk. I’ll have missed exactly half of the conference. I’ll have two nights of sleep, interrupted in the middle by leaving for an airport at 3 am.

It is not ideal, but I am not stranded, lost, hurt, or losing the conference entirely, so it certainly could be worse. Also, Spud made it through the night with only a brief resettling and no milk, for the fifth night in a row, so we are officially night weaning him, which should help with the exhaustion.

Now to make my talk, which was yesterday’s to-do, and which was lost in the endless shuffle.