Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So you'd like to marry a scientist...

When my mother was getting ready to marry my dad, someone took her aside and told her it was not easy being a scientist's wife. At 19 I'm not sure how prepared she was for this role (or marriage in general), but as they approach their 37th anniversary I can see she managed just fine. Being a scientist myself, I can understand some of the challenges she faced.

Science is not a 9 to 5 job, it's a lifestyle. I was told that the first day of classes in my undergraduate program. I had been admitted to the first incoming class of a program designed to form researchers in biological sciences. The coordinators wanted to make sure we knew what we were getting into. I was probably as prepared for my career as my mother was for marriage, and, like her, I dived in with all my heart.

The way things turned out, I ended up marrying a scientist. Five years later, it is hard to say whether this made things easier or more difficult. All I know is I don't think I could have married anyone else. I need someone that understands how important work is to me. I need someone who I can talk problems out with and can give me strategies to attack them. I need someone who will give me constructive criticism to help me move forward in life. Someone that doesn't think I am too crazy when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about experiments. And yes, the fact that he can cook & dance was indeed what sealed the deal.

As I married a scientist, I got what I asked for but the reverse was also true. We are both spouses of a scientist also. So we talk research at breakfast and dinner, and sometimes in the middle of the night. I always find it amusing to hear him whispering in my ear "Are you awake? I was thinking about my grant..." Pre-kids there was a lot more science talking, but now we have two little someones competing for attention.

I realized how much of a scientist I am during my pregnancies. When I miscarried my first pregnancy the message boards did not give me the support I needed. I found more comfort on PubMed. Somehow realizing that it happens 20% of the time (25% in England - why?) made me feel more normal. I guess sanity is a question of perspective... All I can say is that I tackled pregnancy as I would any other experiment. I have to admit I was a bit obsessed with development. I was reading more embryology texts than parenting books. I found this great pregnancy journal that describes what happens to the fetus & mother on a daily basis, along with nutritional information and why certain things should be avoided. The more I read, the more I was amazed there were babies born at all. Makes you want to almost believe in miracles...

Along with the perks there are also disadvantages of my marrying a scientist. The major one is that my career is not advancing as smoothly as I would have hoped. It is easy to just blame our age difference of four years. He had finished his Ph.D. by the time I started mine. Combined with the fact that he had a very short 1-year postdoc before landing his tenure-track position. He is tenured and I'm contemplating a third postdoc. I'm not trying to catch up, I know I will be trailing for years.

As I meander through life I keep my goals in view and enjoy the journey. Despite the pebbles in the road, I would not have taken a different route. A Brazilian poet once wrote that he collected the stones in his path because one day he would have enough to build a castle. This princess is working on her castle too.