A Day in the Life

After some Twitter discussion the last few days over some less-than-glamorous aspects of life as a newish PI, The New PI suggested blogging about a day in the life. I’m at the start of year 4 and feel like I’m hitting my stride for the most part, though it’s taken a very long time to get to that point. I still have days (sometimes most days) that are nothing but what I call busy work – paperwork, red tape, meetings, struggle. Today wasn’t like that and it was nice!

So, although I forgot about it until reminded this evening, here’s a shot at my day.

6:00 – Alarm goes off. I prefer to start the day with a quiet cup of coffee before everyone wakes up, but today it was not to be. Hit snooze repeatedly.

6:30ish – Alarm still buzzing every few minutes, still happy snoozing. Until I hear the toddler’s doorknob. So much for quiet coffee. Get up and get toddler, head downstairs. Toddler wants to read a book so we do – three times (awesome book, btw). Then she’s ready for breakfast (“Igut? Igut? – yogurt) and I can make coffee.

7:15ish – 8:00 – Husband is up and showered, so I can do the same. Get myself ready, chase toddler around the house trying to get her ready. Go outside to look at rainbow. Go back inside to pour travel mug of coffee, grab toddler backpack, work bag, and jackets, and rush out the door.

We’re at daycare by 8:10 or so and getting the toddler into the classroom is a process. It goes well, but takes a long time.

8:20something – In the office, working through emails & morning news stuff. Put off working on IRB revisions as long as possible.

(sorry, you’re going to get lots of -somethings and -ishes since I didn’t actually keep track of time intervals today, what with forgetting about the blogging thing)

9:00ish – 10:20 – Finally dealt with IRB revisions. This involved mostly tweaking language to be exactly what they wanted (aka, hoop-jumping) and trying to reduce the reading level of the consent form. Also had to write an assent script for children too young to give written assent. Emailed off to the IRB and on to the next thing. Somewhere in here I also briefly chatted with a TA about grading stuff.

10:20 – 11:45 – Final touch-ups on a manuscript, which mostly include going back through reviewer comments from the last rejection (sadly, there have been a couple for this one) and making sure they’ve all been addressed well. Spent quite a lot of time looking for a journal to submit to, since it’s one of those papers that doesn’t obviously fit anywhere. During that stretch I was interrupted by a colleague who wanted to talk research design. A good 15 minutes or so of refreshing change. Finished up the revisions, picked a journal, and emailed the manuscript to coauthors.

11:45 – 1:30 – A rare break! Grabbed lunch, got a haircut, visited the husband at work, saw world’s cutest cross country ski boots and brought them home for toddler.

1:30 – 2:55 – Time split between a brief lit review for an upcoming proposal (for which I have a conference call tomorrow) and organizing myself for the week’s lab meeting.

3:00-4:15 – lab meeting. Discussed updates on current projects, upcoming conferences and seminars, and thesis ideas. Spent the second half of the meeting fleshing out details for one thesis with the whole group.

4:15 – 5:00 – A new results section landed in my inbox! Spent the rest of the day commenting on that and jotting down points for the discussion section.

5:00 – now (8:15) – Daycare pick up, played at the playground, home for dinner, played with and read to toddler, bedtime. Texted with collaborator over IRB  & data-sharing details – for a different project.

Usually this would be the end of my day. I don’t have much energy or desire to work in the evenings most days. But, I’m feeling underprepared for that conference call tomorrow morning, and it’s an early call, so I’ve got to spend some more time on that this evening.

A day like today, when big things get crossed off my to do list, feels really productive. It feels great to get a manuscript – especially that one – off my desk, even though the bulk of the work happened some time ago. Most days aren’t so writing-heavy, though I probably should make that happen more often. If I’d written this tomorrow instead the whole day would have been something like: meeting, teach, meeting, meeting, teach, meeting, crash.

So with that, I’m out. To get ready for the meetings and teaching to come tomorrow.

Year 4

Well hello, readers. Are any of you left?

Here we are in week 2 of my fourth year on the tenure track. If I had to sum up year 3 in one phrase, it would be “barely afloat.” Looking back on how hectic last year was, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I could do things better this time around. PsycGrrl recently posted two excellent pieces on her semester plan. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that yet, but her posts did get me thinking about how I can approach this year differently than before. I’ll discuss the first of them here:

To Do Lists

Really, I’ve never been a list keeper. I used to joke to my students that there were two ways to know I was feeling overwhelmed. The first was a messy desk, and the second an actual, written to do list. The last time I said that my second-year grad student chuckled and said “your desk is always a mess.”

He just hadn’t spied the lists.

The truth is, overwhelmed seems to be a permanent state these days. Maybe it’s because I didn’t allow myself to adjust to parenting and the tenure track separately, jumping into both at the same time instead. Maybe it’s just faculty life, or life in general.

To do lists have always worked well for me at work (when I’ve used them), but I never really use them at home. Unfortunately, this overwhelmed state isn’t isolated to work anymore – it extends to home now, too. Parenting is exhausting. Sometimes after dealing with people at work all day (hello, teaching) it’s very hard for me to summon the energy to be a good parent in the evening. That leaves me exhausted by bedtime. Not my bedtime, the toddler’s bedtime. The last thing I want to do is the dishes, or the laundry, or vacuum, or pay bills, or….you get the idea. All I really want to do at 8 PM is get in bed. Every single night.

So, on Labor Day, I sat in my office trying to get things in order. The toddler has been sick for a week, which means my spouse and I both needed to find a way to spend a few days at home. I had actually planned to take Labor Day off but wound up working so I could take part of the day on Tuesday, instead. Taking a break from grant writing, I sat at my desk looking at the post-it notes with a million tasks, the pile of mail that needed to be opened, and the jeans I forgot my toddler had smeared yogurt on. What I really need/want, I decided, is a personal assistant. Since my budget isn’t likely to allow that…ever…I hit the internet to find an app that would do it for me.

I settled on Remember the Milk. One account is accessible from all of my devices, and will allow me to take advantage of those times when my brain is firing off random tasks without having to carry around a notepad. That means no more lists on my desk, my nightstand, my kitchen table, in my car, or wherever else. At least now they’re all in one place. Step 1 complete.

“Life” Tasks

Those home- and life-related tasks that I’ve had so much trouble motivating myself to do are popping up on my RTM lists, too. The app contains built-in categories for personal, study, and work tasks, and the ability to tag tasks for further organization. I set up a few recurring things – like opening mail and paying bills on Fridays – so that they can pop up on that day and I can focus on other things during the rest of the week. At home, I can let myself look at the personal category and ignore the rest.

At least now the dread associated with opening yet another medical bill can be isolated to one day a week.

Laundry, grocery shopping, and other tasks I tend to put off in favor of sleeping aren’t on there yet, but may make it eventually. For now I’ll stick to the essentials and see how it goes.

Staying Sane

A related thing I’m hoping RTM will help with is getting my brain off work things when I’m not at work. Hopefully, getting tasks written down in such an organized and accessible way will help me do that. Step 2, I discovered, is not allowing myself to look at the work category when I’m not actually working (unless it’s to record a task that just popped into my head).

Initial Thoughts

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my first day of actually managing my daily task list this way. I had only a half day at the office and a lot of stuff to get done in that time – much of which, like recommendation letters, I might have put off to another day. Having the list organized in this way, and watching the tasks disappear from the list when I marked them complete, did help the volume seem less overwhelming.

It remains to be seen whether this method will be better than my previously-preferred paper method, or better than the reminders app on my iPhone. So far it seems more functional than Reminders and, obviously, infinitely more functional than paper.

There is a full version of RTM for $25/year. I haven’t signed up for that yet, but might if I find that the free version has significantly improved my life and think the paid version would be worth the cash. I’ll report back (and set a reminder to do it!) with more thoughts as the semester goes on.

Let’s Talk Anxiety Dreams

Last night I had a real doozy of an anxiety dream and it made me think of some others I’ve had in recent years.

In last night’s dream, I was teaching the core majors class I teach every semester. This semester is the 6th time I’ve taught it so it’s getting pretty dialed in. But in this dream, the chairs had been removed from the lecture hall and replaced with couches, so my students were all lounging while I was standing at the front teaching, and the stadium-style seating was gone so the people in the back couldn’t really see. Then, half way through the class/dream, my science class morphed into a swimming class. I started the class off with some really terrible jokes that were not even remotely funny, and then heard people coming in the door behind me (a different, new door that apparently lead out from the locker room). I’d forgotten I was being observed. And the observer was….my 92 year-old grandmother.

My grandmother settled herself down on a bench and I realized that if I was going to teach the day’s lesson well I was going to have to get in the pool and demonstrate, and I hadn’t shaved my armpits in like a month.

Mercilessly, I woke up before actually having to get in the pool.

Whenever I think about anxiety dreams I wind up thinking back to pregnancy. The strangest dreams of my life occurred during that first trimester.

(Possible trigger warning for fears of pregnancy loss)

I was so worried about miscarriage through most of my pregnancy, but especially during the first trimester. One of the clearest pregnancy symptoms I had was crazy dreams, and the other was extreme fatigue, which lead to lots of dreams. Throughout that whole trimester I had a recurring dream that I lost the pregnancy and would find a creepy little plastic baby randomly in different places. Just dreadful.

I’m not sure what exactly is causing this latest string of anxiety dreams, maybe it’s just the new semester. Whatever it is, I hope it stops soon.

Stepping Off-Topic: Adventuring with Offspring

A couple days ago, a new #scimom from twitter messaged me and asked if I’d write a post about adventuring with a little one. Seemed like a good way to get back to blogging, so here we go!

We do get out for a lot of adventures – of the hiking and cross-country skiing variety, primarily – with our toddler. She’s 17 months old now, but we started when she was only two months. In fact, the very first hike I took her on was on Mother’s Day the year she was born. I’d hoped that would be a tradition but, well, on my second Mother’s Day we got a foot of snow and the roads were all closed. You win some, you lose some.

In some ways getting out with a toddler is easier than with an infant. Our daughter is down to just one nap a day, so getting something in between naps isn’t an issue any longer. These days when we have a hike planned we tend to get up at our usual time (anywhere between 6 and 7), have breakfast, and play for a little while. If we’re going close by I’ll usually try to leave by 9. For longer trips or any further away (an hour or so) we’ll leave earlier. We’ll also hit the road earlier when afternoon thunderstorms look likely to make sure we’re down from any exposed areas, and preferably back to the car, before that might be an issue. Luckily the timing of storms is usually reasonably predictable around here.

Our biggest challenge hiking with a toddler (we haven’t tried skiing  yet!) is…..toddlerhood. This little walker wants to walk when she wants to walk. If she has to ride when she wants to walk, she’s not a happy passenger. So, we let her walk the easier sections and she rides through the tougher parts. The only advice I have for ensuring a happy hike with a headstrong toddler is – adjust your expectations. Give up on the distance goals, the speed goals, all of it. Enjoy seeing nature through your toddler’s eyes – every wildflower, grass, tree, pebble, stick, is fascinating to those little eyes and hands. Those little legs can only go so far and so fast but a happy toddler will walk much further than you’d ever expect. I’ve taken to calling our toddler hikes “interval training.” We have some fast intervals when I carry her, some slow intervals when she walks on her own, and some passive recovery when she sits in the middle of the trail to check out…whatever. Some of my favorite memories of this summer are of my little girl stepping to the side of the trail to look at a flower, play with a tall blade of grass, or pick up a rock. She’s just so full of wonder.

Back in the infancy days the logistics of getting out were more complicated. Naps and feedings were too close together to really do anything at all without messing up “her schedule.” Unfortunately or fortunately, our daughter was a terrible napper as an infant. Wherever we were, she’d only nap for 30 minutes. Those 30 minute naps were just as reliable in the carrier (I use a Boba Air – white, so it’s not so hot in the sun) as in her bed. So, when she woke up from a nap at home we’d feed her and then jump in the car, just trying to get to the trailhead before she melted down (seriously). Once we got moving, whether skiing or hiking, she’d eventually fall asleep and she was usually really happy in the carrier, even when she was awake. As she got older I started pulling her in a borrowed KinderShuttle while skiing, instead of wearing her. I’d make a nice cozy bed of blankets in the sled, bundle her up in her snowsuit, and off we’d go. She absolutely loved riding in that thing – I really hope she enjoys it as much as a toddler! As long as I put her in there fed, she’d let me ski for two hours or more and be perfectly content.

Feeding her on the trail was more of a challenge. She was formula fed and formula is only good out of the refrigerator for 2 hours. That meant maybe I could carry one bottle already mixed up, but not two. Being caught without a bottle and needing one would be absolutely dreadful so I always packed kind of an obscene amount of formula (powder and water) – usually enough for 3 bottles, at least. That’s on top of the water we carried for ourselves and frequently the dog, so the weight of it all was not trivial. Still, worth it to be sure we had all we needed. I always watched the clock really closely to make sure that by the time I thought she’d be ready for a bottle, I had one ready and we were at a good place to take a break.

Some things are the same: I still use the Boba a lot (we have an Osprey Poco Premium for longer outings), I still pack an excessive amount of food and water (but it’s not formula now), and mid-hike poopy diapers are always fun.

[Pro-tip for the backpack carrier – sun shades make excellent low-hanging branch shields.]

I wouldn’t trade this time in the outdoors with my girl for anything in the world. It’s frustrating sometimes, sure, and I do frequently wish I could pack less or hike faster. But as soon as she stoops down to smell that flower, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.


Please weigh-in! How do you handle the logistics of getting out of the house with kids in tow? Outdoor adventures not required – we know how hard it can be even to get to the grocery store (and leave!) with a happy kid.